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.