1933 Goudey baseball cards

1933 Goudey baseball cards are immensely popular with collectors. They weren’t the first baseball cards sold with gum, but the 240-card set was a landmark. It featured an attractive design, tons of star players, a size close to that of modern cards, and some big challenges.

It’s not hard to see why generations of collectors loved the set, and continue to do so. Collecting 1933 Goudey baseball cards takes money, patience, and imagination. Or at least two of the three. Yes, collectors of modest means who have patience and imagination can still collect Goudey, one of the most venerable of baseball card brands.

The design

1933 Goudey baseball cards - Babe Ruth
1933 Goudey baseball cards featured a timeless design that many companies imitated over the years.

The 1933 Goudey set is a classic design, featuring color drawings of each player and an inscription of his name and a small logo in the corner. Some of the drawings were action shots. Others were closeups. All gave a recognizable and colorful likeness of the player. Some drawings showed a stadium background, while others had a plain solid-colored background. 168 of the 240 cards had a red strip at the bottom that said “Big League Chewing Gum.” The rest omitted the strip. Sometimes you find cards with this strip cut off, presumably to make it match the other cards better.

1933 Goudey baseball cards measured 2-3/8″ by 2-7/8″, making them slightly smaller than modern cards, but larger than many of the cards that preceded them.

In the 1930s, this was the best that the technology of the day could do, but the design is timeless. Years later, Bowman went back to a very similar formula for three years in a row in its 1950, 1951, and 1952 sets. The 1941 set from Gum Inc., Bowman’s predecessor, even more closely resembles the 1933 Goudey set.

Goudey’s competitor, National Chicle, seems to have been impressed with it. Its 1934-36 Diamond Stars set looks a lot like the 1933 Goudey set. It looks more like the 1933 Goudey set than anything else Goudey ever did, in fact.

The challenge: the 1933 Goudey Napoleon Lajoie

1933 Goudey baseball cards - 1933 Goudey Nap Lajoie
Card #106, Napoleon Lajoie, was printed in 1934 and mailed out to those who wrote to Goudey to complain. About 120 survive today.

Let’s start with the challenge. Goudey left out numbers 106-114, 121-127, and 232-240, but eventually got around to issuing every number except card number 106. Short prints were a common practice, but leaving a card out was a new innovation. It was also borderline fraudulent. Some kids (or perhaps parents) wrote letters to Goudey telling them so.

So in late 1934, Goudey printed up a card number 106, featuring Nap Lajoie, the retired Cleveland Indians great. Then they mailed the card to anyone who wrote in to complain. Not terribly many did, and not all of the cards survived. So the 1933 Goudey Napoleon Lajoie is one of the rarest cards in the hobby. There are about 120 known examples.

The “1933” Goudey Lajoie resembles a hybrid of the 1933 and 1934 sets. The background looks like a 1934 card, but it omits the “Lou Gehrig says” hallmark of the 1934 set. The 1934 Goudeys had the line drawing of an in-game action shot in the background. Other 1933s with a solid color background omitted that extra art.

Theoretically, a poor-condition Lajoie is worth $5,000. But first you have to find one to buy for your $5,000. In practice, most poor-condition Lajoies sell for more than book value when they do come up. Lajoie is considered one of the hobby’s “Big Three” rarities, alongside the T-206 Wagner and Plank. There are rarer cards than the Big Three, but only Ruth’s rookie card is as sought after.

1933 Goudey Babe Ruth

The other challenge is the four Babe Ruth cards in the set. Printing four times as many Ruth cards as, say, Moe Berg, no doubt increased the set’s popularity. Competing 1933 sets didn’t have Ruth. But loading the dice so kids had a greater chance of getting Ruth with their gum seems like a shrewd move.

Today that provides another challenge. You can run over a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth card with a dump truck and it’s still worth more than $900. Finding an affordable 1933 Goudey Ruth isn’t possible for some budgets, let alone four different ones.

If you’re not picky about condition and are willing to overpay a bit, the Ruth cards aren’t too difficult to find. But if you want a poor-condition example of each Ruth card so you can build a 1933 near-complete set without Lajoie on something resembling a budget, you’ll have to be patient. It seems like set builders are always chasing those poor-condition Goudey Ruth cards.

Other stars featured in 1933 Goudey baseball cards

1933 Goudey baseball cards: Lefty Grove
The 1933 Goudey baseball cards set featured 140 cards of Hall of Famers, including Philadelphia and Boston great Lefty Grove. Note how the Grove card omits the red band at the bottom.

Many other Hall of Famers also had multiple cards in the set, including Joe Cronin and Jimmie Foxx. Goudey didn’t issue cards of every player in the majors like Topps tries to do today, and not everyone in the set was a star, but it offered a good selection of players, and your chances of getting a star in your pack were pretty good. Of the 240 cards, 140 featured players who ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Curiously, the 1933 Goudey set includes Tris Speaker, a superstar who retired in 1928, and Eddie Collins, another superstar who retired in 1930. This led to speculation that Goudey considered a set of all-time greats. Goudey tried a lot of different things over its eight-year run, but this particular idea didn’t make the cut.

Collecting 1933 Goudey baseball cards

Even if Nap Lajoie and Babe Ruth are outside your budget, it’s still possible to collect and enjoy timeless 1933 Goudey baseball cards. Their popularity props up the prices, but low grade commons still sell for $10 or less when raw and ungraded. Even in mid grade, they’re still affordable.

Even cards of Hall of Famers in low grade can sell for under $100. So if you like 1933 Goudey but don’t have a big budget, collect parts of the set. If you take the approach of collecting Hall of Famers not named Ruth, Gehrig, or Lajoie, you can build a nice collection without needing the budget of a 1980s corporate raider.

Similarly, collecting all of the players from your favorite team should be possible, as long as it’s not the Yankees.

Low-grade cards don’t look as nice as high-grade examples, but there is a certain appeal to a group of cards that show signs that kids from the 1930s flipped, traded, played with, and enjoyed them.

1933 Goudey baseball cards aren’t cheap, but if you can afford current-generation video games, you can probably afford 1933 Goudeys. And the Goudeys will hold their value better.

If you do have the budget of a 1980s corporate raider, a high-grade Goudey set with all cards in Excellent condition or better (except for the Lajoie) can be worth $1 million, but it will take a few years to chase down. Have fun.

Part of the fun of collecting, regardless of what you collect, is finding the cards. It takes time, and sometimes the cards turn up in places you don’t expect. The 1933 Goudey set presents a challenge, but not an impossible one.

Beware of reprints

1933 goudey baseball cards - Dizzy Dean
This card, featuring Dizzy Dean as a 22-year-old phenom for the Cardinals, is another nice card from the 1933 Goudey set. This was Dean’s first mainstream card, but he did have a card in 1931.

1933 Goudey baseball cards have been reprinted several times, and not all of the reprints were marked as such. Reprints tend to be a little fuzzier than originals, and they definitely feel different. A reprint will feel like a 1970s or 1980s baseball card. It will have a very similar texture. An original Goudey has a different feel to it. It’s rougher, closer to the feel of a fresh dollar bill.

Buy some low-grade cards of commons from a dealer you trust, then take them out of the toploaders and handle them. You’ll be able to recognize other legitimate 1933 Goudeys by feel afterward.

And if you find a 1933 Goudey Lajoie that says on the back that it’s worth $7500, it’s a reprint from the early 1980s. Mine came from a Scholastic flyer I got at school. Thousands of other kids got one the same way. I’ve seen them with both red and yellow backs. I’m pretty sure mine was yellow.

1933 Goudey baseball cards’ legacy

Goudey never replicated the success of its 1933 set. The 1934 follow-on added a clever twist by adding Lou Gehrig’s comments on each player, but everything from 1935 onward was downhill for Goudey in terms of popularity, both then and now.

Three companies issued baseball cards with gum in 1933. Only Goudey returned in 1934, and National Chicle was the only other company to survive at least three years in the baseball card market of the 1930s. So the name Goudey is nearly synonymous with 1930s gum cards, much like Topps came to be in the 1950s.

Despite their age, occasionally newly discovered stashes of Goudey cards turn up in an old cigar box or scrapbook. A newly discovered collection, including the elusive #106 1933 Goudey Napoleon Lajoie, turned up in the spring of 2016 in Pennsylvania.

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