Strip card sets have been known historically as issues that struggle with aesthetic appeal. But one set, in particular, is one that has made collectors wince for years — the W9316 strip card set.
Here’s a closer look at this hidden ‘gem.’
W9316 Strip Card Basics
Believed to have been issued in 1921, the W9316 strip card set is not a large one. It includes only ten cards and while that is small by today’s standards, other sets were similarly small in the pre-war era.
Like most strip cards, the creator of this set is unknown. But if they were typical strip cards, they would have been distributed by all sorts of stores and vendors. Strip cards were printed in uncut strips or sheets and often cut or torn off at the time they were given to a customer. How many collectors ultimately got their hands on them is questionable, simply because the cards are much rarer than other strip cards.
Of note is that the odd W9316 designation was not from Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog. That would not have made much sense based on Burdick’s numbering. Strip cards in that book (in a section then called ‘Recent Album Cards’ and printed with Exhibit cards) began with W501 and worked their way up through W644. Rather, the set was added by another publication that was printed after the fact. The American Card Catalog does not seem to have recognized this unique set so, to many collectors, it is uncatalogued.
The players in the release were certainly real live major leaguers. But unless you happen to be familiar with the set, good luck determining which player is which without the benefit of the name on the front. The depictions do not look much like the actual players. The color, cartoonish depictions are particularly difficult to stomach — so much so, that I actually believe this is the ugliest pre-war baseball card of them all.
There are lots of things wrong with the cards that make them look unappealing. For one thing, the players are so crudely drawn that several of them look like other cards in the set. The faces of the players are a problem, often lacking sufficient detail and with a distinguishing characteristic of bright red lips as if the players were wearing lipstick. Red lips on early cards were not terribly uncommon. In particular, young children, male or female, were often shown on trade cards with red lips. But coupled with the sheer hideous nature of the cards, here, it is simply one more thing to complain about.
Even the uniforms on many of the players were sketched so briefly that they are noticeably bad. There’s, for example, a disproportionately awful looking card of Bob Veach, which depicts him with a somewhat small head and a large upper body. The cards do have a card number on the front with the name, which is helpful when cataloging a set. But the cards (like most strip cards) have blank backs and this is mostly a forgettable issue for collectors seeking cards that, well, look nice.
Like many strip card sets, the printing quality varies quite a bit on these. The paper stock used for the cards, of course, is somewhat fragile, matching other inexpensive strip issues. Ink levels also contribute to what can be drastically looking different cards with little overall consistency. Similarly, these hand cut cards have little consistency when it comes to the sizes and edges. Some have a rough cut or have even been torn instead of formally cut with scissors. Others are cut drastically narrow or wide.
The checklist is not terrible but could certainly have been stronger. Four of the ten cards depict Hall of Famers (Home Run Baker, Wilbert Robinson, George Sisler, and Ray Schalk) but missing are the likes of big names, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and others.
Sisler’s is generally considered to be the biggest name in the set. Even if you don’t concede that point, he was certainly the biggest star at the time of the 1921 release date. The year before, in 1920, he led the majors with an incredible 257 hits — a record that stood for more than 80 years until it was broken by Ichiro Suzuki in 2004, who collected 262. Unsurprisingly, Sisler also led the majors that year with a .407 batting average and 399 total bases. In 1921, he followed that up by showing off his versatility, leading the majors with 18 triples and leading the league with 35 stolen bases while hitting a healthy .371. And in 1922, Sisler had arguably his greatest season with 246 hits and a career-best .420 batting average while leading the majors in stolen bases and winning the Most Valuable Player Award.
His was a great inclusion but without Ruth, Cobb, and Johnson, the set is still lacking a significant amount of star power.
The set also has two errors in it. Hall of Famer Wilbert Robinson has his first name spelled as Wilbur. Less offensive, Wally Schang’s first name is spelled as Wallie. Neither card is known to have been corrected so while those errors detract from the set a little, the price for them is not affected.
Here’s the full set checklist.
- Bob Veach
- Frank ‘Home Run’ Baker
- Wilbur Robinson
- Tom Griffith
- Jimmie Johnston
- Wallie Schang
- Leon Cadore
- George Sisler
- Ray Schalk
- Jesse Barnes
Rarity and Pricing
As mentioned, the cards are not easy to find. You can typically find some on eBay but quantities are not plentiful. That often leads to high asking prices from sellers offering them.
The rarity is seen in PSA’s population report. To date, the company has not even graded 40 total copies of the cards. Many certainly, however, are raw and ungraded, so that number shouldn’t be viewed too seriously. It does speak to the fact that the cards are abundant, however.
$75-$100 is a good place to start for commons in decent condition. Some of the bigger names can be found within that threshold on occasion but usually, you can expect to pay for for the likes of Sisler. Sisler cards in nice condition can fetch twice that amount.