Exhibit cards are among the more affordable pre-war cards that can be had. While it’s true that there are some expensive ones, by comparison, they can often be nice ways to score some bargains of big name players. Here’s a three-part series focusing on these unique cards. We’ve already looked at the earliest Exhibit cards from the 1920s as well as the 4-on-1 series that appeared in the 1930s. Now, in the final part of this series, we explore the later Exhibit cards that were issued.
Exhibit Cards — The Later Years
In 1939, the Exhibit Supply Company took yet another turn as the company moved away from its 4-on-1 style of baseball cards. The first Exhibit cards featured a single player and after nearly a decade of multi-player cards, the company moved back to this single-subject style of card for the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
The company’s first cards under this type coincided with the start of World War II in 1939. The company’s Salutations Exhibit set, as a result, is one of the more important wartime issues. Distributed between 1939 and 1946, this set was among the few cards that were offered during World War II. Baseball, as we know, was still being played during the war (which ended in 1945). However, actual baseball card sets were few and far between. The Salutations Exhibit cards were some of the few that were printed to help fill the void and bridge the pre-war and post-war eras together.
Even some of the sets that were produced were not great ones. That’s really what makes the Salutations set stand out even more. Goudey’s 1941 set, for example, was a mess in terms of player selection, formatting, and even the printing/cutting. The Salutations Exhibit cards were clean, had real pictures, and a generally nice look.
Greetings and Salutations
The 1939-46 Salutations Exhibit set was termed as such because the cards had short greetings on them from players, including things like, ‘Sincerely’ and ‘Best Wishes.’ The cards are meant to have an ‘autograph’ look to them, even though they don’t appear to be replica signatures.
Names are merely printed on the fronts in a cursive style of font. Each card has a portrait or action shot. Like past Exhibits, they were about the size of a postcard, measuring 3 3/8″ wide by 5 3/8″ tall. Like many other Exhibit cards, these were blank. The set is notable in that it is full of stars, including the likes of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and plenty more.
There are several variations in the set. Some are full on different post variations while others are less noticeable with some images merely being cropped slightly differently. Some of the cropping of images is so minor, in fact, that it can be tough differentiate between real variations and ones that were not intentional.
The set is a popular target for vintage collectors because the cards are surprisingly affordable. Finding decent copies of Williams and DiMaggio, for example, is generally easy to do for under $100 or, in some cases, even under $50. Surprisingly, it’s some of the more obscure players in the set that have some more valuable cards that were shortprinted. Williams is one of those as he has two poses, one of which is more desirable showing the No. 9 on his jersey. But many others that are tough to find are lesser known subjects.
An Exhibit Monster
After that set ran its course in 1946, Exhibit began work on its largest and most popular issue — a massive set that was distributed from 1947 through 1966. If there’s any Exhibit set that deserves the T206 moniker of The Monster, it’s this one.
Like earlier Exhibits, these have the same 3 3/8″ by 5 3/8″ size and also had blank backs like the Salutations Exhibits. Many cards were redistributed year after year with new players added over the years. Some players that remained on the same teams had many cards printed while others that changed teams may have fewer ones. These cards generally have the same look as the Salutations Exhibits (borderless, sepia or black and white cards with blank backs) and the two issues are commonly mistaken for each other. But they are easily distinguished as these cards do not bear salutation greetings as is seen in the other set.
In all, there are more than 330 cards in the massive checklist. This set is another popular one for collectors as many big name stars can be easily purchased for under $50. And because some cards were not as heavily printed as others, some lesser known players have some of the more valuable cards.
As mentioned, a slew of big names is found in the series. Among the more impressive ones are Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Carl Yastrzemski, Yogi Berra, and plenty of others. And variations for certain players exist, too.
These are among the most affordable Exhibit cards that can be bought. Even in decent condition, finding commons under $5 is not too hard.
While these are the two main Exhibit sets after the string of 4-on-1 series, the company issued some other releases, too.
One of those was a set I recently wrote about, the 1948 Hall of Fame Exhibits set, featuring some of the early Cooperstown inductees. Sporting a checklist consisting of the legendary Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and others, this set offers affordable vintage post-career cards of some of the greats of the game.
Five years later, the Exhibit Supply Company took their product to Canada with the 1953 Canadian Exhibits set, which included both minor leaguers from the Montreal Royals and major leaguers. Two years later, a postcard set of Exhibits was released in 1955. Many cards in that set featured images that were offered in earlier sets. However, this release had postcard backs instead of blank backs.
Finally, the Exhibit Supply Company also released a few additional baseball card sets in the 1960s. First, in 1961, a 24-card set of Hall of Famers was distributed at Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ home ballpark. While they were released in Chicago, the set included past players throughout Major League Baseball, including Ruth, Cobb, Lou Gehrig, and Christy Mathewson, among others. Two more sets are also notable. In 1962 and 1963, two sets with unique statistics backs were offered.