Baseball cards first made their mark in the late 1800s and early 1900s, primarily as tobacco card inserts. After a brief respite of sorts during World War I, the 1920s and 1930s saw the creation of even more sets. But by the 1940s, the collecting world was again on a bit of a hiatus.
The 1930s brought about the gum card boom and, by that time, cards had really shifted from tobacco and more adult type of inserts to cards that were geared towards kids. In short, it was becoming an industry driven by children. But by 1939, World War II arrived in full force and cards were less important. In fact, they nearly dried up completely.
Many attribute the near disappearance of baseball card sets to the war. One reason that is often cited is a shortage of cardboard. How much of that is to blame for the lack of baseball cards isn’t entirely clear. However, there is no doubt that, until Bowman revitalized the industry again in the late 1940s, few cards were being printed.
Despite the war, though, some baseball cards were distributed. Here’s a look at some of the more common sets.
Early/Mid 1940s Baseball Cards
Goudey returned for one more year to issue a final set of baseball cards in 1941. The 1941 Goudeys are among the toughest to find and that is almost certainly due to the fact that they were not printed in large quantities like some of the cards before them.
While PSA has graded more than 85,000 Goudey cards from the 1933 set, for example, they have graded fewer than 2,000 from the 1941 edition. Some of that may be because many of the cards are not exactly all that gradeable (more on that in a bit). And some of it, no doubt, is due to the small size of the 1941 Goudey set. After all, only 33 cards are in that set’s basic checklist as opposed to the 240 in the 1933 set.
However, counting all of the color variations in Goudey’s 1941 set, there are well more than 100 ‘different’ cards. In other words, the shortened checklist hardly makes up for the wild disparity in graded cards and it’s easy to see that fewer 1941 cards were produced.
Notably, the quality of the cards was not very good. Cards were often miscut or featured poor sides that appeared torn. Because of that, it is difficult to find them in high grade. As a result, that could contribute to the low numbers being graded.
While Goudey dominated the 1930s, Play Ball was easily the ruler of the early 1940s.
Play Ball cards, created by Gum, Inc. (a Bowman predecessor), were first issued in 1939. But they continued making sets both in 1940 and 1941. Each remain popular today.
The sets feature a good many players with nearly 500 cards in all across the three sets. And as I recently covered, the 1940 set included some blasts from the past, such as Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Another popular early 1940s issue was the 1941 Double Play set.
These cards featured two players on each card. While a good amount are still in uncut condition, many collectors took to separating the cards. As a result, it isn’t uncommon to find individual ‘half’ cards, which sell for a fraction of the full issues.
Finally, the whipping boy for the 1940s sets was the 1943 (and subsequently, 1949) M.P. and Company issue. These cards featured color cartoon pictures of players and are a sight to behold. Unfortunately, that isn’t in a good way. Often, they are cited as one of the ugliest early sets known to man.
The cards featured players in a variety of action poses. The pictures are extremely basic and, thus, not easy to distinguish one player from the next. The player’s name inside of a baseball is really the only way to tell them apart.
Even the names on the cards aren’t done too well. In the set, you’ll find Bob Feller called ‘Bobby’ and Johnny Mize called ‘John.’ Additionally, some of the larger names of players (i.e. DiMaggio and Vander Meer) aren’t accommodated particularly well as they are tight squeezes in the baseball.
It’s clear that someone found these cards attractive, though. After they were printed in 1943, a slightly modified set was issued again in 1949.
Fortunately, things would turn around by 1948. By that year, Bowman introduced its first sets with Topps not far behind. Those two companies would help jumpstart the industry and allow collectors to forget the darker times of the earlier part of the decade.