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. In the first part of a three-part series, we took a look at the earliest Exhibit cards that were issued. Next up, we’ll review the popular 4-on-1 Exhibits.
The 4-On-1 Exhibit Baseball Sets
In the first part of this series, we looked at the first Exhibit cards. Those cards featured a single player to a card but as the years went by, the Exhibit Supply Company decided to take things in a different direction. Instead of cards with just one player, the company decided it could feature more players a bit more economically and put four on each card.
Many collectors think of this ‘four-on-one’ style of design and associate that with the 1935 Goudey cards. But the Exhibit Supply Company was doing it several years before then. It’s possible, even, that Goudey used the 4-on-1 Exhibit cards as the blueprint when creating their set.
The cards had a simplistic look featuring four different players inside of uniform rectangles that were in each corner of the card. The cards are not numbered and today, cards usually checklisted by team, alphabetically by players’ last names, or in the order in which they appear from the card, left to right, top to bottom. Cards were about the size of a postcard, measuring approximately 3 3/8″ wide by 5 3/8″ tall.
Decades ago, youngsters would sometimes cut up the full cards to create four smaller ones. While some of those can have a little value, it is generally quite minimal.
These Exhibit card sets are unfortunately plagued by a comedy of errors. Each set, even though most were relatively small, has cards with misspelled names and even wrong player identifications. Mix in font differences and you’ve got a sort of recipe for disaster that didn’t really need to exist. The cards are decent, really, but the amount of gaffes on them really detracts from these issues.
A Deeper Look Into the 4-On-1 Sets
After a series of individual Exhibit cards, the Exhibit Supply Company changed to the 4-on-1 design in 1929. The exact reason why isn’t known. However, the decision probably made good economic sense as more players could be featured while printing fewer cards.
These 4-On-1 cards were classified by Jefferson Burdick in the American Card Catalog as W463. Some sources break them down further as there are many W463 sets (starting with the earliest set, calling them W463-1, W463-2, etc.) but they are all generally known as W463s.
The first two W463 sets (1929-30 and 1931-32) each included a total of 32 cards with two cards featured for each team. That meant that each team had a total of eight players featured in each year. After that, starting in 1933, Exhibit shrunk the size of the set to only 16 cards — one per team. Those 16-card sets remained the same through the duration of the 4-on-1 experiment, which ran through 1938. In all, there are eight different 4-on-1 sets.
Most of the 4-On-1 Exhibit cards can be found with more than one color of tint or background. There are a few exceptions to that, including the 1938 set, which was printed with only a sepia style of image/ink. The many color variances coupled with the overall rarity of these cards makes collecting a master set from most years quite difficult.
Despite the color variances, though, the cards all generally had the same look, creating for some degree of monotony. Worse yet, many of the cards featured the same players in different years. One quirk is that for players using the same image in earlier sets with different fonts, the fonts were not updated — thus, some cards exist with a mix of font styles.
Few cards remained exactly the same from year to year but it was common for a team to have two or three of the same players the following year or even for several years. And in some cases, the cards did have entirely the same players (and even the same pictures). One particularly egregious example of that is seen with the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers card in the sets included the same four players three years in a row from 1935 through 1937. The good news, if there is any, is that the card included some big names with Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, and Goose Goslin. Even the fourth player, three-time All-Star Schoolboy Rowe, was a legitimate star, too. Still, with that much monotony, it’s easy to see why collectors have a hard time keeping these cards straight.
There are a few ways to keep these cards apart, though. The text ‘PTD. in U.S.A.’ appears on the 1936 and 1937 cards. 1938 cards say ‘Made in U.S.A.’ That text is missing from earlier cards. Additionally, while most of these cards have blank backs, cards from the 1929-30 set have a postcard back and cards from the 1931-32 edition have a coupon advertisement back. Those coupons were printed on the corners and could be cut off and redeemed for prizes.
There are many important cards that came out of the 4-on-1 series. As expected, cards with multiple Hall of Famers are highly desirable. That makes the Cooperstown-laden Yankees cards are the most valuable ones in the sets.
In some years, the Yankees card included only Hall of Famers. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig appear on several cards together and their cards, even in modest condition, top $1,000. That duo was featured on three different 4-on-1 cards and those are probably the most popular of all. Interestingly, two of those were the earlier years when each team featured two cards. It is interesting that Exhibit paired them together instead of splitting them up among the two Yankees cards in the sets.
Another notable Ruth card is the 1935 Boston Braves card on which he appears. That was Ruth’s only year with the team and the Exhibit card is a special one in that it is not only one of Ruth’s final cards but also one of the few that he has as a member of the Braves. And while not rookie cards for either, the 1937 set included two second-year cards for Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller.
Finally, one other 4-On-1 set not mentioned here is worth a mention. A small set of 4-On-1 postcards separate from these issues was also distributed. That postcard-backed set includes four players like the baseball only sets but was a multi-sport release as cards also included boxers along with a couple of non-sports personalities, including actor Charlie Chaplin.
You can usually find a fairly good supply of 4-on-1 Exhibit cards on eBay.