Strip cards often are tagged with the undesirable label and can be inexpensive ways to collect early baseball stars. But not all strip cards are expensive or easy to find. One of the more elusive and expensive sets is the W553 release.
Here’s a closer look at this unique series that has been identified as a strip card set.
The W553 set is not your typical strip card release. And, technically, while some were offered in strip card form, they are also believed to have been issued with packages of gum. Distributed in or around 1929, they measure approximately 1 3/4″ wide by 2 3/4″ tall, making them a bit oversized compared other strip cards. They also feature real black and white images of players as opposed to the shoddy type of artwork that is often seen in other strip series’.
Most distinctly, perhaps, is the fact that they were printed with various tint colors. Cards can be found in several different color tints, including blue, green, red, and cream. A fifth salmon type is also sometimes referred to as well.
The cards feature an action shot of a player on the front. The front also includes a replica signature of the player along with his team and league designation. Backs are entirely black. Finally, the fronts include the player’s picture inside of a decorative frame design.
The origins for the cards seemed sketchy for a long time as no manufacturer name printed on them. However, it has since been discovered (as noted in this REA auction, for example) that the cards appear to have been distributed by Marble Bubble Gum Novelties. That company offered a set of cards with this same design for movie stars. The movie star packages included one card with a stick of gum and it is believed by some that the baseball cards were probably issued in the same capacity.
However, while some of the baseball cards may have been distributed in packages such as those, uncut strips of these are also known as well.
Collectors of other pre-war sets may notice some shared images from this set. Pictures on these cards are also found elsewhere in other releases, including the R316 Kashin Publications set.
One of the more notable examples of image sharing, however, is seen on the card of Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. Gehrig’s card features the Yankees’ slugger in an iconic batting pose that was used on his 1933 Goudey cards. If not the same image entirely, the Goudey card would have come from a very similar one. And ironically, a recent discovery occurred of a picture that was close to the one used for the Goudey card, as we covered here earlier this year.
Shown here for comparison are the Gehrig cards – to the left is his 1933 Goudey card and the image on the right is his red-tinted W553 strip.
In all, the W553 set includes only a total of ten players. But what it lacks in size it makes up in name appeal. Nine of the ten players in the set are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Lefty O’Doul is the lone exception there and he was, for a brief time, one of the top players in all of baseball. Safe to say, the makers of this set sought out some of the most well-known players at the time.
Here’s the complete W553 checklist. Cards in the set are not numbered and are only presented alphabetically.
- Mickey Cochrane
- Frankie Frisch
- Lou Gehrig
- Goose Goslin
- Burleigh Grimes
- Lefty Grove
- Rogers Hornsby
- Lefty O’Doul
- Babe Ruth
- Al Simmons
It should be noted that some checklists have also referenced five additional cards in this set. However, the checklisting of those players (Lu Blue, Jimmie Foxx, Rabbit Maranville, Bing Miller, and Pie Traynor) has been called into question. At this point, most updated checklists have removed these players from consideration as their cards are not likely to exist.
Rarity and Pricing
Despite the fact that there are only ten cards in the checklist, collectors should not assume that building an entire set is an easy feat. To the contrary, building the entire W553 set is quite challenging because the cards are extremely rare. The cards are seen on eBay, as some past sales will attest to. However, at any given time, you should not expect to see many listed there.
And because the cards are tough to find, asking prices for them can be high. It is difficult to find any card from the set for much under $75-$100 and some can run considerably more. Several low-grade or Authentic grade examples sold on eBay recently for under $100. Ruth is the most expensive card in the set and is easily into four figures.
For example, Heritage sold a modest SGC 3.5 for more than $3,100 in an auction. That example is pictured here.
There are a few W553 cards on eBay right now, including a Ruth.