The 1941 Double Play baseball card set is one of the few wartime issues that was printed. Stuck somewhere in between the bounds of pre-war and post-war, the cards were distributed in the same year the United States entered World War II. The set was created by Gum Products, Inc. Pictures are in black and white or, as sometimes described, in a sepia tone.
The popular 1940s series is best known for featuring two players on a single card. That practice was used on other pre-war sets, including the somewhat quirky T201 Mecca Double Folders set, among others. However, it was done on so few sets that the use of that practice was a distinguishing feature in this release. Numerous rookie cards are found in it, including those of Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, and Enos Slaughter — all members of the Hall of Fame.
The blank-backed cards mostly featured portrait images of ball players. And, by the way — it included many big names with the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Bob Feller, and many other Hall of Famers present. One really unique feature of the set was that, in the middle of all of the portraits, there were ten cards printed that displayed action photos of players. Let’s take a look at this interesting subset.
About the Action Cards
In all, there are 75 ‘actual’ cards in the set. Technically, there are 150 since each player gets a card number even though two share the same piece of cardboard. And since they are numbered individually, 150 is most commonly the number of cards accepted by most, so that’s what we’ll use here.
Of those 150, a total of 20 cards comprise the unique ‘In Action’ subset. Cards in that subset are numbered 80 through 100 in the overall release. Cards in the subset do not have a formal name printed on them to differentiate them as many other subset cards do. However, they are typically called ‘Action’ or ‘In Action’ cards by collectors because they are non-portraits like the others. Instead of simple portrait pictures, these cards feature players in a variety of baseball action poses, such as hitting, pitching, fielding, and even baserunning.
A closer look at these action cards shows the batting pictures to be the most common (12 of the 20 players feature a hitter pose). Most of the other cards depict players in fielding or pitching motions. The card of George Case is the most unique of the 20 cards. It is the only one featuring a baserunning picture.
In addition to those action pictures, the easiest way to distinguish these cards from the others in the set is their vertical nature as opposed to a horizontal layout. Thus, instead of shorter, wider portrait pictures, these include taller, narrower images. The cards measure the same 2 1/2″ x 3 1/8″ as the other cards in the set. However, as mentioned, they simply have the vertical layout as opposed to the horizontal one for the portraits.
Many big names are found in the Action subset, which makes them attractive to card collectors. Just the fact that they look differently is enough of a draw. However, it doesn’t help that the subset has a host of star players. Leading the way are cards of Ted Williams, Mel Ott, and Johnny Mize. Other Hall of Famers include Joe Cronin, Joe Gordon, Red Ruffing, and Bucky Walters.
Here’s a look at the complete checklist of the subset cards:
- 81 and 82 – Ted Williams and Joe Cronin
- 83 and 84 – Joe Gordon and Charley Keller
- 85 and 86 – Hank Greenberg and Red Ruffing
- 87 and 88 – Hal Trosky and George Case
- 89 and 90 – Mel Ott and Burgess Whitehead
- 91 and 92 – Harry Danning and Harry Gumbert
- 93 and 94 – Babe Young and Cliff Melton
- 95 and 96 – Jimmy Ripple and Bucky Walters
- 97 and 98 – Stanley Hack and Bob Klinger
- 99 and 100 – Johnny Mize and Dan Litwhiler
In some cases, the cards feature teammates. In others, two players from different teams are shown. Six of the ten dual cards include Hall of Famers. Two of those (81 and 82, as well as 85 and 86) are among the few cards in the overall set that have two Hall of Famers.
So what about rarity? Are these cards tougher to find than the portrait cards?
I have seen instances of some collectors referring to these cards as being rarer than the portraits. That could stem from the idea that there are fewer of them in the set checklist than the portrait cards. However, that claim about actual rarity appears to be only wishful thinking.
Determining actual rarity of cards that are 80 years old is, of course, not always an easy task. However, we can make some assumptions on rarity based on the PSA population report on graded cards. While using population reports for this purpose can be tricky if comparing different players, we get a pretty clear picture on rarity because some players are actually found with both portrait cards and with action cards.
The legendary Ted Williams, for example, is one of those players. He is featured on a portrait card alongside Jim Tabor (cards No. 57 and 58) as well as the In Action set with his aforementioned card of Cronin. The population report actually shows slightly more of the latter action card with approximately 220 of those graded at the time of this writing (compared to 210 of the portrait card).
A similar thing is seen with Mel Ott’s action card, picturing him with Burgess Whitehead (Card numbers 89 and 90) and Ott’s portrait card with Babe Young (No. 31 and 32). A total of 95 of Ott’s action cards have been graded by PSA to 91 of his portrait cards graded. In summary, there does not seem to be much difference in terms of rarity and, if anything, some might speculate that there could even be more of the action cards printed — or that they have survived in greater quantities.
Similarly, there does not appear to be any great difference in price between the action cards and the portraits. Decent commons in the set start around $25-$30 for lower-end mid-grade cards. The Williams and Cronin card is one of the most valuable ones in the entire set, starting around $250 for a card out of the low-grade price range. These prices, of course, are for cards that have not been cut in half or otherwise separated.