The 1930s brought Goudeys and Diamond Stars. The ’50s saw the dawn of Topps. The 40s?
“Limited” would be the word that comes to mind for collectors.
After the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, there were no major mainstream sets issued until 1948–a full three years after the hostilities ceased. Surprisingly, though, there is plenty of history packed into the decade.
The 1940 Play Ball set was the first set to stop and take a look back at baseball’s 20th century history to date. It’s an impressive run of all-time greats, but it’s more of a collector’s set than one that reflects the game as it was pre and post-War.
The 1940s sets can be pricey in higher grade because of scarcity and the quality of the star and rookie cards included. For those who want their collection to have some sort of representation of the era that brought us ballplayers who were also servicemen, there are five 1940s baseball cards we’d consider ‘must haves’. Click the links to see them on eBay.
1941 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio. This isn’t DiMag’s first card, but it may be the most desirable for what it represents. Lou Gehrig died and the Yankees torch officially passed to the young San Franciscan.
The summer of ’41 was magical and DiMaggio captivated the country with his 56-game hitting streak. From May 15-July 16, he got a hit in every single game. It hasn’t been done since. No one has even come close.
You can spend thousand on a high-grade ’41 Play Ball DiMaggio, but $700-$1,000 will buy you one of the most respected cards you’ll ever own, even if it shows its age. DiMaggio was done by the early 1950s and the number of vintage cards that feature his image are a precious few.
1941 Play Ball Ted Williams: The last man to hit .406 did it in ’41. Williams came to bat 606 times that year and struck out only 27 times. His OPS was the highest of his career. His 1941 Play Ball is a great-looking card from one of the most memorable seasons in history.
You can still own decent example for well under $1,000. Simply a no-brainer whether you’re buying 1940s cards–or any vintage Hall of Famers.
1948 Bowman Stan Musial. Musial is highly regarded around the country as a Hall of Famer, but revered in the Midwest. If he’d played in a larger market, his autograph would be one of the most expensive on the market. This card is clearly the cream of the ’48 Bowman crop, with Yogi Berra a close second. Considering Musial’s career numbers and his place in the history of one of baseball’s best franchises, the ’48 Bowman rookie is undervalued. You can still buy a very respectable example for under $700, one of the best bargains in vintage Hall of Fame rookie cards.
1948 Bowman Yogi Berra: He was still “Larry” on the back of his earliest baseball cards but Yogi would soon make a name for himself. Thanks to a long career as a coach and manager, Yogi was a fixture on cards for decades but this his how thousands of kids were introduced to him. Prices for his rookie card vary greatly based on condition but a nice-looking, crease-free example can be obtained for around $600.
1948-49 Leaf Babe Ruth. The #1 card in the set was DiMaggio, but Leaf smartly reserved #3 for the Babe, who wore it for so many seasons. It’s a card that at least dates to the same decade that his name was used in the present tense; a nice tribute card that isn’t so far removed from his coaching days that it looks out of place. If you can’t afford a Goudey, this is a nice backup plan.
The last ‘real’ vintage Ruth card has increased in value over the last few years but you can still own a nice one for a lot less than some of his 1930s issues.
1948-49 Leaf Jackie Robinson. Can you imagine if today’s baseball card issue schedules had been in place in 1947? What would the frenzy have been like over a Jackie Robinson rookie card? Issued after Jackie had two full seasons in the books, it’s still considered his rookie card. The Robinson rookie will set you back $3,000 or so in a lower-to-mid-grade but scout around for one with great eye appeal and a low technical grade and you can own one for less.
The Satchel Paige Leaf rookie card may be much harder to find, but from a purely historical standpoint, Robinson is the one that will be the biggest conversation piece. Bonus points if you can afford the Larry Doby single print that’s also in this set.
1948-49 Leaf Honus Wagner. Yes, it’s another card from the Leaf set, but for collectors, this card speaks volumes. Husky Hans was still in the game at this point, coaching his way toward retirement. He’s also about to put a huge hunk of chew into his mouth, which debunks the thought that he was anti-tobacco and thus had his card pulled from the T206 set 40 years earlier.
This amazing but very inexpensive card connects a man who played in the 19th century to guys like Warren Spahn, who debuted in the same set and played into the Vietnam era.