Wednesday, July 31, 2019

National Chicle, 1938 Goudey Baseball, and Bobby Doerr

Introduction, part II

This post follows my earlier in-depth look at Goudey Gum of Boston and its border-crossing partnership with World Wide Gum of Ontario in 1930s World Wide Gum and "Canadian Goudey."

All those events, from baseball's 1933 boom to National Chicle's implosion in 1937, set a stage for why 1938 Big League Gum looks the way it does.

The basics of 1938 Big League Gum (aka "Heads Up!")

About two years after their 1936 R322 black-and-white Big League Gum set, Goudey introduced this return to color, both across its wax wrappers and on its familiar 2.5" x 3" cards.

1938 Goudey Big League Gum wrapper

"Heads Up!" Big League Gum looks unlike any prior Goudey set. Its first 24 cards float portrait photos on cartoon bodies, surrounded by plain white backgrounds.

1938 Goudey Big League Gum #250, Joe DiMaggio

Card backs number from #241, implying a direct extension from the 240-card 1933 Goudey and skipping all their 1934/35/36 Big League Gum sets in-between. (Note its first series, #241-264, predicted a "series of 288" that didn't yet exist.)

In an unusual move, its next series (#265-288) repeated those selfsame 24 players, in the same order, surrounded by cartoon highlights similar to 1960s Topps card backs.

Detail on DiMaggio's $25K salary cartoon
1938 Goudey Big League Gum #274, Joe DiMaggio

Second series text declared "series of 312," a group of cards that, once again, didn't exist. Non-sport collectors might recognize this mirrors how Goudey sold Indian Gum, releasing one skip-numbered subset at a time over several years and cross-promoted on 1938 baseball backs. (See PSA's Indian Gum profile for details.)

What's so unusual about 1938

Goudey overcame mid-1930s gum card fragmentation and competition, much of it from National Chicle, and stood alone in the American card market for 1938, with these bullets summarizing my World Wide Gum and "Canadian Goudey" article.
  • Founder Enos Goudey "sold out" prior to Goudey Gum's splashy 1933 success with Big League Gum, buoyed by fan frenzy for that year's All-Star Game
  • During that year's peak, some of Goudey's creative team left for DeLong Gum, National Chicle, and perhaps World Wide Gum
  • Goudey's chewing gum business did well enough in following years that falling baseball card revenue soon made those sets a financial sidelight
  • From 1934-38, Goudey experimented with alternative formats like on-card games, flip book movies, and Knot Hole League memberships
  • Goudey took advantage of National Chicle's 1937 bankruptcy to repurpose leftover Diamond Stars Gum inserts and cards as their own

If you collect prewar cards today, 1933 and 1934 Big League Gum sets loom large for their high quality art and star power.

Lou Gehrig says...I'm going to sell a lot of 1934 Big League Gum cards

I think Goudey remembered those sets as their financial peak and pursued ways to bring back that high revenue at low cost, as most businesses do.

My 1938 "bankruptcy salvage" conjecture

While 1938 fronts looks different than most everything before it, can we explain why backs declare, "I'm the same as 1933?" It's worth figuring out.

After 1934, Goudey's designs devolved from artful paintings to basic black-and-white portraits. This colorful "Heads Up!" look seems out-of-character, so much so that I proposed to other collectors our "1938 Big League Gum" originated inside pre-bankruptcy National Chicle and Goudey just salvaged it to save themselves time and effort. You say, why? I say, follow the money creative malaise.

Of course, arguing this needs more than a few years of ho-hum design. Time to see if evidence supports me or if I need to update my mindset.

1938 Goudey Big League Gum #241-264 print sheet (no cartoons)

1938's first series sheet contains eight blue, red, and yellow border players, without further embellishment. This one also contains the enigmatic Ernie Lombardi "Red Sox" card, which led to several variations.

No known second series uncut sheet exists, so remember it contains identical designs for all 24 guys, surrounded by highlight cartoons, like Bob Feller here.

1938 Goudey Big League Gum #288, Bob Feller

Filling out an identical layout with add-on cartoons looked to me like "design alternatives" more than a true end-to-end set. It's close to how they adopted National Chicle's "How to" diagrams on 1939 premiums.

1936 National Chicle "How to" booklet (detail)
1939 R303 Goudey Premiums back (note "Diamond Stars Gum" title)

Since we know Goudey reused these Chicle-based designs in 1939, why not a year earlier for 1938 Big League Gum?

I considered three origin scenarios for 1938 Big League Gum.
  1. National Chicle designed two proof sheet of 24 players in early 1937, one with cartoons and one without. They go out of business and sell out to Goudey, who adds back text to both sheets and publishes them as a "continuation" of their 1933 set in 1938.
  2. National Chicle designed one proof sheet of 24 players in 1937. Goudey purchased the sheet, wrote 1933-style back text, and published it in 1938. They added cartoons for a second run of the same players.
  3. Goudey designed their own 1938 set, with no meaningful Chicle connection.

"History is written by the victors," so they say, and hobby tradition attributes 1938 to Goudey Gum alone (scenario #3). We lost enough industry history since the 1930s that one can claim any of them as true, for lack of available data. Thanks to its player choices and those cartoons, we can dig deeper.

To give this theory its spikes, we need two things. First, National Chicle remained solvent long enough to choose this group of 24 players. Second, Goudey acquired Chicle's property in time for production and distribution sometime after 1937's season wrapped up. The former proves trickiest, as public records show Chicle filed for bankruptcy reorganization around March 1937. So how much time existed to draft something new before calling it quits altogether?

First, player selection

1938 Goudey Big League Gum #241-264 print sheet (no cartoons)

Young Red Sox rookie second baseman Bobby Doerr serves as our "pivot" test case. Boston signed him to a contract in early 1936 (during his PCL career) and Bobby first reported to MLB spring training on March 12, 1937, not long before Chicle filed its papers.

Bobby Doerr, 1937 spring training, Sarasota, FL

Back in Massachusetts, National Chicle's bankruptcy proceedings more or less overlapped with this preseason, so the company could've (for now) continued designing new sets and hoping for a financial recovery.

April 3, 1937, Associated Press photo & prognostication

Boston fans eagerly anticipated Doerr's arrival that year, so ample newswire photos existed for National Chicle to pick from. We can date his first on-card appearance thanks to the preseason photo below, even without Bobby in it.

Red Sox 3B Pinky Higgins crosses home, April 17, 1937

Boston ended 1937 spring training with Fenway exhibitions between their AL Red Sox and NL Braves, in preparation for April 20 Opening Day. That's Pinky Higgins finishing a home run trot on April 17.

Pinky's dinger matters to our Doerr calculus because Bobby's first "card," this Goudey photo premium (released in 1937), came from the same exhibition series and an almost identical angle. Note its similar crowd arrangement, with one group close to the field and another further back. Batters box chalk looks fresher at Bobby's feet, so comes from earlier in the game. ("Doeer" also marks the first of multiple times Goudey miswrote Bobby's name.)

1937 Goudey R314/V352, Bobby Doeer (sic)

Including those two shots demonstrates Doerr photos existed from his earliest time in Boston, even at Fenway exhibitions. I have no trouble believing Chicle knew Bobby as a hot commodity in early 1937.

Like others from this set, Doerr sports a hand-tinted headshot pasted on a cartoon body.

1938 Goudey Big League Gum #258, "Bobbie" (sic) Doerr

There's our second naming gaffe. If anything, seeing Bobby Doerr on the front and "Bobbie" Doerr on the back strengthens my case that different people designed each side.

I focused on Doerr because he represented National Chicle's tightest timeline for inclusion on the 24-player design mockup, with and without cartoons. Speaking of that...

1938 Goudey Big League Gum #282, with cartoons

Even if those cartoons came later, leading off with an exciting Red Sox rookie fits the mold for either Boston-based company, Goudey Gum or National Chicle. All three design scenarios remain intact so far.

Player selection, part II

With Bobby Doerr in the clear, do any of its other 23 players gum up my Chicle-made theory? Did available pictures exist for all of them in early 1937?
  • #241 Charlie Gehringer: Appeared in 1934-36 National Chicle Diamond Stars Gum
  • #242 Pete Fox: Appeared on 1936 National Chicle R313 premiums
  • #243 Joe Kuhel: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #244 Frank Demaree: All-Star in 1936, sure to have newswire photos
  • #245 Frank Pytlak: 5-year vet, sure to have newswire photos
  • #246 Ernie Lombardi: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #247 Joe Vosmik: Same head shot as 1936 Big League Gum, appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #248 Dick Bartell: Same head shot as 1933 Big League Gum, appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #249 Jimmie Foxx: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #250 Joe D: As described in my Anatomy of 1938 Goudey Joe DiMaggio, that's a November 1934 newswire photo that also appeared on R314 "wide pen" premiums
  • #251 Bump Hadley: 10-year vet, sure to have newswire photos
  • #252 Zeke Bonura: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #253 Hank Greenberg: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #254 Van Lingle Mungo: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #255 Moose Solters: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #256 Vernon Kennedy: All-Star in 1936, sure to have newswire photos
  • #257 Al Lopez: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #258 Bobby Doerr: as above
  • #259 Billy Werber: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum (as "Billie")
  • #260 Rudy York: Power-hitting 1937 Tigers rookie and Opening Day 3B -- like Doerr, received a lot of preseason acclaim and would have newswire photos
  • #261 Rip Radcliff: Appeared on 1936 National Chicle R313 premiums
  • #262 Joe Medwick: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #263 Marvin Owen: Appeared in 1934-36 Diamond Stars Gum
  • #264 Bob Feller: Appeared on R314/V352 "wide pen" premiums

Bobby Doerr and Rudy York present my biggest challenges, without being real problems. They both excelled as minor leaguers for 2+ years, garnered preseason press, and debuted as 1937 Opening Day starters.

1938 Goudey Big League Gum #284, Rudy York

But what about them cartoons

With player selection vetted, research moves to the second series cartoons. At first, I considered them surrounding detail, yet they proved elemental to separating possible National Chicle work from things done after they folded.

#284, Rudy York, detail

Rudy York set two offensive records in August 1937, most homers in a month (18, breaking the Babe's record) and most RBIs (49, breaking Gehrig's). While a powerful hitter in the minors prior to 1937, this cartoon makes sense as drawn after his rookie season, predicting that Rudy could challenge Ruth's 60-homer mark. That makes it near-impossible as National Chicle's work, who sold its assets to Goudey by (or before) midyear.

Detail on DiMaggio's $25K salary cartoon

DiMaggio earned $15K in 1937, so this $25K applies to 1938. Players signed one-year contracts in that era, so Goudey added this sometime after Joe agreed to a new deal. Almost no chance this happened before National Chicle went bankrupt in 1937.

#267, Joe Kuhel, details

Washington traded Joe to Chicago for Zeke Bonura on March 18, 1938 and both Kuhel cards, first and second series, label him as a White Sox player. If National Chicle designed 1938's first 24-player sheet, we must now also assume Goudey updated it prior to printing.

#273, Jimmie Foxx, detail

This card highlights Foxx's MVP-level hitting during 1938 itself, so Goudey updated it well after Opening Day. He averaged .350+ every month that year and "sensational hitting" praise could come anytime. Boston started play on April 20, so I estimate Goudey designed their cartoon series in May or later. Of all on-card data, Jimmie's points to our latest date, midyear 1938.

I scrutinized card fronts in search of smaller connections to help pick between them.

1934-36 National Chicle Diamond Stars Gum (detail)
1938 Goudey Big League Gum (detail)

Card typefaces don't show an obvious Diamond Stars Gum to Big League Gum link, given letter differences for "C" / "G" / etc, so I stopped squinting at them.

Summary so far

We now know that player trades (Joe Kuhel) and mid-season performance (Jimmie Foxx) factor into both series of Big League Gum. Our "cartoon dating" tells me that even if National Chicle sketched out a basic design for "Heads Up" cards prior to 1937 bankruptcy, Goudey made meaningful changes prior to going to print in 1938, followed by further mid-season artistic updates.

1938 Goudey Big League Gum #270, Ernie Lombardi

Even though Goudey repeated all 24 players, too many 1938 references appear for a bankrupt-in-1937 Chicle to create those second series cartoons. I abandon my notion of Big League Gum as two design alternatives. This drops us to two scenarios.
  1. National Chicle created one "Heads Up" sheet of 24 players in early 1937, with heralded rookies Bobby Doerr and Rudy York. Goudey acquired it after Chicle's bankruptcy, updated Kuhel's team, added 1933-style back text, and released them as 1938 Big League Gum. Later that year, they add a second series with highlight doodles. Perhaps former Chicle employees joined Goudey to oversee set publication. Or...
  2. Goudey creates all elements of 1938 Big League Gum, with no National Chicle inspiration, and publishes it as an extension to 1933's big hit. (Creating a perceived link across several seasons would mirror their multi-year approach to Indian Gum.)

An Aftermarket Aside

While I can accept either Big League Gum origin scenario at this point, the second overlaps with something familiar to modern buyers: repacks and reselling. A great deal of product goes unsold during its first season and reappears at retail in other forms for years after.

Modern retail repack box

Jasoncards' Alternate History of 1933 Goudey makes a good case that Goudey pulled a bunch of planned 1934 cards forward into 1933, buoyed by unexpected success. I think they printed so many Big League Gum cards that year, a heady amount of unsold product remained by season's end.

Just as stores repack and resell today, did extra 1933 Big League Gum cards re-emerge each baseball season, year after year? If so, their #241-284 numbering approach to 1938 "Heads Up!" becomes less confusing to 1930s buyers than first appears. Goudey stopped showing years on their wrappers after 1935, so exact contents could be flexible, if they wanted to sell cards from prior years. Chicle, for its part, spread their Diamond Stars Gum and Batter-Up Gum sets across three seasons (1934-36), adding cards as they went, including duplicates of existing players.

Known unknowns

Hard to know how far we can go down this rabbit hole. On one hand, 1939's reuse of Diamond Stars Gum "How to" booklets shows Goudey used National Chicle products after acquisition. On the other, card companies copied each other without official agreements in every era.

Legal briefs are boring, so check out this 1937 Red Sox spring training schedule instead

Speaking of legalese, Internet research turned up a dispute over National Chicle's post-bankruptcy financials (Brown vs. Freedman, 1942), connected to this chain of events.
  • Late 1933: Alvin Livingston and several colleagues leave Goudey Gum to form National Chicle
  • July 17, 1937: Bankruptcy sale of National Chicle printing equipment to Freedman, an apparent attorney for Livingston
  • July 20, 1937: International Chewing Gum formed by Livingston & Freedman, retaining print equipment on same Chicle site, continuing as gum maker under new name
  • 1938: International Chewing Gum prints single, 24-card non-sport set, Don't Let It Happen Here (a Horrors of War competitor)
  • 1939: International Chewing Gum now bankrupt
  • Nov 1939: Bankruptcy auction of remaining contents of former Chicle/International address
  • 1940: Gum Products, Inc. formed using parts of International Chewing Gum
  • 1942: Brown vs. Freedman closes the book on Chicle's former equipment

Goudey owned their own gum facility in Boston, so no surprise they stuck to buying Chicle's cards and art, instead of its machinery. Note it took until July 1937 for Livingston to form a new company, loosening my earlier timeline to design a 24-player sheet that could be 1938 Big League Gum. I continue to lean toward them as its creative spark, given Goudey's post-1934 decline.

What this all means for 1938 Big League Gum

After months (years?) of on-and-off card history research, I still believe National Chicle proofed the basic design and artistic fronts of a 24-player sheet that Goudey acquired, completed, and expanded into 48 cards of 1938 Big League Gum the following year. While hard proof of all those events might no longer exist in any form, enough relevant bits exist before and after to satisfy my curiosity.

Get me a bridge(s) to the past

If you know more about all this, want to know more, or just know more than me in general, let me know! Thanks for trekking along another part of Goudey's hobby history.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

1962 Topps Baseball #5, Sandy Koufax

As I write this, Cooperstown honors its 2019 inductees, including Seattle hero, Edgar "Light Bat" Martinez. He proved one of the most accessible, personable guys a fan could watch. Still remember learning in the mid-1990s that we shared the same favorite Thai restaurant.

Cooperstown came to mind today as I flipped through the type collection and stopped at my favorite 1960s #5, and baseball's youngest elected HOFer, Sandy Koufax. The Topps wood grain even matches his sun-kissed LA look.

I consider this "photos curling off a rec room wall" design the best of 1960s Topps, with 1964 running a distinct second. (Thanks to league leader cards, Koufax appeared on three consecutive Topps #5s, 1962-64.) 1980s fans will remember a lookalike popped up again 25 years later, before Topps made Heritage sets an official part of their lineup.

1987 Topps #460, Darryl Strawberry

If you like to scrutinize card backs, note that 1962s don't refer to "1961" by text in the stat boxes, just (previous) "YEAR."

1962 Topps card back detail

I think this date ambivalence served a business purpose for Topps, who expanded their foreign card relationships into Venezuela in 1959. (See related set profiles in my summary post.)

Topps licensed Venezuelan-sold card sets in some years (e.g., 1959, 1960, 1962, 1964) and skipped others (nothing in 1961 or 1963). I think this left room to resell remaining inventory in "skip years," so little went to waste. In other words, by tweaking this basic 1962 design, they improved sales prospects of international sets. If I'm right, winter league fans could find these "1962" cards during both 1962-63 and 1963-64 seasons, with their original issue date masked by "YEAR." (Much more about 1962 Venezuelan.)

Returning to Sandy himself, Koufax's card bio mentions the financial underpinnings of his erratic early career: Bonus Babies. Brooklyn first signed Sandy to an amateur contract that required he remain a MLB roster player for two full seasons. Without minor league instruction more suited to his youth, frequent wildness in 1955-56 let to a lot of time riding the pine. Frustration with on-and-off pitching duties, despite playing for some great Dodgers teams, led Sandy to almost quit baseball after 1960.

1961 Union Oil booklet for "The Left Arm of God"

Sandy's breakout 1961 season proved pivotal to the remainder of his HOF career. Without retreading one of baseball's many Koufax biographies, suffice to say he went on to throw the hell out of his left arm in an era that encouraged pitcher overuse. After years of extreme pain management (and extreme success), he retired due to arthritis at age 31, with HOF enshrinement following in his first year of eligibility.

Congrats again to the class of 2019!

Value: Key 1962 Topps stars like Koufax cost $10-20 for lower grades. Type card commons run closer to 50 cents.

Fakes / reprints: 1962 star cards appear in a number of Topps retrospective and retro-style sets, making them almost as easy to find in modern versions as from the vintage originals. While I haven't seen any actual fake 1962 cards in the marketplace, they could exist for its big names.