Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Where did 1933 Big League Gum #106 Nap Lajoie come from?


Welcome to another article about Goudey Gum and its 1930s business choices! They continue to fascinate me as an American company (born from Canadian roots) that used chewing gum innovations to succeed during the Great Depression, one of history's toughest times to make a buck.

We often think of card makers like Goudey and Topps as driving the hobby forward with whatever "fun" they can inject into packs of cardboard and gum. While those companies mean a lot to end products, they share the road with us, the collectors who buy their stuff. When I think of what we contribute, I think of Nap Lajoie.

1933 Goudey Big League Gum #106, Napoleon Lajoie

If you know #106 at all, you know it as one of our hobby's treasured rarities. When we fantasize about "owning a Lajoie," most of us mean this one. He's a prize, in part, because collectors demanded his creation. If you don't know that origin story, I recommend starting with Anson Whaley's 7 fun facts about the Nap Lajoie 1933 Goudey card. Today's article covers that card's larger context and a "deadline trade" that I believe made him so hard to find.

1933's best-laid plans

Leo "The Lip" Durocher first served as the Big League Gum #106 proof card, but just at first. Prior to final printing, Goudey removed #106 from its 24-card sheet and added a second #144 Ruth, seeking to satisfy buyer demand for the Babe. Durocher's own number changed to #147, leaving a new hole in the checklist.

Note #106 Durocher's uneven edges, hand-cut from the proof sheet

By 1934, enough frustrated collectors complained about the missing #106 that Goudey created a real one, featuring Napoleon Lajoie, to hold and enjoy. There's our man alongside 1934 Big League Gum's fourth series, its scarcer "high numbers" (#73-96).

While this means Goudey printed as many 1933 #106 cards as they did 1934 Bill Werbers, Lajoie never went into wax packs. We can assume all copies in the market today came from 1930s mail-in requests or their sale of leftover card stock in the 1960s. They discarded or destroyed the remainder. (Ouch, babe.)

Designing a white whale

When Goudey yielded to demand and decided to create the missing #106, they assembled it from a melange of 1933 and 1934 Big League Gum elements. On the front, Larry's sliding silhouette mimicked 1934 #65 Cliff Bolton.

Lajoie's back bio uses quote marks, as seen on 1934 "Lou Gehrig says..." cards. While the "G. G. Co © 1934" stamp also carried over, Goudey put it below 1933's "series of 240" footer, since #106 filled a gap in that set.

So that's why #106, you say. But why Lajoie, you askCheck out that front again.

There's our Cliff Bolton slide alongside slimmer-than-1933 name lettering and a big empty shirt space where something else could be. That big jersey space reminded me of a different Goudey set: 1933-34 Sport Kings Gum.

1933 Goudey Sport Kings Gum #3, Babe Ruth

Sport Kings Gum covered a range of "Stars and Champs of Today and Yesterday" across two series, one released in late 1933 and the other in early 1934. Two baseball players appear in series one (Ruth, Cobb) and one in series two (Carl Hubbell). A few Sport Kings, like the Babe and Hubbell, were still active and doing their thing. Many others, like Cobb, were years removed from their famous professions or achievements.

1933 Sport Kings Gum series one window advertisement

I see Sport Kings Gum as a nostalgia pitch to older fans who remembered the 1910s and 1920s. Goudey also used it to sneak another Babe Ruth card into 1933 before their license to use his image expired. That makes six different 1933 Goudey Ruths, counting four from Big League Gum and one mail-in premium.

1933 Goudey R309-1 premium, Babe Ruth

(For the record, I still need that Sport Kings Ruth; it costs a lot of pennies these days.)

Pulled from the cold case files

While Big League Gum focused on active ballplayers, Sport Kings Gum covered people foundational to sports and culture in general, like Duke KahanamokuBabe Didrickson, and Jim Thorpe. Seeing how Lajoie's career lasted from 1896 to 1916, that's the mold he fits. Back in 1933, Nap's last on-card appearance was already a dozen years old and described him as "former 2nd base."

1919-21 W514, Nap Lajoie

So if Lajoie should've been in Sport Kings, why wasn't he? I suspect Big League Gum proved so popular that it changed Goudey's original plans.

Trading at the deadline

Jason Schwartz's "An alternate history of 1933 Goudey" describes the midseason scramble surrounding Big League Gum in great detail. While I recommend reading the whole thing, focus on three points.
  • Goudey's first five series cover 120 cards, half of their promised "series of 240," with no duplicate players
  • Thanks to baseball mania surrounding Chicago's "Century of Progress" exposition and MLB's first All-Star Game, Goudey sold more gum cards in 1933 than in any other year
  • Big League Gum's art style changed in late 1933 and became close to that seen on 1934, implying cards released a year ahead of plan

Sport Kings Gum's first series (#1-24) came out in late 1933, at about the same time Big League Gum's final series, allowing Goudey to compare results. Since Big League Gum's final series included all World Series players, 12 each Giants and Senators, they also gave New York ace Carl Hubbell his second card in the set.

1933 Big League Gum #234, Carl Hubbell

It's easy to imagine strong sales for a series of World Series players, King Carl included. If so, you can guess what came next.

Card Hubbell, circa 1933 World Series

Here's one sharp-looking "champ of today!"

1934 Sport Kings Gum #42, Carl Hubbell

I think Goudey had Sport Kings Gum series two (#25-48) ready to go with Lajoie at #42 and just bumped him in favor of New York's new World Champion and 1933 NL MVP. After all, Lajoie hadn't played baseball in 17 years. Give kids more of what they want!

That move left orphaned Lajoie art available for other purposes, like filling the gap at #106. While I doubt they predicted needing it later, Goudey's opportunism allowed them to avoid wasting completed work. Add some bits of 1933-34 design, slip it onto a Big League Gum print sheet, and move on to the next thing.

I can do more than just argue for Lajoie with words and phrases. Let's take him all the way home with some custom card work.

Now that's a Sport King we can root for. Slide, Larry, slide!


I never felt at ease with the idea of Lajoie dropping unexplained into a set otherwise full of active -- or at least recent -- players. It fails the sniff test for a company that made decisions with the bottom line in mind.

Knowing what we know about Goudey's business practices, set construction, and 1933 sales, I believe this series of events explains Napoleon Lajoie's appearance on 1933 Big League Gum #106. Other collectors and historians may disagree and alternative ideas are welcome. Either way, loving that look of Nap under a Sport Kings Gum banner.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

1933 World Wide Gum Sea Raider Gum #5, Fight For Supremacy


Sea Raider Gum, a 48-card set of pirates and the seafaring life, fits into a family with three siblings from 1932 and 1933: World Wide Gum's Jungle Gum (wildlife), Goudey's Big League Gum (baseball), and Indian Gum (western). All use similar layouts and art style, which implies a design approach shared across two companies: World Wide Gum (pirates and wildlife) and Goudey Gum (western and baseball).

1933 World Wide Gum Sea Raider Gum #5, Fight For Supremacy
1932 World Wide Gum Jungle Gum #13, Hooded Cobra
1932 - 1940 Goudey Indian Gum #87, Kichai Tribe
1933 Goudey Big League Gum #155, Joe Judge

Placing all four sets in order proves tricky. Sea Raider Gum bears a © 1933 seal on the front, as does Big League Gum and some Indian Gum cards. Jungle Gum omits © and any dates. Some catalogs place Jungle Gum in 1930, which seems an obvious error, as chewing gum recipes suitable for packing with cards came along two years later. 1932 or 1933 makes better sense, given its similarity to those three dated sets.

1933 Goudey Big League Gum (back detail)

Big League Gum card backs declare "made by the originators of Indian Gum," so we know Goudey released their western life cards before baseball. I think Indian Gum debuted in late 1932, thanks to this on-card reference and 1970 memories of an original 1933 collector.

Most 1930s gum companies distributed groups of 24 cards at a time, giving them flexibility to end production and avoid piling up excess inventory when kids stopped buying. It feels logical that Goudey and WWG released their four sets in this order.
  1. 1932 Jungle Gum: Two series of 24 cards (48 total) by World Wide Gum in Boston. Never appeared under Goudey name.
  2. 1932 - 1940 Indian Gum: Multi-year set distributed in groups of 24 (216 total) by Goudey. Never appeared under World Wide Gum name.
  3. 1933 Sea Raider Gum: Two series of 24 cards (48 total) by World Wide Gum, printed in Boston (#1-24) and Montreal (#1-48). Never appeared under Goudey name.
  4. 1933 Big League Gum: Ten series of 24 cards (#1-240) by Goudey. World Wide Gum printed 94 of these cards in Montreal under their name for Canadian distribution and did more or less the same in 1934 (using a mix of 1933 & 1934 designs).

Links between Indian and Sea Raider Gum

Indian Gum and Sea Raider Gum share commonalities beyond their nostalgic (and often bloody) themes. One group of Indian Gum (#25-48) appeared with either blue or red banners, an exception to the red banner seen on all other series.

1932 - 1940 Goudey Indian Gum (blue front)

These blue Indian Gum fronts lack © 1933 insignia and could well come from a simultaneous print run with Sea Raiders, which itself went through four variations. Kevin Glew's PSA set profile includes this handy breakdown.

World Wide Gum printed Sea Raider Gum's first series in Boston and Montreal, followed by #25-48 just in Montreal. Their unusual combo of "Printed in U.S.A." and "Montreal" tells us WWG made a significant move during production.

Origins of World Wide Gum

Hobby tradition calls World Wide Gum "Canadian Goudey" as an assumed north-of-the-border subsidiary. Was it? I investigated that question in "What we call 'Canadian Goudey'" and found more nuance.

If World Wide Gum behaved as a subsidiary, you'd expect Goudey sets to appear in Canada. World Wide Gum seems more like the 1960s-90s Topps and O-Pee-Chee relationship. WWG created their own stuff, licensed what they wanted from Goudey, and left behind what they didn't.

Recall that Goudey Gum founder (and Canadian native) Enos Goudey sold his gum company to a larger manufacturer in 1932. Companies going through this kind of transition often lose employees that don't want to work under new owners. My Canadian Goudey article described how a group of former Goudey Gum staffers, led by Alvin Livingstone, launched card competitor National Chicle in late 1933. DeLong Gum, founded by Goudey Gum's ex-treasurer, followed the same path.

I think this 1932 sale also kicked off World Wide Gum and plans for card production in Quebec to take advantage of Enos Goudey's Canadian connections. As shown above, Sea Raider Gum headed north mid-production. I find it interesting WWG licensed Big League Gum for 1933 and not Indian Gum, given that set's American success, and posit a theory why later in this post.

Yo ho ho and barrel of numbers

Cards printed in Montreal appear in English or English/French, as on this Pirate's Legacy treasure map. (Whether pirates ever made maps remains a separate issue.)

Sea Raiders #45, Pirate's Legacy (Bilingual)

Look close at that text footer. Sea Raider Gum claimed "a series of 192," a common overstatement of set size used by Goudey and World Wide Gum in the 1930s. Its Boston wrapper claimed "series of 240." Was that indeed what they had in mind?

1933 World Wide Gum Sea Raider(s) Gum wrapper (Boston)

Indian Gum provides a comparison. As it sold more cards, Goudey accelerated set sizes throughout the decade, adding new groups of 24 cards with updated "series of" text on their card back footers.

Starting with "series of 192," which could well have hit stores in mid-1933, Goudey overstated the amount of available cards by a considerable margin. They also changed its approach to numbering, as "Series of 192" contains just 48 skip-numbered cards from #25 to #141, a clear attempt to imply kids could fill gaps that didn't exist.

Even after promising a "series of 312" by its last series, released around 1940, Indian Gum contains just 216 different cards. If you pursue a master set, many numbers include multiple back variations thanks to those series sizes.

While shorter at just 48 cards, Sea Raider Gum took the same approach. I bet this "series of 192 cards" coincided with an Indian Gum run of similar advertised size.

So why just 48 cards?

Kids like pirates and seafaring stuff, so I doubt Sea Raiders failed to sell. They're exciting just to look at!

Sea Raiders Gum #3, Pirate Galleon

Earlier, we asked why World Wide Gum didn't release Indian Gum in Canada, given its ongoing sales and growth in America. I think they lacked resources for multiple sets and ran into a unique situation that year. Their move from Boston to Montreal implies significant work getting a new location off the ground. I propose this 1933 timeline, based on Goudey and WWG sets released that year.
  • Jan/Feb: Start printing Sea Raiders Gum #1-24 in Boston
  • Mar/Apr: Move to Montreal underway, #1-24 printing in each location
  • May: Print #25-48 in Montreal with English and bilingual backs
  • May/June: WWG sees high American demand for Big League Gum and licenses four of Goudey's sheets for printing in Montreal, which halts work on Sea Raiders Gum
  • June/July/Aug: Print and distribute Big League Gum #1-94 with English and bilingual backs
  • Sept/Oct/Nov/Dec: Design, print, and distribute Ice Kings Gum #1-72, a WWG-made hockey set

That fall transition to hockey would occupy World Wide Gum until they licensed more of Goudey's Big League Gum cards for springtime 1934. (Check out "Clue 7" in Jason Schwartz's An alternative history of 1933 Goudey for details of WWG's hybrid 1934 baseball set.)

I find it reasonable that 1933's baseball hype machine, driven by Chicago's "Game of the Century," kept Sea Raider Gum from going further. If Big League Gum sold at a more modest rate, we might've seen no WWG baseball and instead enjoy many more pirate cards today.

What about the set itself?

Like Jungle Gum, Indian Gum, and Big League Gum, Sea Raider Gum contains colorful and exciting poses, some of the best in prewar collecting.

Sea Raiders Gum #13, Walking The Plank

Most conceptions of pirate dress came from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates, a posthumous collection of the prolific artist's seafaring art. Some Sea Raiders cards approximate Pyle's sophisticated scenes and others, like #13, copied him without hesitation.

Walking The Plank, Howard Pyle (1887)

It helps that Pyle's work remained popular across generations and you can flip through scanned editions of his Book of Pirates online. Much of WWG's art copied Pyle and others borrowed from 19th century etchings.

Sea Raider Gum #42, Alwilda

I use a Google spreadsheet to track Sea Raiders card art and welcome your help matching them to sources. Much of Sea Raider Gum's second series art could be inventions of WWG artists to make up for lack of available pictures by Howard Pyle. Many pirates exist as mythic or puffed-up figures, making their caricatures hard to verify as legitimate. Alwilda, for example, fares better as legend than pirate.

Stars of the set

Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and other pirates of renown rank high with collectors. Kidd's own story runs thick with international and personal complications well beyond what a single card back can describe.

Sea Raiders Gum #2, Captain Kidd (Boston)

My #5 proved cheaper than a "star" like Kidd because it talks about pirate behavior and not an infamous character.

Sea Raider Gum #5, Fight For Supremacy (Boston, with ghosted front ink)

I think World Wide Gum's short run of Sea Raiders produced perhaps one-hundredth of Goudey's seven years of Indian Gum, based on what remains in the market today. A deep-pocketed buyer could acquire thousands of Indian Gum cards, some in large auction lots, yet collectors struggle to finish one series of Sea Raiders. Unless you enjoy years of hunting, I recommend sticking to a type card that appeals to you.

Value: Low-grade commons fetch $20 and higher, depending on its subject. Due to hobby scarcity and competition from map collectors, #45 Pirate's Legacy will run you hundreds for even a low-grade example.

Fakes/reprints: No set reprints exist that I know of. Some cards (like the map) fetch high dollar amounts, so could be vulnerable to counterfeiting. Stick to dealers you trust when looking for its pricier cards.

Friday, January 10, 2020

1920-21 W516-1-2 Baseball Strip Cards #5, Tris Speaker

Over the last several years, I profiled W516 strip cards a few different ways, links provided at end of post. I think W516s deserve repeated treatment due to its star power, endless DIY trimming variations, and affordability in low grades. Tris Speaker proves a prime example, as a guy valued $100+ for most low-grade "playing days" cards, while my own #5 types cost $30 each.

W516-1-2 #5
...and yet, one type variation, the rouge-cheeked example above, remains out of reach. I hypothesize why later in the post.

What our hobby catalogues as W516-1-2 and W516-2-2 shows Tris Speaker flipped right-to-left, while its text reads left-to-right. Compare W516-1-2's "IFC ©" at lower-right to W516-2-2, where Tris became #6, half-visible on this card due to poor printing. Expert collector opinions vary about the reversed image. Did its editors plan to create temporary tattoos, printed in reverse, before falling back to "normal" strip cards?

W516-2-2 #6, "Cleveland Outfield" at top due to miscut

Like W516-1-2, W516-2-2 Speaker cards use hand-written text in the same style as its "IFC ©." I assume non-flipped cards with script represent our "original source" that its maker later decided to reverse for a second print run, whether by accident or intent.

W516-1-1 (aka W516-1)

This 1920 W516 used an out-of-date original photo, with RED SOX left-to-right on his chest, four years after Speaker moved from Boston to Cleveland in 1916. Other contemporary sets, like the oversized 1921 Exhibit below, got a current CLEVELAND photo. (W516 calls him "outfield" and Exhibit says "manager," because Tris served as player-manager from 1919-26.)

Indeed, Tris Speaker (Cleveland, 1919-26) intertwined with Ty Cobb (Detroit, 1921-26) as both American League player-managers and unexpected W516 "number-mates."

To finish my hunt for every W516 #5, I need two Tris Speakers and three Ty Cobbs, as they do-si-do numbers #5 and #6 across five catalogued set variations. Check out four of those Cobbs, two each script and typeset names.

Why all the flipping and flopping? Some strip card printers also created wet ink transfers, a.k.a. temporary tattoos. Prewarcards wrote about Decalco Litographic Company of Hoboken, NJ, whose name appears on edges of strip cards like W519 & W521 Rube Marquard.

Our "flipped" Marquard would fit right in with this Topps Baseball Photo Tatoo (sic) set and its wet-transfer ink, DIY steps shown below the wrapper's title panel.

Topps revived this tatoo/tattoo format every decade or so and 1971 Frank Robinson would look at home in those 1920s strip card sets.
1971 Topps Tattoos, Frank Robinson + on-field action

So what does that get us today? Up til now, every W516 Cobb and Speaker cost me under $50, due to limited design appeal and poor condition. As a prewar buyer, I want that price ceiling to continue forever. Why not? A past dealer (trying to be a heckling jerk) told me I was the "kind of guy who wanted to collect crap and wanted to pay crap." I mean, yes, of course. Guilty!

Jerks aside, let's return to our W516-1-2, the crouching, photo-reversed, handwritten, player-manager Tris Speaker.

These rosy cheeks put "pay crap for crap" to the test, because our modern market lacks this card in any meaningful quantity. As of writing, I found just one reversed-and-handwritten W516-1-2 for sale on eBay, for $799, claiming to be SCG's top graded example. A price I've paid for Ruth and Wagner and no one else.

On the upside, PSA's population report shows six total graded W516-1-2 #5s, five Authentic and one PSA 4. Perhaps my lack of success finding this Speaker says more about a shift in our hobby. Ten years ago, a good deal of W516s at card shows sat ungraded and disregarded in oddball binders. Few people understood how to classify and price W516's many differences. That malaise helped me buy types at wallet-friendly prices.

As 2009 became 2019, raw cards migrated to slabs in growing numbers, vacuuming up many former bargains. Now a $30-50 card aspires to higher heights. Am I interested? Not in that context, even with a lottery win. Consider me glad my binder contains a few already!

1920-21 W516 Speakers

Past W516 set profiles, if you want to compare insight progress. There must be more to know out there.

Value: Over the last decade, I paid $30-50 for my #5 stars. Based on eBay listings, some dealers want a lot more for them these days. Let me know if you defy those odds and pull a strip card bargain!

Fakes / reprints: Reprints and counterfeits exist for many W516 stars, including Ruth and Cobb, so be skeptical of any too-good-to-be-true deals. Seek out experienced prewar sellers if you want an ungraded (and thus cheaper) star from this set.