Collecting pre-war cards is generally a challenging pursuit. Often, these cards are more than 100 years old and are difficult to track down. And even in the cases where cards are plentiful, it can still mean an expensive activity. Adding to the difficulty in assembling pre-war sets are shortprinted cards. These shortprints are even rarer than the regular cards and can make completing a set virtually impossible.
The famous T206 set has arguably the toughest shortprint of them all in the Honus Wagner card. No, the Wagner T206 card isn’t the rarest shortprint or even the rarest Wagner. But given its six-figure (and sometimes, seven-figure) price tag, it is the costliest and out of the price range for most collectors. The Wagner shortprint wasn’t intentional, really, as it was yanked from production early on as it is generally assumed his rights to use his picture were not secured. A few made their way out into the public, anyway, and the rest is history.
Cards were shortprinted for all kinds of reasons and there are other times they were unintentional. For example, some pre-War sets were issued over a period of several years. If the product was not selling as well as it should, later print runs could have been smaller, making those cards rarer and, essentially, shortprinted.
Finally, cards were sometimes shortprinted if they were issued only with certain products while others in a set were not. For that, we can go back to the T206 set as an example. Two other cards that were shortprinted there in a sense were the updated St. Louis cards of Ray Demmitt and Bill O’Hara. Both went from New York teams to St Louis teams after production on the set had begun. The New York cards were distributed with many different tobacco brands but only the Polar Bear brand had the change in teams designated on their cards. As a result, the St. Louis shortprints are much tougher to find.
Shortprints with a Purpose
Other times, shortprints were entirely intentional.
One example of that is found in the 1933 Goudey set. Widely distributed but with a whopping (for the time) 240 cards, it was already difficult to complete even for youngsters who were good at accumulating pennies. But what made it an impossible feat was that No. 106, Nap Lajoie, was not distributed at all. The one benefit, I suppose, was that the missing Lajoie card was replaced on the printing sheet by a Babe Ruth card. That Ruth card was double printed making it easier to score a card of the legendary slugger. But there’s little question that set collectors would have just preferred to have No. 106 to complete the issue.
Goudey is long believed to have intentionally left #106 out of the set in order to keep collectors busy spending those nickels as they went about a futile hunt for the missing card. It worked. Exasperated collectors eventually sent letters to Goudey in hopes of an answer. The demand (or the guilt) must have been so great that they created one and pushed it through their 1934 print run. The card was done in a ’34 design and sent by Goudey to those letter writers.
While Goudey may be responsible for one of the most important intentional shortprints, they were hardly the first company to pull that trick.
Companies often wanted to reward fans who were passionate enough to buy enough of their product to compile a complete set. That loyalty often wasn’t repaid as it should be, though. While companies often gave prizes to collectors in exchange for complete sets, those sets often had cards that were almost assuredly shortprinted on purpose. The reason wasn’t likely so much that they wanted to stick it to little Jimmy or Susie. The real reason these cards were intentionally shortprinted was likely to limit the number of prizes that had to be paid out.
Maple Crispette, a Canadian candy company, was also famous for this. Their 1923 V117 baseball card set had a shortprinted card in Casey Stengel. It’s known to exist but none have been graded by PSA nor SGC to date. Interestingly enough, his card is No. 15 in the set and the company’s 1924-25 hockey card set also has a drastically shortprinted No. 15 card in Sprague Cleghorn.
Maple Crispette’s case is particularly interesting in that collectors could even mix and match cards in those sports to earn a prize. Baseball cards advertised a prize of either a glove or a baseball while hockey cards advertised a prize of a pair of skates. The mixing and matching made little difference, though, because in both cases, card No. 15 was the difficult one to find. When you put together that evidence, it makes it impossible to ignore that the shortprinting was indeed intentional.
And in some cases, the card may have been so rare that we are still trying to track it down today. An example of that is seen in the 1923-24 Crescent Selkirk’s hockey set (FC24). Card No. 6 was shortprinted as collectors could swap a full set of the cards for a brick of ice cream. To this day, collectors are still trying to confirm who is pictured on that card as its appearance has not yet (at least in recent years) been confirmed.
Set collecting isn’t always this difficult. Many sets are affordable and, with some patience, can be completed. But others with shortprints can be an absolute nightmare for modern day collectors.