I don’t own a single 1933 Goudey Sport Kings card but I did just pick up a wrapper from this multi-sport issue just because I’m starting to like old packaging a little more these days. Interestingly, the wrapper was cheaper than most of the cards from this set which makes absolutely no sense to me since they aren’t all that common, but I’m not complaining.
Like a lot of Goudey issues, there’s an offer on the side panels of the wrapper that encourages 1930s youngsters to send away for one of eight “Photographic Prints” that measure 9″ x 5 1/2.” The hobby today knows these types of sets as “premiums.” A bunch of different vintage sets included such offers and in most cases those send away sets are far more difficult to locate than the regular cards that were in wax packs or tobacco. The 1933 Sport Kings Premiums, though, take the cake.
The offer on the Sport Kings wrapper tells youngsters to save 50 wrappers and mail them to Goudey’s offices in Boston. The company did complicate things just a bit by asking them to cut off all but one “number” from the edges of one wrapper to indicate the photo of the athlete/sport they’d like in return. Seems like it would have been easier just to tell them to write it down.
The wrapper lists the options as Jack Dempsey (#1), Babe Ruth (#2), Gene Sarazen (#3), Bill Tilden (#4), Jim Londos (#5), Red Grange (#6), Johnny Weismuller (#7) and Howie Morenz (#8).
So how many 1933 Goudey Sport Kings photos were acquired back then and still exist today?
1000? 500? 250?
The answer would be a grand total of two.
Two that we know of, at least.
The initial version of this column mentioned that Robert Edward Auctions had sold a Babe Ruth at auction a few years ago, but noted boxing collector/author Adam Warshaw told me he believes that was simply a prototype for the more common R309-1 set since the size doesn’t match the envelopes Goudey usually used and the easel back is different from the known premiums.
Warshaw, the author of America’s Great Boxing Cards 2019-2020, does own a Jack Dempsey card with the original mailing envelope. There’s also a Johnny Weismuller premium that was pictured 20 years ago in Vintage & Classic Baseball Collector magazine.
“The premium shows Dempsey with (Primo) Carnera and (Max) Baer and was made from a movie still from the MGM film ‘The Prizefighter and the Lady’ in which they all appeared,” Warshaw told me. “It was found in the estate of Harry Shaffer, an old time boxing dealer, and sold through MEARS. I bought it. The style, size and mailer all match both the 1933 cards and the Weissmuller.”
None of the other seven cards listed on the Sport Kings wrapper offer are known to exist: not even a trail of a single example that leads back to a 1930s kid taking advantage of the offer. (Update: 3/5/22: a reader uncovered a Bill Tilden card from his father’s childhood collection, bringing the total to 3 known examples).
Burdick’s massive collection, housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, doesn’t include one. The checklist he used in his catalog was probably just copied from the wrapper and he may have assumed the cards were out there somewhere. Several decades later we know they aren’t.
Was the Sport Kings set just not popular enough that no one bought enough packs and opted to send them in for one of the larger cards? Have they all been tossed away? Did Goudey just not deliver?
Warshaw theorizes that with just 48 cards in the Sport Kings set there just weren’t many kids who bought enough packs to send them in. In short, the promotion was a big dud.
It is a bit strange, though. Heck, even much older premium sets have at least a dozen or two examples that have survived over the years.
Whatever the case, the Sport Kings premiums are true hobby unicorns.