Friday, December 20, 2013

Goudey's 1934 Big League Gum Baseball Trivia

This post isn't trivia about a 1934 Goudey baseball set. This post is trivia FROM a 1934 Goudey baseball set. Already deep into that year's release, the company's designers added some late-season Q-and-A to their follow-up on 1933's successful debut, perhaps to spice up what was otherwise a parade of marginal players. (That's one reason I consider 1934 an "update" to 1933; more details in A Closer Look at 1933-34 Big League Gum.)

1934 Big League Gum #73-96 sheet + "1933" Lajoie

Goudey published several "series" of Big League Gum cards in 1934, four runs of 24 players each, for 96 cards total. The above 5x5 card sheet comprised that final group, #73-96, with an extra spot for the "1933" #106 Nap Lajoie (green background near upper-right).

Goudey often switched numbers between series to leave gaps, hoping kids would buy more cards to fill them, but #73-96 looks to be all there. (Perhaps they realized there wouldn't be a fifth series to swap numbers with.)

1934 Big League Gum #73, Ed Wells

One can guess that a fourth run of cards would come out mid-season, but Goudey's inclusion of trivia questions, some from 1934 itself, narrows the release window to "post-May" and perhaps after that year's All-Star Game on July 10th. Let's start with its first card, Ed Wells, and flip him over to find this question.

Hall of Fame manager John McGraw passed away in early 1934, so this question's a tribute of sorts. It's pretty esoteric to know who he "turned down," though. Big League Gum #85, Adam Comorosky, has the answer, or at least the factual part of it.

OK, McGraw didn't get every call right. But according to Giants team historians, he passed sight-unseen on the Cooperstown talent of Lefty Grove thanks to bad feelings over missing out on Babe Ruth in 1914. The moral: don't hold grudges, kids.

Each of the first twelve cards in that series (#73-84, all American Leaguers) asked a question answered by the final twelve (#85-96, all National Leaguers). Singles from the whole series are scarce and it's a pricy proposition to acquire all 24, so here's its full trivia list for hobby posterity, with relevant notes and links.

  • #73 Ed Wells, Q: What pitcher was turned down by John McGraw?
  • #85 Adam Comorosky, A: Lefty Grove in 1926

  • #74 Bob Boken, Q: Who was the most consistent base-stealer last year? [i.e., 1933]
  • #86 Lloyd Johnson, A: Pepper Martin, 26 out of 35

Martin's 26 thefts led the NL for 1933, but his Baseball-Reference page omits the 9 "caught stealing," implying it was kept unofficially at the time.

  • #75 Bill Werber, Q: Who struck out the greatest number of times last year? [1933]
  • #87 George Darrow, A: Jimmy [sic] Foxx, Philadelphia A's, 93

  • #76 Hal Trosky, Q: What NL player has already played in over 2000 contests?
  • #88 Homer Peel, A: Frankie Frisch of the St. Louis Cardinals

  • #77 Joe Vosmik, Q: Who hit into the first triple play this year? [i.e., 1934]
  • #89 Linus Frey, A: Irv Jeffries, Phillies vs. Braves, off Frankhouse May 29th [box score]

That May 29th "triple play game" dates Goudey's fourth series to June, if not later.

  • #78 Pinky Higgins, Q: Who has the highest lifetime batting average?
  • #90 Ki-Ki Cuyler, A: Ty Cobb .370 [still MLB's all-time leader; correct figure is .366]

  • #79 Eddie Durham, Q: What noted player has taken part in the most World Series games?
  • #91 Dolph Camilli, A: Babe Ruth, 41 games [now Yogi Berra, 75]

  • #80 Marty McManus, Q: What was the longest game ever played?
  • #92 Steve Larkin, A: Brooklyn & Boston 1920, 1-1 tie in 26 innings [still the record; box score]

  • #81 Bob Brown, Q: What was the greatest number of scoreless innings pitched last year and who pitched them?
  • #93 Fred Ostermueller, A: 46 innings by Carl Hubbell, July 13th - August 1, 7 games

  • #83 Jim Mooney, Q: Who holds the record for driving in the most runs in a single season?
  • #95 Myril Hoag, A: Hack Wilson of the Cubs, 190 in 1930 [since corrected to 191]

  • #84 Paul Derringer, Q: What pitcher holds the record for most consecutive games won?
  • #96 James DeShong, Q: Rube Marquard, 19 with the Giants in 1912

Marquard started his 1912 season by winning 19 in a row for John McGraw's Giants, the eventual NL pennant winners, and still holds this record. Check out "Winning Streaks by Pitchers" from the SABR archives for plenty more on the subject.

1909-11 T206 Piedmont Tobacco, Rube Marquard (portrait)

BONUS RUBE: Marquard was the last living player from another seminal set, T206 tobacco. He passed away on June 1, 1980, just long enough to appear in (and sign) the 1979 Diamond Greats set of then-living former players.

1979 Diamond Greats #26, Rube Marquard

As noted in my Diamond Greats set profile, Marquard appeared on vintage cardboard sets nearly 70 years apart, which might itself be another record. Trivia on top of trivia! Such was baseball and collecting, even back in the 1930s.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Closer Look at National Chicle's 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum (and #5, Tom Bridges)

I've been delving into old gum and candy companies for more than a month, reading from dusty online forums about All-Star Games and World Expos and crusty candy factories. Spend enough time poring though the history of 1930s baseball cards and you'll forget that other decades and companies even exist. (Topps, Donruss, and Fleer? Is that a New York law firm?)

Great Depression or no Great Depression, one reason to get lost in that seminal decade is today's profile, the Diamond Stars baseball set made by National Chicle. Nothing but color-saturated, Art Deco glory packaged with gum for a penny each.

Before we dive any deeper into how this particular set came to be, I'll note gum-and-card packs in general didn't just "happen" 80 years ago. They reflected a business-savvy combination of food technology, fan technology, and finance technology.

First, you needed gum and paper mixes that didn't destroy each other. Topps cards are infamous for picking up stains during packaging, but early commercial chewing gum (based on tree sap) stuck to anything and the plasticity of 1930s formulations lessened this impact. Second, the national growth of broadcast radio meant most fans didn't attend games in person, so baseball cards made an attractive visual companion. Finally, 1933 marked America's departure from the strict gold standard, freeing investment for new lines of marketing cards with gum.

Wagner cigar box from a history of tobacco cards

Returning to baseball, tobacco companies produced baseball's first generation of cards, roughly 1890 to 1910, but eventually abandoned them as marketing tools, given spiraling costs of paper and printing. I think their artistic apex was the Turkey Reds set of "cabinets," large pastoral images printed on cardboard stock (more info at It's a quality predecessor for Diamond Stars' painted look.

1910-11 Turkey Red Tobacco #5, Sam Crawford 

Once tobacco left this market, candy makers and strip cards took over for the next 20 years, churning out low-end baseball promos in an era that evolved from Dead Ball to Babe Ruth. Fast-and-loose production yielded cruder images, but also makes them affordable for modern collectors looking to buy a legend.

1919 W514 Strip Card #2, Babe Ruth

The tail end of that candy era included two sets that either inspired or reflected card designs for the next decade. First, as candidates campaigned in 1932, the Boston-based U.S. Caramel Co. capitalized on stateside political fervor with a set of 31 "American Heroes" (the presidents), from George Washington to a newly-elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

U.S. Caramel "American Heroes" (Presidents)

U.S. Caramel reused the Presidents size (2-3/8" by 2-7/8") and basic design for their "Famous Athletes," a 32-card set of baseball players (27), boxers (3), and golfers (2). These wider cards added some protection to malleable slabs of candy, the reverse of tobacco's need for slimmer cards that fit vertically in cigarette packs.

1933 U.S. Caramel Famous Athletes #5, Earl (Earle) Combs

I've already profiled this Famous Athletes set, but it fits here because Boston-based trading card competitors Goudey and National Chicle adopted a similar card size, packaging, and back layout for their own gum sets, starting in 1933. U.S. Caramel, in turn, copped its back design (but on wider stock) from other candy makers, like this 1930 Schutter-Johnson Candy "I'm Going To Be" set of aspirational cards.

While technically a non-sport set, #19 is "baseball player." Compare this chronological back progression from Schutter-Johnson... U.S. Caramel's #5 (including text and prize giveaway)... George C. Miller, a Boston candy maker who exchanged sets for a fielder's mit (sic), grandstand ticket, or baseball... Goudey's 1933 Big League Gum #5, Babe Herman, which drops the prize giveaway... National Chicle's aviation-themed Sky Birds Gum set, released in late 1933... the back of 1934-36 Diamond Stars #5, which adds more player bio and a pro-written baseball tip. (That's the tiny signature of Austen Lake, a sportswriter for the Boston American newspaper in those days.)

Diamond Stars Gum's text-heavy look debuted in 1934, but ensuing years added stat updates to some cards. The "In 1934 won 22, lost 11 games" text on my #5 points to a 1935 release. Some printings, including this 1936 version, use blue ink.

1936 Diamond Stars #5 (note "Won 21, lost 10 in 1935")

National Chicle advertised a target of "240 major league players," but stopped at just 108, probably thanks to The Great Depression and fading sales. A master set of stat variations, green/blue ink backs, and error corrections ("Earnie" vs. "Ernie" and "Greenburg" vs. "Greenberg") from all three years totals 168 cards.

National Chicle's 1933-34 Skybirds #43, Juan de la Cierva

Diamond Stars predecessor Skybirds Gum introduced National Chicle's Art Deco look and is one of the hobby's most appealing non-sports sets. Its wrappers offered promotions similar to Diamond Stars, swapping wrappers for aviator wings and a flight handbook.

U.S. Caramel required that you mail in an entire set of 31 cards for their freebies, so National Chicle's switch to candy counter wrapper exchanges saved kids a lot of trouble, especially given the 100+ set sizes. (See all 8 Diamond Stars wrappers in OldCardboard's gallery.)

1934 Diamond Stars wrapper (7 photos)

National Chicle packaged these postcard-sized "photographic art pictures" (collectors call them Premiums) with in-store promotional plaques encouraging gum buyers to make the swap.

Diamond Stars store promo (checklist #7-11)

Premiums represented a two-fold marketing strategy. First, convince kids to spend at least 15 cents on Diamond Stars and keep their money in one brand. Second, bring kids back to the same store for repeated exchanges, so they felt invested in both the gum and its seller. Cataloged R311 and nicknamed "glossy" or "leather" depending on the photo gloss, 1934-36 Premiums remain plentiful on eBay today.

Goudey 1939 Diamond Stars Premium, Joe DiMaggio

Goudey acquired the "Diamond Stars" name after National Chicle's bankruptcy in 1937. They produced two sets of Premiums under that brand, now cataloged as R303-A or -B, and a similar design for Canadian distribution via their World Wide Gum subsidiary. Collectors agree they're attractive pieces, if a bit pale in comparison to Chicle's cards of many colors.

I hope this tells you more than you knew before about a great 1930s set. More about Goudey's Canadian operations in a future post!

Value: I was lucky to receive today's #5 gratis from a collecting friend. Low-grade Diamond Star commons run about $10 on eBay, but stars and high numbers cost several times that.

Fakes / reprints: Many reprint sets exist, and people have probably faked the stars, too. Several "modern retro" sets reproduced its hand-painted style with both vintage and active players.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

1933 U.S. Caramel "Famous Athletes" Baseball #5, Earl (Earle) Combs

As a young collector I knew "Topps" meant baseball cards with gum and gum with baseball cards; the two came as one, often because they were stuck together. You chomped on the gum and relished its 30 seconds of sugar flavor, about long enough to riffle through the players themselves.

Topps wax pack gum: our friend and our enemy

Unfortunately for 21st-century collectors, those chalky pink slabs calcify after a year or two, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of anyone brave enough to try a piece from the 1980s.

"Wax Mark" Langston

Most Topps packs compounded the "sticking" problem with wax-sealed paper, which often stained the card surface, so rubbing residue off with a sock is one of the earliest things I learned about their "maintenance." (Just in case, here are some more ways to remove wax stains.)

There's no gum on Mr. Combs, partly because Boston-based United States Caramel Company packaged these high-contrast players with slabs of caramel, each package containing one card and one piece of candy.

Not every card survived the candy packaging process unscathed. I assume that's a gooey caramel streak across the face of #28 Ed Brandt, perhaps from being stacked under another candy pack.

U.S. Caramel produced this scarce set of 32 sportsmen (included 27 baseball players) and offered a baseball or glove in exchange for complete sets. Like other promotions, the "catch"--no pun intended--was #16 Lindstrom, who they severely short-printed. Very few of his cards survive today, a white whale for what's already an expensive hunt.

The ultra-scarce #16 Lindy Lindstrom

Collectors consider this set complete at 31 cards, leaving a gap at #16. It's the same attitude taken by most in building the 1933 Big League Gum set, which Goudey originally issued without #106 (details in my Closer Look at Goudey for 1933-34).

Once sent to the company for a redemption, U.S. Caramel stamped (and sometimes hole-punched) each card to prevent their reuse for another prize.

Canceled Lefty Grove, courtesy Net54Baseball

The discussion on canceled Caramel cards includes this detail on two known Lindstroms. Click through for the provenance and pricy details.

1932 or 1933? Early catalogs dated U.S. Caramel's Famous Athletes to 1932, thanks in part to their lookalike 31-card run of American Presidents, which capitalized on the 1932 election fervor. Card backs reference events during and after that season, though, so the set's properly dated 1933. See this discussion for more.

Based on context, I believe American Presidents debuted during the 1932 campaign (with newly-elected FDR added as #31) and Famous Athletes followed in the spring of 1933, but I doubt they fared well against Goudey's beautiful 1933 Big League Gum cards. U.S. Caramel never attempted another baseball set and might've been sucked up in a 1930s wave of acquisitions by candy conglomerates that knocked most small businesses out of the market.

The Famous Athletes set proves so rare that I've been unable to find my own #5 and today's front/back scans come from a (super expensive) eBay listing. If you've got a Combs to trade, let me know!

Value: Low-grade cards run at least $30 and will vary considerably, given their short supply. Superstars like Ruth and Gehrig go off the charts, well into the thousands. #16 Lindstrom is one of the hobby's rarest and most expensive cards.

Fakes / reprints: Unfortunately, plenty of fakes exist for Ruth and probably most of the others. Be very careful when purchasing Caramel cards; expert forums like are one place to seek guidance in rare card shopping.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Closer Look at Goudey's 1933 and 1934 Big League Gum Baseball

My last post on Goudey Gum tracked the evolution of their baseball customer loyalty program, The Knot Hole League, as one example of how trading cards and strategic guile helped one company survive a Depression that finished off most of its competition.

Today's follow-up examines two business strategies common to Goudey's many trading cards: photo reuse (to save money) and playing with numbers (to add revenue). Both figure into their Big League Gum marketing and say a lot about Goudey's perspective on their seminal 1933-34 sets.

First up, an iconic card of the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig, from Goudey's baseball debut.

1933 Big League Gum #92, Lou Gehrig

Next up, an iconic card of The Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig, from Goudey's baseball debut.

1933 Big League Gum #160, Lou Gehrig

Photo reuse: Yep, that's the same card front repeated just 68 numbers apart. Goudey's Big League Gum averaged 48 new cards (two series of 24) per month during 1933's baseball season, so maybe they thought Gehrig's clone would escape detection, or at least no one would care. After all, they were working on the most ambitious gum set yet attempted and the more Gehrig cards, the better. Who knew how successful it would all ultimately be?

1933 Big League Gum #53, Babe Ruth (yellow)

Goudey gave Babe Ruth a similar treatment on two of his cards, as only backgrounds distinguish them.

1933 Big League Gum #149, Babe Ruth (red)

Playing with numbers: Goudey's infamous Nap Lajoie card only exists because customers complained of their (intentional) numbering gap. Kids bought card-after-card in search of the elusive #106, a player that never existed in 1933. As also seen in my Knot Hole League profile, Goudey finally printed this Lajoie with their fourth series of 1934 Big League Gum and mailed them, a year later, to customers who requested one.

"1933" Big League Gum #106, Nap Lajoie

Photo reuse: Goudey's successful 1933 foray into baseball made further sets inevitable and they didn't change design tactics. 1934 Big League Gum's first series looked an awful lot like 1933.

1934 Big League Gum #1, Jimmy Foxx
1933 Big League Gum #29, Jimmy Foxx

Photo reuse: All 24 players in 1934's first series repeat their 1933 pose over a ballpark silhouette and "Lou Gehrig says..." tagline. And speaking of diamond backgrounds and Lou Gehrig, note 1934 Big League Gum's similarity to this 1933 set published by DeLong Gum, a one-year competitor founded by their former treasurer, Harold DeLong. Not sure whether to call Goudey's 1934 version "inspiration" or "rip-off," but it's not a coincidence.

DeLong's 1933 Play Ball Gum #7, Lou Gehrig

1934's Big League Gum virtual gallery shows how much star power Goudey repurposed for #1-24, including Foxx, Carl Hubbell, and a half-dozen other future Hall of Famers. Only a handful of big names (Lou Gehrig included) appear in the set's other 72 cards.

I think Goudey changed this set's purpose after #24, perhaps due to customer complaints about 1934's player repetition and copycat design. More on that below, but first, let's look at a change to their numbering.

1933 Big League Gum (back tagline)

Playing the numbers: Apart from their aforementioned #106, Goudey printed its entire "series of 240 Baseball Stars" in 1933, but they didn't follow the simple process you'd expect. See that "originators of Indian Gum" tagline? PSA's dive into Goudey's multiyear, multifaceted Indian Gum set details the skip-numbering, staggered series, and changing checklist sizes typical of Goudey's set design. Indian Gum started as one series of 24 hand-tinted portraits, but ballooned into a 300+ card effort kids could still find at candy counters in the early 40s. We can assume a similar approach to their Big League Gum sets.

1934 Big League Gum (back tagline)

As seen above, 1934 Big League Gum dropped its set count from card backs ("Series of pictures of Big League Baseball Stars," with no number) because Goudey was still selling 1933 packs alongside 1934's new series and would continue to for as long as the gum kept moving.

Once gum companies found a trading card "hit" with customers, they squeezed that stone for blood by omitting or overstating the number of available cards, obscuring just how many made for a complete set. If a set continued to sell, great! Otherwise, collect your money and move to the next project.

"By arrangement with Christy Walsh"

Based on a closer look at my 1934 Big League Gum set, I suspect that Christy Walsh, Lou Gehrig's business manager, convinced Goudey to make several design changes in support of their new Knot Hole League spokesman after their first series.

Change 1: Gehrig's signature and "By arrangement with Christy Walsh" appear on every card back for #25-96. (On #1-24, player stats were quoted without this attribution.) Walsh's byline even appears on the "Chuck Klein says..." cards seen in series four, so he's not exclusive to Gehrig.

1934 Big League Gum #37, Lou Gehrig

Change 2 (and photo reuse): As noted above, 1934 Big League Gum switched to mostly new players after #24. Knot Hole League spokesman Lou Gehrig became one of the few 1933-to-1934 carry-overs, gaining a new portrait in the process. (But don't worry, Goudey repurposed his smiling mug for in-store promos.)

1934 Knot Hole League ad (same photo as #37)

Change 3: In 1933, Goudey saddled Gehrig with the identical cards seen at the start of this post, but not so in 1934, where he picked up new poses on both #37 (series two) and #61 (series three).

1934 Big League Gum #61, Lou Gehrig

Change 4: The serious "Lou Gehrig says..." from #1-48 switched to a happier "Lou Gehrig says..." for #49-96. That "happy Gehrig" is simply a reversed version of the #37 portrait, which Goudey also used on other Knot Hole League promos. Note the tiny "by arrangement with Christy Walsh" under Lou's portrait below. I suspect Walsh liked to see his name in print.

1934 Knot Hole League store promo

Change 5: This set is Ruthless. Was the Babe's own asking price too high? Did Gehrig and Ruth's icy off-field relationship mean no "Lou Gehrig Says..." endorsement for his embittered teammate? For whatever reason, Goudey left him out of 1934 entirely after devoting four spots to Babe in 1933.

1934 uncut sheet, #73-96 + #106 Lajoie

Big League Gum's final series (#73-96) replaced Gehrig's name on National League players with a red banner for Cubs slugger Chuck Klein, while Lou Gehrig's blue banner continued to endorse American Leaguers. As discussed in the Knot Hole League profile, Klein could've been more marketable to Midwestern fans or kids found it confusing for an American Leaguer like Gehrig to comment on players from the other league. It might've even been Goudey's cost-saving measure to feature Lou on fewer cards, if Chuck's endorsement cost less.

1934 Big League Gum #90, Ki-Ki Cuyler

Ki-Ki ("KAI-kai," shortened from "Cuyler") is one of just seven repeated players from 1933 Big League Gum after their all-rerun series (#1-24). Everyone else from #25-96 was new to Goudey baseball cards, often youngsters with underwhelming careers. (Christy Walsh gamely continued to supply quotes for these short-timers, typically highlighting their promising minor league achievements.)

1934 Big League Gum #85, Adam Comorosky (Reds)

All seven of the 1933-to-1934 repeats received new poses, three with new teams, three after a recent All-Star appearance, and the last being Knot Hole League spokesman Gehrig.
  • #37 & #61 Lou Gehrig (above)
  • #44 Tom Bridges (1934 All-Star)
  • #56 Mark Koenig (moved to Reds)
  • #80 Marty McManus (moved to Braves)
  • #82 Bill Hallahan (1933 All-Star)
  • #85 Adam Comorosky (moved to Reds)
  • #90 Ki-Ki Cuyler (1934 All-Star)

But what does it all mean? 1934 Big League Gum doesn't stand alone the way that 1933 did, nor do I think Goudey intended it to. After publishing 240 cards with only minor player reuse in 1933, I'm impressed they found another 60+ players for 1934, even if it lacked star power from today's perspective. At the time, no trading card "tradition" mandated that baseball sets had to stop one year and start over again the next. Rather, they tried to print what would sell and came up with new plans when customers stopped buying. Above all, companies wanted to make money.

1934 Diamond Stars Gum #7, Mickey Cochrane

Interviews with 1930s collectors recalled Diamond Stars Gum (by Goudey competitor National Chicle) as 1934's hottest release, so Goudey's commitment to including so many newbies and an occasional trade makes 1934 Big League Gum feel like what modern collectors call an "update set" for their 1933 debut. These days, Bowman ("Home of the Rookie Card") might've printed this in the same circumstances, mixing a handful of established stars among dozens of raw prospects.

Goudey's 1933-34 omnibus release is close to what we think of as the "modern baseball card," with stats, player demographics, and a comprehensive selection of players and teams. But remember, Goudey found this market untenable just one year later and scaled back new baseball production, effectively ceding the stat-back card market to National Chicle, who was bankrupt by 1937 and barely remembered today beyond their trading cards.

Goudey card and gum sales, courtesy Bob Lemke

Thanks to an aggressive move to undated sets with a long shelf life, in-store pack redemptions, and revenue from other gum products, Goudey Gum ran lean enough to last beyond WWII and into the 1960s, barely touching new baseball cards in that span. Their Great Depression endurance makes these 1933-34 sets all the more remarkable, where companies took similar designs and goals, but failed to survive more than a year or two.

Future posts on the 1930s trading card industry will look more at Boston's gum companies, including Goudey, National Chicle, U.S. Caramel, and DeLong, and how they played off (or stole from) each other during baseball's first era of gum packs.