The W554 baseball card set isn’t your typical strip card issue. Nevertheless, these oversized photos are classified as a W-Card release.
Here’s a look at these unique cards.
W554 Strip Card Basics
Believed to have been issued in 1930, W554 cards are more like small photographs than your traditional baseball cards. And at 5″ wide x 7″ tall, they are even larger than other small photo issues or even postcards.
The poses on many will look familiar to some collectors of early baseball cards. Images from this set were also used in some other series’, including the 1929 R316 Kashin Photos set. The photos feature large action shots of players. When viewing the cards in the set, one noticeable thing is that no portraits were included. Each photo is a full-body image of a player either throwing the ball or swinging a bat.
The set, at first glance, seems ripe for completion. With a total of only 18 cards and also coming from the mostly inexpensive strip card classification, it seems like it would be an easy target. But the cards are not that common and also much more expensive than your typical W-Card.
One notable thing is that, as shown here, there are actually two different types of W554 cards. The easiest way to tell them apart is generally by the tint or shade of the picture. One type is a definitive black and white type (or close to it) while the other has a sepia or brownish tone to it.
But if that is too difficult to determine, fortunately, another way to tell most of them apart exists. The Type 1 cards (with the sepia/brown tint) generally also have print at the bottom for the player’s name, position, and team. The black and white cards (Type 2), meanwhile, have no such printing. Collectors should know that, while this is often advertised as the case, it is not a fool proof method to determine Type 1 vs. Type 2 as some sepia photos are known to exist without the print at the bottom.
Finally, while most are blank-backed, it is important to note that several have been found with advertisements printed or stamped on the back. All are rare but one of the more common ones were advertisements for Bonemery Ice Cream Confectionery. Others offered prizes to children. In any case, these are quite rare and command even a greater premium than the regular W554s.
A Power-Packed Lineup
The W554 checklist is small but full of big names. That, along with the rarity, increases the degree of difficulty in completing a set. It is led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who are the two most expensive cards in the group. But there are also plenty of other big names here worth a look.
It’s clear that the set’s producer wanted a star-studded group. 13 of the 18 players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And even ones that were not were excellent players. Lew Fonseca won a batting title and was a career .316 hitter. Joe Judge was a career .298 hitter and finished as high as third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting. Ed Rommel led the league in wins twice and nearly won the 1922 Most Valuable Player Award, finishing behind only George Sisler (who batted .420 that year). Finally, Lefty O’Doul is a legendary player, winning two batting titles and owning a career .349 batting average.
With a career 37-57 record and .417 ERA, Doug McWeeny is biggest question mark in the set. Of note is that in 1928, he actually led the league in shutouts and walks. The following season, his 11 wild pitches also led the league.
McWeeny aside, in terms of star power, the W554 set is tough to beat. Here’s the full checklist:
- Mickey Cochrane
- Lew Fonseca
- Jimmie Foxx
- Lou Gehrig
- Burleigh Grimes
- Lefty Grove
- Waite Hoyt
- Joe Judge
- Chuck Klein
- Doug McWeeny
- Lefty O’Doul
- Mel Ott
- Herb Pennock
- Ed Rommel
- Babe Ruth
- Al Simmons
- Lloyd Waner
- Hack Wilson
As mentioned, the W554 cards don’t come cheap. That’s part because of their rarity and part because nearly every player in the set is a star.
A few of the commons can be scooped up in the $25-$50 range but most players start closer to $75-$100. Ruth and Gehrig’s photos lead the way and are generally over $1,000. Both were recently sold on eBay as part of auctions with an SGC 5.5 of Ruth and a PSA 5 of Gehrig both fetching around $1,800 each.