Plain and simple, Goudey ruled the pre-war gum card era when it came to baseball cards. Issuing numerous sets beginning in 1933, the company dominated the time period.
Goudey began with an extremely popular, 240-card set in 1933 and continued producing other baseball cards through 1941. They weren’t the producers of the first of the gum cards but they quickly became the most recognizable distributor of them. And the shortprinted 1933 Nap Lajoie card they offered to collectors in 1934 is arguably the most significant pre-war gum card of them all.
Notably, Goudey wasn’t even limited strictly to the U.S. They also took their talents to Canada, issuing baseball cards for their World Wide Gum product. The World Wide Gum cards often used the same pictures found in some Goudey sets but differed quite a bit as well.
But while Goudey was easily the biggest name in 1930s and early 1940s gum card sets, they certainly had competition from others.
National Chicle was one of Goudey’s primary rivals and they issued several sports card sets. They are most recognizable for producing the 1935 National Chicle football set, widely viewed as the first pro football release. As Goudey didn’t issue football cards, that sort of put them in a class of their own on that front. But they also produced several baseball sets, too.
One of their more popular issues was the 1934-36 Batter Up set, a die-cut issue produced for their Batter Up Gum product. National Chicle also issued the colorful 1934-36 Diamond Stars set for another gum brand, Diamond Stars.
National Chicle didn’t limit their competition to only traditional cards, either. Like Goudey, they also produced small premium photographs of baseball players.
National Chicle’s premiums were similar to Goudey’s. The primary difference was the style of ink/font on them used for the names and captions on the photographs. While Goudey premiums had a thicker style of writing and are called ‘Wide Pens,’ National Chicle’s thinner ink style has left collectors calling their premiums ‘Fine Pens.’ Both remain popular with collectors today.
National Chicle had a great run, but according to PSA’s history of Goudey, went bankrupt in 1937 and was ultimately bought by Goudey, losing out to its famous rival.
While National Chicle was a serious competitor of Goudey’s, other companies were around, too.
Other early competition came from the Miller Candy Company and the U.S. Caramel Company. In 1932, a year prior to the first Goudey set, the U.S. Caramel Company produced a short, multi-sport set, similar to Goudey’s 1933 Sport Kings set. And the George C. Miller set, a product of the Miller Candy Company, was printed in 1933. Neither company made a serious challenger to Goudey in terms of baseball card set production, however, as those were the only sets each offered.
Goudey also had competition, somewhat, from the inside, so to speak. Harold DeLong previously had worked for Goudey, serving as an executive. But in 1933, he created his own baseball card set, the 1933 DeLong set. DeLong issued only this one set, which is kind of a shame because the cards were incredible. The cards had a distinctive look with black and white player images against colored backgrounds. The set was printed in significantly fewer quantities than the Goudey sets and remains in high demand today.
Later in the decade, Goudey saw stiff competition from another company, Gum, Inc. Unlike the others mentioned above (aside from National Chicle), Gum, Inc. was the only one to challenge Goudey with numerous sets. Specifically, Gum, Inc. produced three sets for its Play Ball Gum product in 1939, 1940, and 1941. The Play Ball sets are held in the same esteem by many collectors as the Goudey issues.
Play Ball was a serious competitor to Goudey. But it’s also important to note that the two did not really cross product lines, so to speak, all that often. Goudey printed different types of products in 1939 and 1940, including some baseball photo premiums in 1939. However, they did not issue traditional baseball cards in those years. Goudey printed baseball cards in 1938 before taking a hiatus in that market until 1941. Play ball helped fill the gap with baseball card sets in those two years. As a result, the Play Ball sets are popular for producing rookie cards not issued by Goudey for Hall of Fame players such as Ted Williams and Pee Wee Reese.
If collectors had to pick only one company from the pre-war era as the primary representative for baseball cards and collectibles, it would be Goudey. But it’s clear that the company wasn’t alone in producing important sets during that time.