Getting started collecting pre-war cards isn’t typically as challenging as many people think. While there are a lot of expensive issues, some sets are reasonably affordable, particularly in the lower grades. Here are some sets to consider for collectors just getting started with pre-war issues.
This one is always at the top of my list when making set recommendations for new pre-war collectors. It’s short, has stars, and no super expensive cards. The biggest stars here are Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Gomez.
Goudey’s 1936 set is different from their other issues. The Goudey sets typically featured color pictures of players but this set used real black and white photographs. Its biggest appeal for a new collector, perhaps, is that it is short with only 25 cards.
The card backs were intended to be a part of a game as they had actions printed onto them. Given that, including variations, there are close to 200 in a master set. But with 25 card fronts, that is what is considered as a standard set. You can usually find commons in decent for around $15 and a set can be assembled for under $500.
1920s W512 or W513 Strip Cards
Each set includes 50 cards (minus variations including new positions or teams for players) as well as a variety of subjects. Collectors can pursue a full 50-card set or focus only on the baseball players. W512 has ten of those while W513 has 25. W513 cards are a little tougher to find but don’t include the heavy hitters of W512, which has Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. The rarity of the W513 cards makes sense given that they were produced only in 1928 while W512 ranged from 1925-27.
Decent baseball commons in either set typically start in the $10-$15 range but other commons are often around $5. Ruth and Cobb are the most expensive with decent copies starting around $200-$300 for each. With some patience, it’s possible to put together a decent looking set of the baseball cards for around $500.
1939 Play Ball
Like the 1936 Goudey set, the 1939 Play Ball release is a black and white issue. The biggest difference is the absence of a name on the fronts.
At 161 cards, it isn’t too terribly large. And given that many of the commons can be found in decent shape for under $10, a good amount of the set can be put together without a ton of money.
The biggest cards are the Ted Williams rookie and an early card of Joe DiMaggio. You can expect to pay about $1,000 for a decent lower-end Williams and about $400-$500 for DiMaggio, but prices are a little cheaper if you can deal with a lesser quality one.
I didn’t necessarily like the idea of putting two Goudey issues in here but the 1935 set simply has to be mentioned.
Often called the 4-in-1 cards, these featured four players on each card. Images were reused from past Goudey sets so they might look familiar if you have some 1933 or 1934 Goudeys in your collection.
The cards have puzzle piece backs and certain cards would produce an image of an individual player or a team. There are more than 100 cards in a master set if you consider all of the front/back combinations. However, a standard set can be completed with only the 36 different card fronts.
The cards are a little more expensive than the 1936 set but nothing is outrageous in terms of cost. The most expensive card is the one featuring Babe Ruth and even that one isn’t too bad compared to most of his cards. An SGC 40 recently sold for under $500 on eBay.
1909-11 T51 Murad
The unique T51 Murad set featured mostly pictures of athletes participating in sports and representing colleges and universities. The pictures of athletes are generic but the set includes all of the major sports, including baseball, basketball, football, and hockey.
There are 150 cards in a basic set, which consists of six 25-card series’.
The set is very affordable. Most of the non-major sport cards can be found for around $5, although you can often find them for a little less. The major sports are more desirable and usually starting in the $10-$15 range for decent copies. The two key cards are the Michigan football card and the Williams basketball card, which is often considered the first basketball card. In mid-grade condition, both start around $40-$50.
1919 W552 Mayfair Position Drawings
If you’re okay with generic subjects, one common set is the W552 Mayfair Position Drawings issue. While there are about 40 cards considering all of the variations and types, a basic set is considered to be complete at 12 cards.
The cards feature basic color pictures and is believed to have been produced around 1919. Instead of names, the various positions are displayed on the bottoms. Like most strip issues, backs were blank.
While the players are generally considered generic, a couple look like they could feature actual players, like Honus Wagner or maybe even Joe Jackson.
Singles typically sell in the $5-$10 range, but your best bet is usually buying a full uncut sheet. These can be found without too much trouble and are usually in the $50-$100 range. This one recently sold for $50 on eBay.
If you’re up for more of a challenge but don’t want anything like the massive T206 set, consider a look at T205. At 208 cards in a basic set, it has less than half of the number of T206.
The artwork on the cards is generally considered among the finest of all time in the hobby. Biographies and statistics on the backs helped make this set a little ahead of its time.
A complete set isn’t cheap but if you’re unimpressed with gum or strip cards, it might be the set for you. It will take a little while to complete but not all sets for new collectors have to necessarily be easy. And if you’re willing to sacrifice a little on condition, it can be even more affordable.
Lower-end commons typically start around $10-$15. Minus the rare error cards required for a master set, Ty Cobb’s card is king here. Low-grade copies start around $500-$600 with lower-end mid-grade ones in the $1,100-$1,200 range. You can see them for sale and auction on eBay by clicking here.