Sports Collectors Daily

Editor’s Blog: William Gardiner’s Amazing Goudey Sheets at Auction

Thankfully, young William Gardiner of Boston, MA did not believe in discarding items from his childhood.  A young lad in the 1930s, Gardiner never could have imagined the sheets of sports and non-sports trading cards he received upon a trip to a local manufacturer could be so valuable decades later.  He knew they were worth saving, though.

Having a connection to Goudey at a time when it was the prominent maker of gum cards in the 1930s led to a teenaged William acquiring around three dozen uncut production sheets of 24 cards including several baseball issues. He saved them for more than 35 years before bringing them the attention of what was a small but growing sports collecting hobby.  Two of Gardiner’s 1933 Goudey baseball card sheets are featured in the current Robert Edward Auctions’ catalog.  One (shown below) includes three Babe Ruth cards and a Lou Gehrig and bidding is already into six figures.

Even as a youngster, Gardiner kept his sheet hoard in outstanding shape and they remained so through the years.  In 1974, a young Rob Lifson—who later founded REA– attended the District Center 65 show in New York, which was one of the first large organized card shows of the era.  Gardiner, who was believed to be in his 50s at the time, made the trip from Massachusetts and brought with him a few pristine uncut Goudey sheets.

His intention was to place the sheets in the show’s auction, reserved for the better items, with a starting bid of $200 each. At the time, $200 was more money than most considered spending on baseball cards of any sort. Although those in attendance (including some of the most notable collectors involved in the hobby at the time) were in awe of the sheets, none of them wanted to fork over that much, and the few sheets Gardiner brought with him went unsold.

Lifson, however, obtained Gardiner’s contact information and kept in touch with him for several years. Fortuitously, Gardiner moved from Massachusetts to suburban Philadelphia, just a few blocks from Lifson’s home, and in the mid-1970s, Gardiner sold some of the sheets from his impressive stash to the young collector who had an unusual appreciation for vintage cards.

By the late 1970s, Gardiner had sold all of his sheets—by this time about 20-25 Goudey Gum issues including two sheets with three Ruths, the better of which is in the current REA catalog.  There were also a few 1934 Goudey sheets, including at least one with a 1933 Lajoie on it and others that had remained pristine for decades.

Today all of the finest baseball Goudey sheets originate from this small but extraordinary collection. Many are in private hands and they have grown tremendously in value as collectors and investors appreciate their scarcity.

A few uncut Goudey sheets originated directly with the company but those typically contain tape stains or other wear associated with utilization by the company as it created what became the 20th century’s first major gum card sets issued in ‘wax packs’.

In all, REA has five Goudey sheets in its current auction, two from the Gardiner collection.  There is also a sheet from Goudey’s files and two World Wide Gum sheets produced by Goudey for distribution in Canada.  In addition to the remarkable ‘Triple Ruth’, the second Gardiner piece is known as the ‘World Series sheet’ because it features 12 players from each of the two teams participating in the 1933 World Series (the Senators and the Giants). This was the last series of cards produced by Goudey in 1933 and released in time to capitalize on the country’s fascination with what was happening on the diamond.

Gardiner, by the way, was also an avid autograph collector. As a youth (likely 12 or 13 years of age), he won a contest to attend the World Series, obtaining field access and bringing some of his sheets with him to have signed.  There are several autographed Goudey sheets in the hobby, all of which originate from Gardiner including one of those 1933 ‘World Series sheets’ that is signed by 15 of the 24 players pictured (see below).  It sold in an REA auction nine years ago for $13,920.

The sheets of 1933 Sport Kings that exist in the hobby also originated in the Gardiner collection.

The REA auction ends this Saturday night.