The 1941 Double Play baseball card set is generally recognized as the last prewar set. For collectors, this 75-card set is full of Hall of Famers — more than 30 — and stars of the day, including Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, both in their prime and rivals for postseason awards.
The set, designated as R330, was marketed by Gum Products, Inc., of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company began in the East Boston area in 1940, as owner Wellington M. Cramer Jr. borrowed $16,000 as operating capital for a start-up.
Today, it’s among the most reasonably priced vintage sets to collect and its’ unique design that paired two players together may be one reason.
Double Dip Design
The design of the cards borrows heavily from newspaper designs of the day, with photographs in a sepia-type tone. Each card has two photographs, with two players sharing the card. Each player’s name is in bold typeface, almost like a small headline, and there is a paragraph underneath it.
The cards measured 2 ½ inches by 3 1/8 inches. Each player was assigned a distinct number, from 1 to 150 (the odd number was on the left), meaning that a collector could cut the cards in half down the middle and not affect the look of the cards. The value? Yes, but collectors in 1941 probably were not concerned with issues we look at 75 years later.
The card backs were blank. Cards numbered from 81 through 100 show action shots, instead of mug shots.
1941 Double Play Stars
The key card in the set pairs DiMaggio with Yankees teammate Charlie Keller (spelled “Charley” in the set) on card Nos. 63-64. DiMaggio had a magnificent season in 1941, with a .357 average, 30 homers and a league-leading 125 RBIs to win MVP honors in the American League. But Keller’s stats weren’t too shabby, either. “King Kong” had 33 homers and 122 RBIs to finish fifth in MVP voting for the Yankees, who bounced back from a (for them) subpar 1940 to win the A.L. pennant.
A total of 201 DiMaggio-Keller cards have been graded by PSA, and only 12 rate as high as PSA-8. The SGC numbers are smaller, with 69 graded cards and none achieving higher than an 86 rating.
The DiMaggio-Keller card can usually be found for under $300, even in reasonably good condition.
Williams appears on two different cards, Nos. 57 (with Jim Tabor) and 81 (with fellow Hall of Famer Joe Cronin). Other Hall of Famers include Luke Appling, Bob Feller, Mel Ott. Pee Wee Reese and Paul Waner. Some other cards feature two Hall of Famers, like Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter (Nos. 39-40), Cronin and Jimmie (spelled as “Jimmy on the card) Foxx (Nos. 59-60), Lefty Gomez and Phil Rizzuto (Nos. 61-62), Hank Greenberg and Red Ruffing (Nos. 85-86) and Lefty Grove and Bobby Doerr (Nos. 105-106).
After DiMaggio, the cards featuring Williams are the ones most coveted by collectors, particularly the pairing with Cronin. They can usually be found at mid-grade levels for $300-600.
The top PSA graded complete set is owned by Charles M. Merkel, who has a rating of 9.21. Overall, a total of 4,092 cards have been graded by PSA. There are no PSA 10s, but there are 30 that have graded out at PSA 9. The Williams-Tabor card has 150 cards registered, but only ones qualifies as high as a PSA 9. The Williams-Cronin card has been graded 161 times, but the highest grade is PSA 8 — and there are eight of those ranked that high.
At SGC, 1,455 cards have been graded, with the top specimens grabbing a 96 (three of them).
The 1941 Double Play set is filled with the best players in baseball as the United States moved toward World War II. The dynamic of major-league baseball would change — and so would the country’s — after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Click here to see what’s currently listed on eBay.