Strip cards are often dismissed by many collectors. And while that’s understandable due to the ugly nature of some, there’s no denying they are an affordable entry into the pre-war card market. These cards were also hand-cut or even torn from strips and, as a result, are often low-grade issues. But many of the cards of big name players can be found for significantly less than tobacco or caramel card issues.
As with any rankings list, you can make a lot of arguments for other sets. The W515 issue, for example, was used for the first Fleer cards, which is a notable achievement. But that set’s horrendous artwork can’t be overlooked and that was the reason it didn’t make my list.
Based on players included, artwork, and overall appeal, here are my top five strip card issues.
5. 1925-28 W512/W513 Strip Cards
I’ll admit it — I have a soft spot for the W512 and W513 sets. Many of the pictures, admittedly, are not great. But most are passable and overall, there’s a lot to like here. Where else can you get a Ruth or Cobb card, original to their playing days, for a few hundred bucks?
It’s a multi-sport set and there’s plenty of baseball to go around. With 100 total cards in the two sets, more than one-third are baseball players. It’s also got the big names you want, for the most part, with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Rogers Hornsby, Grover Alexander, and several other Hall of Famers. Eight of the ten in the W512 set are Hall of Famers and there are some brownie points for that.
Even beyond that, there are other Hall of Famers in other sports, such as Jack Dempsey, Bill Tilden, Walter Hagen, Gene Tunney, and Helen Wills. Overall, it’s a star-studded set. Plus, even if you’re not a non-sports fan, some of the other cards, such as one featuring Charlie Chaplin, are pretty cool. A bonus is card No. 100, featuring tennis great Rene Lacoste, who also created the Lacoste apparel brand.
4. 1923 W572 Strip Cards
While most strip cards had artist depictions of players, the W572 strip cards actually used real pictures. While the pictures show us the actual players, these also come off as a bit drab with no color to be found. I’m mostly okay with the way the set looks but I’m not overly impressed, either.
The flipside is that the release also boasts an incredibly large checklist with 120 cards. That checklist also includes all of the stars, like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Walter Johnson, George Sisler, Zack Wheat, Smoky Joe Wood, and plenty of others. With such a large roster of players, it’s one of the more loaded strip issues you’ll find.
3. 1921 W551 Strip Cards
I feel like this is one of the more underappreciated strip issues. Like W512 and W513, the W551 strip cards set is a multi-sport issue. But it also features some half-decent artwork (this Walter Johnson, aside) and covers a wide range of topics.
One little known fact about it is that it includes what can be considered rookie cards for several key athletes, including Hall of Fame tennis great Bill Tilden and Hall of Fame golfer Gene Sarazen. The set also includes rookies of Hall of Famers Mickey Walker, Suzanne Lenglen, and Molla Mallory. All of that is in addition to the baseball greats found, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Home Run Baker, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, Casey Stengel, and others.
2. 1925-31 W590 Strip Cards
Like the W572 set, the multi-sport W590 issue featured black and white images of players. The cards have somewhat of a ‘neater’ appearance with aligned text at the bottom.
I prefer these to the W572s in terms of appearance (actual photos were used) and also because of the mix of sports included. There’s plenty of baseball to be sure with the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Zack Wheat, and more. The Gehrig, in particular, is one of his earlier issues and considered to be a rookie card by some as the earliest cards in this set were printed in 1925, his first full-time season as a major leaguer.
But there’s also a lot of other key cards, too, including a rare football card of Red Grange and also the rookie card of golfer Walter Hagen. Add it all up, and it’s an incredible set.
1. 1919-21 W514 Strip Cards
For my money, there’s no better strip card set than the W514 release. I can understand the sentiment of wanting a set utilizing real photographs and the W590 issue is a tremendous release. But I personally love the colored artwork on cards and, despite the fact that some of the appearances are a bit shaky, it’s hard to top this one.
The biggest reason for that is player selection. The set includes a slew of stars, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. The Ruth card is doubly special since it’s often cited as his first card with the New York Yankees. While Ruth can bring $1,000 and up in nice shape, most of the Hall of Famers are not out of reach.
The real checklisting highlight actually comes after those players, though. As an added bonus, it includes seven of the eight known players from the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919, including one of the few cards of Shoeless Joe Jackson and manager Kid Gleason. Add in the several known stamped backs for Barker Bread, Hendler’s Ice Cream, Mother’s Bread, and Robinson Cruso Peanuts, and it tops my list of the best strip cards around.