The 1939 African Tobacco World of Sport set is proof that tobacco cards spanned the entire globe. Not many tobacco card sets featuring baseball are found from Africa, but this one is an exception.
Truth be told, the 1939 African Tobacco World of Sport set is a multi-sport issue with little baseball in it. That is relatively common with international tobacco sets as baseball wasn’t quite the international sport it is today. In addition to baseball, collectors will find athletes from all kinds of sports here, including boxing, tennis, and golf. A total of 100 cards appear in the set.
The release was printed in Cape Town, South Africa and distributed by African Tobacco Manufacturers, Ltd. To date, PSA has graded only about 700 of them and they can be somewhat difficult to find in the U.S. Typically, only a small number are found on eBay.
Each card includes a real black and white image of the subject. The cards, like other tobacco issues, have white borders. However, those borders are relatively thick, giving these cards a fairly distinctive look. Backs of the cards are also unique as they include short biographies of the subjects printed in both English and Afrikaans. The reverse also includes the African Tobacco Manufacturers name, a card number, and the World of Sport title.
One thing that is immediately noticeable are the sizes of the cards. ‘Sizes’ is plural here because there are actually two different types. One type, classified as ‘Large,’ measures approximately 2 1/4″ wide by 3 1/8″ tall, making them similar to today’s trading card issues. The second ‘Small’ type measures approximately 1 3/4″ wide by 2 1/2″ tall. Both sizes contain the same checklist and the same pictures of the athletes.
The stock of the cards is also noteworthy. They aren’t printed on what would be called paper, exactly. But the cardboard is relatively thin to be sure and they have a smooth feel to them. That has made the easily susceptible to damage, such as creases or tears.
Finally, a special album was made for these cards, allowing collectors to store them and affix them to pages. Today, the albums are quite rare.
Of the 100 subjects found in the set, Babe Ruth is easily the highlight.
Few collectors have even heard of this set. But on the rare occasions they have, the Ruth card is often the one known. While the card was printed in Africa, like other international Ruth cards, they have started making their way to the states and are now seen with some degree of regularity.
Ruth’s card features his iconic swing as he appears to be admiring a long fly ball. His bio on the back is interesting and reads a little differently than it would if it was written here in the U.S.
Familiarly known as “Babe Ruth.” The most famous base ball player in the world and the idol of the American public. His meek and non-belligerent attitude often misleads the pitcher to groove him one with fatal results.
This is one of many post-career Ruth cards, even though it reads as if he were still an active player. Ruth’s last season was in 1935 and this card was issued several years after his retirement.
Ruth’s card is the most valuable one in the set. Unfortunately for collectors, it is the only baseball issue here. But for collectors of other sports, there are plenty of big names to be found.
Among the more popular cards are those of boxing legend Joe Louis and track and field star Jesse Owens. Tennis players include Hall of Famers Fred Perry, Suzanne Lenglen, and American great Bill Tilden. Overall, the set includes a wide range of athletes from countries around the world.
Other popular names seen in the release are boxer Max Baer and famous figure skater Sonja Heine.
1939 African Tobacco World of Sport Prices
Prices for the cards vary a great deal. While difficult to find, commons in the set are low-priced and often in the $5-$10 range. The stars are, of course, significantly more.
The aforementioned Ruth card is the most valuable one in the issue and can be quite costly. A Ruth that was graded a PSA 5 sold for nearly $1,000 by Heritage. In higher grade, you can expect to pay significantly more. In a 2017 REA auction, a Ruth SGC 7 sold for $1,800.
But don’t sleep on the other stars, either, as they are very desirable in mid-grade and high-grade condition. For example, Mile High auctioned a PSA 8 of Owens that sold for more than $400 in 2017. Additionally, a PSA 7 of Louis in the same auction earned nearly $200.