Baseball cards during World War II
This time of year, we get a news release from one of the card companies nearly every other day–sometimes twice a day–about a new product that’s been released. Part of it is timing–the baseball season is at its midway point, the companies are hustling to get one more basketball and hockey set out there before the sports completely fade from our consciences and they’re all trying to beat each other to the punch with early football cards. The number of sets, of course, is down from what it was 2-3 years ago because of league mandates, but there are still a lot of them. Collectors during World War II didn’t have that problem.
I got to looking up some of the baseball sets that were issued during the War years of 1942-1945. The ranks are decidedly thin because, hard as it may be to imagine now, there was such a massive effort to conserve everything, paper products were not to be used for cards but rather kept for any war-related purpose either at home or abroad. If you want a cool niche to tackle as a collector, try finding those few sets that did make their appearance during that time period.
According to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, the list includes only 17 sets. The only really well-known national issue was the 1943 M.P. & Co (R320-1) set that are actually drawings of players that don’t look much at all like who they are purported to be. There are numerous variations of the cards, which were produced by a New York novelty and carnival supply firm, so it’s possible they were even printed before the War with names added later. The card set includes 24 subjects including several Hall of Famers like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg. MP & Company added some new names with another set in 1949, but used the same pictures from ’43!
Most of the sets issued during WW2 were team issued photo packs. The Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs and Phillies all did them as part of their team souvenir line. Several were minor league issues–the 1943 Centennial Flour Seattle Rainiers includes 25 long-forgotten players. The 1943 Golden Quality Ice Cream Wilkes-Barre Barons includes just 5 players–and there are two variations of the Tony Lazzeri card. In 1943 and ’44, the American Association’s Milwaukee Brewers issued sets, the ’44 includes manager Casey Stengel.
About the only way to collect cards of the players who were in the Majors from ’42-45 and photographed during the time period is to check out the Conlon Collection cards that were issued in the early 1990s. The cards were issued (I think) in three series and included black and white photos taken during Conlon’s long career–from the Cobb era through the next few decades.