1934-36 Diamond Stars baseball cards

The 1934-36 Diamond Stars is one of my favorite baseball card sets of all time. At first glance it looks like a Goudey copycat, but it’s a good set in its own right. And it’s a pre-war set that’s just a bit off the beaten path.

The 1934-36 Diamond Stars was a set of 108 baseball cards issued by National Chicle, of Cambridge, Mass. Jefferson Burdick gave it the designation of R327.

1934-36 Diamond Stars vs Goudey

1934-36 Diamond Stars
The bold Art Deco backgrounds on the 1934-36 Diamond Stars baseball cards contrasted with the generic, subtle backgrounds of Goudey.

The 1934-36 Diamond Stars cards are the same size as Goudey, and they feature hand drawn art like Goudey. Some of the 1934 Goudey cards even have the artwork fill the entire front, like the Diamond Stars.

But the style of the art on the Diamond Stars cards is a bit bolder than Goudey. Diamond Stars’ art is less realistic, tending more towards art deco. In 1934, it was a trendier design. Today, it screams mid 1930s a bit louder than Goudey. I’m sure for a while, the Diamond Stars cards looked dated and tacky, the way certain 1970s design choices look dated and tacky today, but enough time has passed that they look good again.

The other odd thing about the set is that National Chicle kept one set on the market for three years, rather than issuing different sets. Goudey eventually copied this approach, not dating sets so they could sell them a bit longer. National Chicle was neither the first nor the last to do this, though this isn’t something we see often with modern baseball cards.

The other big thing about Diamond Stars vs Goudey is that Goudey had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Goudey didn’t issue either player every year, but the legendary 1933 set had four Ruth cards, and the 1934 set had two Gehrigs. Once word got out that the Diamond Stars set lacked Ruth and Gehrig, that had to be bad for sales. The lack of Ruth and Gehrig makes this a less expensive set to collect, with the biggest challenge being a Lefty Grove, card #1, in presentable condition. Being card #1, it often found its way to the top of kids’ stacks, so it took more abuse than the other cards.

The 1934-1936 Diamond Stars set

The 1934-36 Diamond Stars featured 108 cards, though the card backs state that 240 cards were planned. National Chicle went bankrupt in 1937, putting an end to the set. National Chicle also declared bankruptcy in 1913, but this time it appears the company didn’t survive.

The cards measure 2-3/8″ by 2-7/8″ and feature text on the back of each card written by Austen Lake, a Boston-based sportswriter who later gained additional fame as a war correspondent. The text consisted of either a player biography or a baseball tip, similar to Goudey. Austen Lake did similar work for the 1933 DeLong set, which has led to some speculation that National Chicle may have had some connection to DeLong.

Even though National Chicle didn’t have Ruth or Gehrig in their set, this set does feature 30 Hall of Famers.

Series

National Chicle issued three series over this set’s three-year lifespan. Series 1 is cards 1-24, available in 1934. In 1935, both series 1 and series 2, cards 25-84, were available. Series 3 was available in 1936, consisting of cards 85-108. Since some cards were available multiple years, some are more common than others. Cards 97-108 are the most scarce.

Cards from 1934 have green ink, 1936 have blue ink, and 1935 cards can have green or blue ink.

The lost cards from the set

In the 1980s, a relative of a former National Chicle employee found an uncut sheet of 12 unissued cards. The sheet had a blank back and printer’s registration marks in the borders. The sheet’s discovery generated some press at the time, and Baseball Cards magazine reprinted two of the cards. While the lost cards are unmistakably Diamond Stars, the backgrounds featured odd random geometric shapes instead of stylized stadium backgrounds.

The unissued cards probably date to 1936. Four of the players played on different teams in 1937, and three of them didn’t join the teams pictured until 1936. Some collectors speculate the design deviated too much from the rest of the set, and that’s the reason they were never issued. Twelve of the cards issued in 1936 are holdovers from earlier in the series with new numbers, which lends credence to this theory that the 12 lost cards were cancelled at the last minute and replaced with leftovers.

Errors and variations

Collecting errors and variations is fun, and the 1934-36 Diamond Stars offer plenty of those. Hank Greenberg and Ernie Lombardi’s names were misspelled and later corrected. The errors are more scarce and valuable. Later printings of Al Simmons, Leroy Mahaffey, Heinie Manush and Johnny Babich lack team names or logos due to the players being traded. Kiki Cuyler appears as either a member of the Reds or the Cubs.

All in all, there are 170 total variations in this set, if you are a completist.

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