Monday, August 18, 2014

1933 Goudey Sport Kings Varsity Football Game #5

As we near the start of 2014's college football season, I've been looking back several decades to the leatherheads era, when "face mask" was a thing people wore for ski slopes and Halloween. (I haven't looked back to that era by watching the movie Leatherheads, although I did see it back in 2008 and it was...OK, I guess.)

While best-known today for their baseball cards, Goudey introduced several successful gum-and-card sets in 1933, including the multi-sport Sport Kings Gum.

1933 Goudey "Sport Kings Gum" #5, Ed Wachter

This 48-card set covered a remarkable 20 different sports, an amalgam spurred by the massive promotional success of 1933's baseball All-Star Game, which raised sports fan interest across the board.

To put yourself in the shoes of a 1930s gum buyer, "baseball cards" had nowhere near the significance we attach to them now, but trading cards in general were popular, so almost any topic was open for co-marketing. As the school year began, Goudey created this card-flipping college football game as an in-store promotion to keep sales moving for Sport Kings Gum itself.

1933 Goudey Varsity Football #5 (pennant side)

The lack of specific players makes this set more about the colleges themselves. As of 2014, 119 NCAA schools compete at the I-A level. Compare that to 1933's list of school pennants on each Goudey card, which number fewer than 20.
  1. Army
  2. Duke
  3. Ohio State
  4. Colgate
  5. Harvard
  6. Penn State
  7. Nebraska
  8. Cornell
  9. Iowa
  10. Rutgers
  11. Holy Cross
  12. Stanford
  13. Wisconsin
  14. Alabama
  15. Columbia
  16. Boston College
  17. Centre (College)
  18. Yale

While I'm a native of Wisconsin and resident of Harvard's hometown (Cambridge, MA), consider me most partial to Centre College as the place my parents met. That august institution also holds the relevant distinction of winning "one of the greatest college football upsets in history," by beating then-mighty Harvard on their home turf in 1921.

While very rare today, we know a few things about how Varsity Sports was distributed. Sport Kings Gum buyers could swap their wrappers at the candy store for individual cards and "score charts," which Varsity Sports players used to track game progress.

Goudey sales letter for Varsity Football & its score charts

The high grade of most Varsity Football cards in today's market implies that most sat undisturbed in storage and were later rediscovered. (Like most vintage cards, I assume a large percentage ended up in trash cans.)

1933 Goudey Varsity Football #5 (play side)

All 24 Varsity Football cards feature a different collection of play outcomes, which you'd match to a given situation and track on the score chart. I've never seen score charts in the marketplace, so it's up to us to imagine exactly how it'd be played.

My guess is that players make the choice to rush/pass or punt/place kick from different spots on the field and flip cards face up to see what happened. You'd need a way to track down and distance and some sort of timer or allowed number of possessions. If you've ever seen a Varsity Football score chart, rules, or relevant scan, let me know! I'd love to know more about how such a set came to be.

1936 Goudey Big League Gum, Oral Hildebrand

If the concept of this "flip to play" game sounds familiar, it might be because Goudey repurposed this concept on a larger scale for their 1936 Big League Gum baseball set. While scarce, they're much easier to find today than Varsity Football. Read my profile of Goudey's 1930s Customer Loyalty Programs for a deeper look at how their sets fit together.

Value: Haven't put my hands on a #5 type, but eBay singles open at $20-50 for Buy-It-Now. That BIN price feels high, considering a complete 24-card, mid-to-nice condition set auctioned for $200 in 2013 and another near-set (21/24) also finished at $200 in 2012. I suspect auctioned singles would finish at $10-20.

2012 Sporting Life Varsity Football Game #9, Jim Thorpe

Fakes / reprints: The modern-retro Sporting Life company published this Varsity Football homage in 2012, adding player portraits to an otherwise similar layout. As with other Sporting Life sets, modern collectors should not mistake them for 1930s originals. (I don't expect the original Varsity Football cards were reprinted, given their lack of name players.)

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