When it comes to pre-war multi-sport sets, the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings set is often heralded as the best. The set boasts all kinds of legendary figures but is also known for producing what are often viewed as the first true professional basketball cards.
Here’s my look at what I consider to be the top ten cards in the set.
10. Howie Morenz
A handful of hockey cards are found in the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings set and none is more notable than Morenz.
A Hockey Hall of Famer, Morenz is one of the top early hockey players. He first played in the Ontario Hockey Association before joining the National Hockey League and playing for the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Chicago Black Hawks.
After fracturing his leg in a 1937 game, he tragically died in the hospital after suffering a coronary embolism, passing away at the age of 34.
As hockey was still a growing sport, Morenz did not have too many American cards. This is one of his more popular issues.
9. Duke Kahanamoku
That question is understandable and probably one raised by more than half of the readers of this article. But Kahanamoku, specifically his card, deserves to be on this list. Some that are more familiar with him, even, may rate it higher.
Kahanamoku is depicted as a swimmer on this card and that was certainly his forte. He won several medals in the Olympics, including golds, and was one of the dominant swimmers of his time.
But Kahanamoku’s more interesting ‘accomplishment’ is being recognized for popularizing the sport of surfing. He is a bit of a cult hero for that and given that he is found on few trading cards, that makes this one all the more special. In decent condition, his card starts around $150-$200.
8. Bobby Jones
Jones’ golf cards are always popular and this one is no exception.
One of the great early players in the sport, Jones is featured on this card that is one of the more valuable ones in the set. Going strictly on a price-only basis, it would actually rank higher with some mid-grade cards easily exceeding $1,000.
But while it’s a great card of Jones with incredible artwork, the reality is that Jones is found on any number of cards, making it a bit less important compared to others on this list.
Still, it’s an important card of one of the more important athletes of the era and is a prize for golf card collectors.
7. Knute Rockne
Often considered one of the top college coaches in football history, Rockne led Notre Dame to three national championships in a career lasting only 13 years.
There are more valuable cards in the set — decent Rockne cards mostly start in the $250-$350 range. However, his card deserves a spot on this list as it’s a bit special. Rockne died about two years prior to the release of this card after he was involved in a plane crash, making this a posthumous card.
As a coach, he is not found on many cards. In addition to this set, he was in at least a couple of other 1930s sets, including the 1935 National Chicle release and the less known 1937 Donut Corporation America set. But his pre-war cards are few and far between, making this a sought after issue.
6. Red Grange
Grange was not only arguably the best football player of his generation but is still viewed as one of the all-time greats of the sport.
Winning championships at the collegiate and professional levels, he is one of the most celebrated football players of all time. Playing primarily for the Chicago Bears, his number was retired by that franchise and Grange’s incredible career is still discussed even today.
Beyond the fact that Grange was a legendary player, the picture on his card depicting an early football uniform just looks fantastic and makes the card even more attractive. The card usually starts around $700-$800 in decent condition.
5. Nat Holman
As I’ve written before, the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings set is known for producing what are credited as the first professional basketball cards.
In all, four players are featured in the basketball subset and Nat Holman is the biggest star of the bunch. Holman even has the distinction of being the first basketball player featured, technically making his No. 3 card the first one from that sport in the set.
A Basketball Hall of Famer, Holman was first a player with the Original Celtics then became a championship winning coach at the collegiate level.
Given the card’s importance, it’s probably a bit undervalued. Decent copies generally start in the $100-$200 range. Despite that low price, though, it makes my top five for being such an early card for the sport.
4. Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Didrikson Zaharias is not on the same level as Duke Kahanamoku in terms of lack of name recognition. She is famous for being one of the all-around top female athletes of all time and is more well known than Kahanamoku. But it will surprise many to see her card ranked so highly on this list.
The reality, however, is that you can make the argument that her card could be even higher.
Calling Didrickson Zaharias one of the top female athletes, you see, is a bit of a slap in the face. Simply put, she is one of the greatest athletes, male or female. She won Olympic gold medals in track and field and then ten major golf championships — the last coming in 1954 only two years before her death at the age of 45. She also played baseball and basketball.
Of particular note is that Didrikson is not found on many vintage cards at all. In the pre-war era, aside from some 1930s international Olympic issues, this is really it in terms of popular cards for her. And starting at around $500 in mid-grade condition, it’s a card that is recognized as an important one.
3. Jim Thorpe
With all due respect to Cobb, if not for the legendary Babe Ruth, Jim Thorpe might top the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings list for me. Ty Cobb is no doubt the more collected player and his card is significantly more valuable. But Thorpe is seen on so few early cards that this one is extra special. On a different day, Thorpe may be No. 2 for me on this list.
Thorpe is featured in the set for his football abilities. But like Didrikson Zaharias, he was really more of an all around athlete. In addition to playing football, Thorpe was an Olympic gold medalist in track and field. He also played major league baseball for several seasons.
The few cards he has in any sport always are big sellers and this one is no exception. In decent condition, the card usually starts in the $600-$800 range.
2. Ty Cobb
Behind Babe Ruth, Cobb’s card is the most sought after one on this list. As his cards are in most sets that the Hall of Famer appears, this one is quite popular.
Technically, it isn’t one of Cobb’s best cards. While Ruth was still playing baseball, Cobb had actually retired five years before this card was produced. Only one other baseball player besides Cobb and Ruth appeared in the set (Carl Hubbell). Thus, it’s a testament to his enormous popularity, even as a retired player.
One of the greatest hitters of all time, Cobb won 12 batting titles and his career .366 batting average is the highest of all time. No other player in recent history has even come close to it. Frankly, it is a mark that will likely never be bested.
Because the card is a post-retirement card for Cobb, it is actually one of his more affordable pre-war issues. It has been on the move recently, though, and is getting a bit more expensive. In decent condition, it starts around $1,000.
1. Babe Ruth
If Babe Ruth is in a set, there are few exceptions where his card would be topped in terms of importance. This is not one of those occasions as Ruth’s card sits as the clear top card in the entire Sport Kings release.
Unlike the card of Cobb, it’s also a contemporary card as Ruth was still an active player at the time of release. Technically, though, 1933 was one of Ruth’s final productive seasons — and even then he was not the power threat he was earlier in his career.
That year, Ruth hit ‘only‘ .301, one of the lowest totals of his career. Plus, his 34 home runs, while above average, were not, well, Ruthian. Ruth still did manage to lead the majors in walks with 114, showing he was still incredibly feared by pitchers and his numbers were not bad, of course. He just had really started to show a decline in being the dominant figure he once was.
Ruth’s Sport Kings card is probably one of his better bargains in terms of cards from his playing days. Decent copies usually start at more than $2,000.
You can see authentic 1933 Goudey Sport Kings cards on eBay here.