Talk to dealers and collectors and the one word that keeps surfacing about the 1940 Play Ball Baseball set is ‘underrated’. Our Vintage Set of the Week is a 240-card whopper, overflowing with stars of the day and stars of the past.
Play Ball made its debut with the 1939 set, another black and white issue that used what were for the time, clear photos of contemporary players. The set must have done well because Gum Inc. followed up that effort with a bigger, better set in 1940. While it may not be as aesthetically beautiful as the colorized 1941 set that would follow, cards from the ’40 Play Ball set are harder to find but prices don’t always reflect that.
The cards measure 2 ½ by 3 1/8 and feature extensive player biographies on the back.
There is even a ‘high number’ series. Cards #1-180 are easier to locate than the second series #181-240. Cards #123-180 have two back variations; one is just a regular promotional message encouraging kids to collect the entire set while a second version touts Gum Inc.’s ‘Superman Gum’ product.
The first card in the set is the most valuable. Joe DiMaggio’s card is always in demand but often plagued by condition problems. A PSA 6 is valued at $1,750 according to the Sportscard Market Report. An early Ted Williams card is also in the ’40 Play Ball set along with Hank Greenberg, Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell and the other stars of the day.
However, those who appreciate baseball history will get a kick out of some of the all-time greats in the set including Joe Jackson. His inclusion makes you wonder what the commissioner’s office thought of the company’s decision to include Jackson, who had been banned from baseball only 20 years earlier. The Jackson card is worth nearly as much as the DiMaggio. Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Tris Speaker are among the other greats in the set. Wagner was actually still active in the game as a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates, which makes his card more than just an “all-time great”.
Lower to mid-grade commons from the set are usually under $10; often under $5.
Toning is often an issue with the Play Ball set of 1940 and it’s likely if you put together a set, the consistency of the colors will vary.
1940 Play Ball sets are rarely offered because of their high break-up value thanks to the many stars and the valuable high numbers. Expect to pay around $10,000 for a mid-grade set, if you can find one, but a low-grade set sold recently for only $2,190.