Across the wide spectrum of the hobby, collectors will find baseball cards printed in all shapes and sizes. But one of the smallest sets of cards ever created is a relatively oddball issue from 1950. Today, we know this set mostly as the R423 set.
1950 R423 Set Overview
The 1950 R423 set is made up of 120 very small baseball cards. The cards were issued in 13-card strips, apparently folded up and used as gumball machine prizes. One could argue that these could be classified as a strip card set as opposed to a candy card issue as their R-Card designation suggests. Nevertheless, the cards were issued in strips and are almost stamp-like in appearance.
The cards are diminutive, measuring only about 5/8″ wide and 7/8″ tall. That tiny size is enough to make them among the smallest baseball cards you will ever see. They are generally found with perforated edges on the left and ride sides, though the cards printed at the end of a strip would have a clean left or right edge. And in some cases, collectors may have trimmed the perforated parts, leaving four solid edges for a more uniform look.
The card fronts featured black and white images of players and even though the set was issued in 1950, it includes some players that had long since retired. Also on the front is the player’s name, a card number. An ‘action’ was also included, since these are believed to have been part of a game. Backs of the cards include a generic image of a baseball diamond with a pitcher, catcher, batter, and infielders. The backs are known to have been printed in several colors, though orange appears to be the most common.
The R423 set includes a total of 120 cards and is full of stars and big names. It is a bit unique in that it included both current stars and some legends from the past. In fact, those past players are no doubt a reason for the set’s popularity.
Pre-war players, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Tris Speaker, Hank Greenberg, Lefty Grove, and Lefty Gomez were all since retired when this set was issued, but they still found their way into the set. Contemporary stars included the likes of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, and many more.
And with the likes of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Larry Doby, fans were also given an up close look at some of the earlier black stars after the league was integrated with Robinson. When you add everything up, it’s a fairly comprehensive set.
Collectors should also take note of a unique variation found in the release. One card of Cobb has him pictured without a signature like the other cards in the set. However, one includes a replica autograph as well. There does not appear to be much difference in price for the two and, according to PSA’s population report, neither is significantly rarer than the other. Thus far, PSA has graded just under 30 of each. PSA has a full checklist of the complete set here.
Finally, in addition to this baseball set, similar cards were also produced including movie stars.
R423 Rarity and Prices
For some, collecting these cards may be too much of a stretch because of their small size. However, the good news is that they are budget-friendly for the most part.
Finding commons in the set for under $5 is relatively easy and even the bigger names start at only around $10-$20. The more expensive cards of Ruth, Cobb, DiMaggio, and others start around $40-$50 or so in mid-grade condition. Even in high-grade, though, it is possible to find these cards starting at around $100.
While these cards are more commonly seen individually, it should be noted that full strips of 13 are also out there, too. Prices vary greatly on those depending on the subjects included but asking prices are often considerably more than what you would pay for the cards individually if they were separated.
In terms of rarity, the cards are not entirely scarce. But there are generally several dozen listed on eBay at any given time. They have not survived in massive quantities and building an entire set can be challenging. The small size, I imagine, probably led to many of them being discarded over time. To date, PSA has graded just under 900 of them in all.