The largest single-issue hockey card set issued before World War II, the relatively plain 1937-38 V356 World Wide Gum release has never had a sparkling reputation in the hobby. However, it is a collection which still deserves the respect of modern fans since it is a perfect snapshot of the NHL as it edged toward the Original Six era and holds a few secrets that took decades to uncover.
Issued in a wax wrapper that featured a striking design and bold red and green elements popping out to draw in young fans, it is safely presumed that there was a stick of gum inside. The wrappers indicate how many cards are in the set and that World Wide Gum Co. Ltd. was based in Granby, Quebec, just southeast of Montreal.
The second hockey card set put out by World Wide Gum after 1933-34’s popular Ice Kings issue, this collection is certainly an ambitious one for the era as it tops out at 135 cards – a total which would remain a record in this part of the hobby until O-Pee-Chee put out a 216-card effort in 1968-69. Putting a 1937-38 World Wide Gum set together is no easy task, especially when it is difficult to find singles at times – especially in top condition. These cards are tough, but not impossible to track down, and are somewhat underrated today.
Featuring a plain black and white design and relying entirely on head shots, it is quite similar to the baseball set the company released during this era. Numbered on the front and back, the biographies are substantial and the absence of a stat line can be forgiven.
Flipping Over the Cards
The backs themselves tell an interesting story – one that your humble author discovered back in 2003. After purchasing a couple of singles at Toronto’s Sportcard & Memorabilia Expo and taking a moment to flip them over to read the biographies, I discovered an interesting fact. At the time, the hobby believed the 1937-38 V356 World Wide Gum set to have been issued in 1936-37. However, no one took the time to question this, taking it verbatim from the early price guides such as Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog and the annual guides produced by Montreal-based dealer Andrew Pywowarczuk.
After checking out the bilingual backs for the entire set through some online digging, I was able to conclusively prove that this was indeed a 1937-38 release and wrote about it on my then-operational SLAM! Collectibles website. While some hobby media and grading outlets considered the facts and changed things accordingly, PSA was a bit hesitant to accept the change. This has been remedied with time, however, but there are graded cards out there which carry the 1936-37 date on the label.
Superstars and More
During the 1937-38 season, the NHL was comprised of eight teams. Naturally, there was the Original Six that ruled the league for 25 seasons from 1942-43 until the dawn of the expansion era, but also the New York Americans and the Montreal Maroons.
In addition to all of the big names of the era like Boston’s Eddie Shore, Toronto’s Syl Apps, Lynn Patrick of the New York Rangers, and Syd Howe of the Detroit Red Wings, there are also several team executives depicted such as Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe, Red Wings coach Jack Adams, and Bruins general manager Art Ross. Strangely missing from this set is Maple Leafs goalie Turk Broda.
A Fitting Tribute
One of the most obvious giveaways when reading the card backs was the fact that they acknowledged the passing of Montreal Canadiens superstar Howie Morenz. Coming back to the Habs in 1936-37 in the twilight of his career, he suffered a leg injury which brought his career to an abrupt end on January 28, 1937.
Languishing in hospital, he passed away on March 8 of that year after falling and suffering a coronary embolism. It was believed that he had also suffered a nervous breakdown around this time and while there has long been speculation of exactly what happened that day, most historians tend to accept the media reports that his death was accidental and that his condition may have stemmed from being unable to play the game he loved so dearly. Just 34 years old, the “Babe Ruth of Hockey” left behind a tremendous legacy and he was eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame once it was established less than a decade later.
His 1937-38 V356 World Wide Gum acknowledges his passing. The hobby’s lone mint example is listed on eBay now.
World Wide Gum also produced a card of his son, Howie Jr., who was a 10-year-old mascot for the Canadiens. Years later, he played in the minor leagues but never made it to the NHL ranks to take over his father’s number 7. The Morenz Jr. card is one of the most compelling in this set and the decision to put it in was a class act that resonates over 80 years later.
Solid Rookie Crop
On top of the big names, there are also a few important rookie cards to consider. Smythe gets an official rookie card here that is vastly underrated like that of Maroons executive Tommy Gorman, who was a pivotal figure in the early days of the NHL.
As for the players making their cardboard debuts in 1937-38 V356 World Wide Gum, you have several important Hall of Famers starting with Red Wings ace Herb Lewis, gentlemanly New York Rangers icon Frank Boucher, and original Calder Trophy winner Carl Voss. Additional rookie cards of notable players include overtime hero Mud Bruneteau, Vezina Trophy winner Normie Smith, and future New York Rangers coach Phil Watson.
Since this is without doubt a 1937-38 issue, the cards of “Sweeney” Schriner, Lionel Conacher, Neil Colville, Bob Davidson, and Syl Apps should not be considered rookie cards as they all appear in the 1936-37 O-Pee-Chee Series D release.
Who Are These Guys?
Further examination of the 1937-38 V356 World Wide Gum checklist shows that the vast majority of cards numbered 101 and above feature many players that never skated in an NHL game. Due to the company’s location in Montreal, several top senior players from the Montreal Royals and Quebec Aces were included in the set. The Quebec Senior Hockey League had officially formed this season and included those two clubs along with the Verdun Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators (not connected to the NHL club which moved south to St. Louis for a disastrous 1934-35 season as the Eagles before folding), Montreal Victorias, and some city-based university teams like the Concordia Civics and McGill University.
For the purposes of this set, only the Senators, Royals, and Aces were included from this loop along with amateur players from Sudbury and the Hull Volants. The senior and amateur talent here is highlighted by future Hart Trophy winner and Hall of Fame member Buddy O’Connor along with future big leaguers like Johnny Mahaffy, Pete Morin, and Maurice Craughan (who skated with the Maroons during their final season). The rest of the senior players are essentially lost to the fog of history and should be among the most affordable cards in the set when coming up for auction.
However, the last part of the set does include two Chicago players and the team’s coach, Bill Stewart – the final card in the collection. Known for also being an NHL referee and an umpire for Major League Baseball, Stewart took the reins of the team and had great success over two seasons before picking up the whistle again. His grandson, Paul, later played in the WHA and NHL before becoming a referee himself!
The Black Hawks players are Art Wiebe and goaltender Mike Karakas – the latter of who played an important role in backstopping the team to an improbable Stanley Cup championship while boasting a lineup loaded with American-born talent. Both appeared in 1936-37 O-Pee-Chee as well, meaning that they are not rookie cards despite being listed as such in the past.
An Underrated Gem of a Set
All told, 1937-38 V356 World Wide Gum is a monumental challenge for most collectors. Its reputation as a plain and boring set is somewhat unwarranted as it is loaded with lots of superstars and rookies. Over 80 years after being found in wax packs, there is some concern that modern collectors may be overlooking its significance and it can only get better with age.
You can usually find a few dozen cards from the 1937-38 World Wide Gum set on eBay. Click here to see them.