Looking back through the prisms of history, the 1933 Goudey baseball card set was not only the most important set issued during the 1930's, but also quite a leap of faith. As the printing presses were beginning to produce these cards, the United States was in the worst part of what has been called "The Great Depression", and thus any new item issued was quite challenging as many collectors simply did not even have the few extra cents these packs cost. At the beginning of 1933, many U.S. Banks were failing and there was even a four-day bank holiday so our financial institutions could regain good footing.
Into all this, and with an obvious need for keeping Americans interested in ways other than worrying about their day-to-day existence, came the Goudey Card Company and their 1933 baseball card set. This set, which would conclude with 239 printed in 1933 (and one in 1934) featured many of the best players of the day, some of them in multiple poses. Goudey had also scored a major victory by including George Herman "Babe" Ruth prominently in this set. After all, any set with the player known by so many nicknames including "The Sultan of Swat" and "The Great Bambino" already had a major leg up on gaining acceptance.
During the early days of the depression, Ruth was asked why he earned more than the President of the United States, and he simply responded with "I had a better year than President (Herbert) Hoover did". Any person who made that much money and was that popular with fans was a great starting point for a set. The creators of the 1933 Goudey set did not disappoint in this, as four different Babe Ruth cards were printed. These cards were numbered: 53, 144, 149 and 181. Of those four, the most difficult to find is card number 53, while card number 144 is considered a double print. Although all four cards have interest among collectors, a nice note is the same photo used on card 181 was also used in the 1935 Goudey 4 in 1 set. That airbrushed card. and yes they were creating airbrushing back in the 1930's, is one of the very few cards issued to commemorate Babe Ruth's very brief career-ending stint with the Boston Braves.
Even the PSA Pop Report does support the long known belief that card #144 was the most produced Ruth card. Out of the four 1933 Goudey Ruth cards, that is the only one with more than 1000 total card graded, and also has the most cards graded PSA7 (Near Mint) or better with no qualifications. A couple of other notes on PSA Pop Report and Ruth cards is there is a PSA 10 (Gem Mint) card graded of card number 181, and card number 53 has significantly fewer cards in these high grades than the other three cards.
Meanwhile, the overall PSA Pop Report does also present some interesting facts for the collector. Since each card in the set has at least five copies graded PSA 8 (NM/MT), there is certainly the possibility that several collectors can accumulate a super high quality set. In addition, there have been more than 65,000 total cards graded and approximately 20 percent of all those cards graded are PSA 7 or better with no qualifications. Of course, we can only wonder just how many cards would have survived without moms throwing away those cards and the World War 2 paper drives.
In addition to Ruth, one of the most important aspects of the 1933 Goudey set was the terrific marketing ploy the company used (something never seen in a set this large). Over the previous decade, there had been several card sets which had a card issued in a super short print - to either make getting prizes from the card manufacturers very difficult or trying to convince more collectors to purchase these cards. In 1923, the Maple Crispette company had produced almost no Casey Stengel cards and about a decade later U.S. Caramel issued almost none of the Freddie Lindstrom cards. Both times these cards were the hardest one, so very few prices could be redeemed.
However, Goudey took the missing card idea to a whole new level for the 1933 set by never issuing a card #106 during the year. Just think how many packs were purchased - all with the hope of finally getting the missing card for that set. Well, 1933 concluded, and no #106 cards were issued. Some collectors actually wrote the Goudey Card Company and their letters were rewarded when Goudey finally sent them the long awaited card #106 in 1934. Card number 106 ended up being Nap Lajoie, who was a major star in the earliest part of the 20th century, and it's interesting to ask why he was included as the missing player. There are no other players, which could have included stars such as Ty Cobb or Honus Wagner, which feature a retired great, and there is also the possibility that Goudey was thinking of creating a "retired great" set as well. After all, only a few years later, Play Ball included many retired players as part of their 1940 set. Also, because most of the Lajoie cards were sent with paper clips, there are many cards with those paper clip indentations still noticeable.
Although we have covered the two key players in this set, there are plenty of other Hall of Famers included. In fact, more than one quarter of all the cards in the set picture Hall of Famers. These Hall of Famers include some people who had been involved in baseball for a long time, such as Tris Speaker, and two cards of Henry Louis Gehrig -the other half of what was the most devastating home run combination. With this many future Hall of Famers, collectors were kept interested throughout the 1933 print run.
And yes, there are even some quirks within the 1933 print run. Cards numbered 1-52, with a couple of exceptions, are considered more difficult to acquire then the rest of the set, and most of the final cards of this set feature members of the New York Giants, who defeated the Washington Senators in the 1933 World Series. In fact, if you look at the text on the Carl Hubbell #234 card, the back blurb mentions both Hubbell's winning of the 1933 MVP award and his two World Series wins that year. Thus like many other sets, the 1933 Goudey set could be considered a "living set" as back texts were mentioning recent developments.
Looking back over history, the Goudey Card Company did succeed in rekindling on a large level collector's interest with this important set produced in wax packs and featuring a piece of gum. For those collectors who grew up with Topps and Bowman cards, the idea of putting gum in the packs began with Goudey and we all hold the company a major thank you for our future collecting.
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