Author’s note: This is the third in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic brands. This installment examines the chronology of the 1933 release based on three different sources.
When did the cards come out?
When did 1933 Goudey come out? On one hand, the question is like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb. Lajoie card notwithstanding, isn’t the answer 1933? (Or Grant, if you’re still stuck on the other question.) Okay, but when in 1933?
I’m not aware of any exact answers to the question, but there are at least three different sources that I believe, separately or taken together, offer a richer and more complete picture of the release.
The November 1970 issue of “The Ballcard Collector” (great name, by the way!) featured a terrific first-person account, “Only One for a Penny? No Doubles, Please!” from Elwood Scharf, who in 1933 collected the cards at the age of 13. As we’ll see later, his memory of the release calendar had some errors, but I’d have no article (some would say “no articles PLURAL”) if rigor were my primary requirement.
Not having any back issues of “The Ballcard Collector” at my disposal, I first encountered Mr. Scharf’s article in the Net54 Baseball forum. (Net54 Baseball members can read the entire article here, but I don’t believe non-members will be able to view the scans.) The overall article, worth a read in its entirety, offered a vivid picture of what it was like to collect the Goudey cards in real time, but I’ll settle here for excerpting only the portions most pertinent to the set’s release schedule.
- “Big League Baseball [1933 Goudey] hit like a bombshell in the early spring of 1933 and was an instant success.”
- “They were released in series of 24 cards, and the first two series, through number 48, appeared in quick order.”
- “After that, Goudey began to get a little tricky and started to skip numbers. The third series included numbers 49 to 52, 58 to 67 and 75 to 79 and 92 to 96…”
- “…and the fourth series jumped way up to include number 141.”
- “The first seven series of 167 cards were distributed by early July and are easily identified by the BIG LEAGUE CHEWING GUM panel across the bottom of the picture.”
- “There was a long wait after the early panel cards, and we began to think that our town had been passed over. The first series of the final three, numbers 190 to 213 finally arrived in mid-August…”
- “…and was followed by the second series in September.”
- “Another long wait ensued. The baseball season ended, the World Series became history and still those empty spaces were there. With footballs in the air we were certain that this time we had been forgotten. However, Goudey was busy that October and it wasn’t until the end of the month that the tail-enders reached our neighborhood grocery.”
Right off the bat, this recollection challenges a tacit assumption I’d made in the first installment of this series. According to Mr. Scharf, the first two series consisted of cards 1-48. Meanwhile, we know that the first two sheets included the less orderly selection of cards shown below. (Sheet 1 shown in blue and Sheet 2 shown in yellow.)
While it’s possible that Mr. Scharf’s memory is inaccurate on this point, it’s also possible that the Goudey releases didn’t correspond exactly to the uncut sheets. For example, Goudey could have printed the first several sheets up front and then pulled from them just the ones they wanted for packs. More work, yes, but certainly possible.
Something I don’t want to ignore in this he said sheet said is that Mr. Scharf offered two distinct memories on this point. One was that the first two series ran through card 48, and the other was that the skip numbering began after the second series. Barring any new information, I’d probably put my money on Mr. Scharf having it right. However, we will see one piece of information at the end of this article that may tip the scales in the reverse direction.
Either way, let’s take “early spring,” hence late March through late April, as the window for the first 48 cards, whether this means Sheets 1-2 or a 48-card combination built from most of Sheet 1, all of Sheet 2, and some of Sheet 3.
From there we have no specific information regarding sheets 3-6, but Mr. Scharf identifies early July for the release of Sheet 7, mid-August for Sheet 8, September for Sheet 9, and the end of October for Sheet 10.
We can plot the information on this 1933 calendar, which we will add to as we examine other sources. As additional context, Opening Day was April 12, and the final game of the World Series was October 7.
While the overall picture seems logical and plausible enough, I believe there are three questions that arise.
- Are the memories correct? If not, which ones are wrong?
- Is any further refinement possible, particularly with Sheets 3-6?
- Did Goudey really crank out the World Series cards that fast??
Even as we look to other hints at the set’s release schedule, there is a certain fuzziness that will be left in our answers to each of these questions. Still, I think we will know more than we do now.
An entirely different set of chronology clues we will examine comes from players who changed teams just before or during the 1933 season. To illustrate how this approach will be useful, let’s take a quick look at the Rajah.
Hornsby’s first card comes from Sheet 4 and depicts him with the St. Louis Cardinals. Meanwhile, his second card, from Sheet 7, depicts him with the St. Louis Browns.
As this transaction occurred on July 27, 1933, we can draw the following conclusions.
- Sheet 7 could not have been finalized until at least July 27.
- Assuming at least 3 more weeks to get cards on shelves, the earliest possible release would have been mid-August. (In contrast, Mr. Scharf recalled early July for this release.)
There is only one other player in the set, Lefty O’Doul, who appears on two different teams. (As a totally unrelated aside, he and Hornsby also have the two highest career batting averages among players in the set.)
Lefty’s first card comes from Sheet 3 and depicts him the Brooklyn Dodgers. His second card comes from the World Series sheet and has him with the New York Giants. The transaction took place on June 16 and ultimately tells us very little. Assuming Goudey tried its hardest to remain up to the minute on team changes, hardly an airtight assumption, all we can conclude is:
- Sheet 3 was finalized on or before June 16.
- Sheet 10 was finalized on or after June 16.
Neither of these findings is an eye-opener. The first probably would have been assumed absent any evidence, and the second is obvious simply by virtue of being the World Series sheet.
Coming up empty will be a common theme in examining team changes, but I’ll go through all of them for completeness. Fortunately, as with Hornsby, at least some of them will produce a payoff.
Sheet 1 features two players who changed teams in 1933.
That Vance’s card shows him as a Cardinal indicates that Sheet 1 was finalized after February 8. If there’s anything to be learned here, it’s simply that Goudey hadn’t finalized the set’s early cards too far ahead of Opening Day. The McManus transaction provides us with nothing at all as there was never any doubt that Sheet 1 was released before October!
As a minor footnote, a collector alerted me to the fact that the Vance card still shows the hurler donning a Brooklyn cap. A possible implication is that the card’s artwork was finalized before February 8 while the card back was finalized after that date.
Sheet 2 includes numerous players who changed teams in or just before 1933, including Fresco Thompson and Taylor Douthit who moved twice.
If we assume Goudey tried to keep cards current with team changes, then the data suggest Sheet 2 would have been finalized before April 29. Otherwise Douthit would have been shown as a Cub. This is consistent with Mr. Scharf’s reporting, which more than likely would have required the cards to be finalized a good month or more earlier than that.
Sheet 3 featured several more team changes, collectively involving four players, with a takeaway similar to that of Sheet 2.
The Hoyt card on the Pirates indicates the sheet was finalized after January 21 while the Jack Quinn card on the Dodgers suggests the sheet was finalized before April 29.
Sheet 4 is also rich in players who changed teams but the timing of the most of the changes offers relatively little insight.
The exception is George Uhle, who moved from the Tigers to the Giants on April 21. That his card shows him on the Tigers suggests the card was likely finalized before April 21. We’ll use this later.
Sheet 5 includes only one player who changed teams, and the timing is uninteresting.
The Dodgers card of Carroll indicates the sheet was finalized after February 8, and there is no hint as to how late the sheet could have been finalized.
Sheet 6 features four players who changed teams, including the first in-season transaction to be reflected in the set.
Leo the Lip began the season as a Red but moved to the Cardinals on May 7. His Goudey card not only puts him with St. Louis but even notes the move in his bio. (“Traded by Yankees to Cincinnati 3 years ago and remained with Reds until traded to St. Louis Cardinals this season.”)
This Cardinals card of Durocher guarantees Sheet 6 was finalized after May 7. Meanwhile the Dodgers card of Joe Judge suggests the sheet was finalized before July 25.
Sheet 7, the same sheet that included Hornsby’s crosstown move, reflected three other transactions that same month.
The final transaction, that of Bob Smith, pushes the finalization of this sheet four days past what we already had from the Hornsby card.
Sheet 8 includes two players who changed teams in early May, both of which are shown with their new teams in the Goudey set.
Given that Sheet 7 has already taken us to the end of July, these transactions offer no new information.
None of the 24 players on Sheet 9 changed teams during the season, so there are no clues as to chronology.
Sheet 10 features two players who changed teams: Lefty O’Doul and Luke Sewell.
Because we already know these cards were produced after the World Series, the team changes themselves provide no new information. What I will share, however, is the fact that Luke Sewell’s World Series card, according to Sewell himself, shows Steve O’Neill!
Summary of Team Changes
We’ll use the same style of calendar as before to summarize the team change data, noting that one major difference is that now each band indicates the potential window for the finalization of a sheet as opposed to when cards would have been available in stores.
On its own, this calendar would not do much for us, but now let’s see what the calendar looks like if we further assume that the sheets were finalized in order.
The overall picture is improved but still only partially useful when attempting to answer a question such as “When did Sheet 6, the one with all those Babe Ruth cards, come out?”
Really all we know with certainty is that those 23 (!) cards were finalized on or after May 7 (Durocher team change). Beyond that we might conjecture that the cards were finalized before July 25 (Joe Judge non-update). Of course, even if correct, the overall window is quite wide. Futhermore, remember that knowing (or surmising) when cards were finalized is not the same as knowing when they were on store shelves.
Provided Goudey were in a rush (and soon is good in business), we might add three weeks and presume the cards hit shelves between the end of May and late August. However, there is also the possibility that Goudey sat on the cards rather than releasing them right away, in which case our answer would be sometime between the end of May and who knows when.
Thankfully, there is at least one other set of clues to investigate.
U.S. Copyright info
One last bit of Goudey history comes to us courtesy of “copyright cards” originally filed with the U.S. Copyright Office. The one shown below corresponds to Babe Ruth’s card 53 in the set.
These copyright cards include three dates–
- Date of Publication
- Copies Received
- Affidavit Received (generally same as Copies Received date)
Of these dates, the Date of Publication is of greatest interest since it refers to when the cards were made available to the public. Therefore, if the copyright cards were completed accurately, we’d be staring right at the Goudey release schedule with both certainty and precision. The question, then, is “Were these cards completed accurately?”
If I simply list the Dates of Publication for each of the 30 copyright cards I’ve seen, the result is somewhat chaotic.
However, if we sort by Sheet rather than card number, a much more orderly progression emerges. All cards (from my research sample) from a given sheet carry identical Publication Dates on their copyright cards.
We’re now in a position to match up these Dates of Publications with each of the two calendars already derived in this artice.
First, here is the Scharf calendar, with “C” added to denote Copyright Office dates.
The several “C” markers that fall outside the blue bands represent incompatibilities between Mr. Scharf’s memory and the copyright cards. In general, the copyright cards suggest Mr. Scharf remembered the second half of the set coming out much earlier than it did, something the Hornsby card on the Browns reinforces.
Furthermore, the copyright cards may provide a tiebreaker on an earlier matter we looked at, namely whether the set’s first two releases corresponded to cards 1-48 as Scharf recalled or to the first two printing sheets (i.e., 1-40 +45-52). The copyright dates for cards 44 and 49 in the table suggest the latter, though it’s again important to note that this is only true if the cards were filled out correctly.
We’ll turn now to the Team Change calendar, again using “C” to signify the Copyright Office dates.
Recalling that the bands on this calendar correspond to theorized finalization (rather than release) dates for each sheet of cards, there are no conflicts in the data. At most the gaps indicate that Goudey may well have sat a bit on some releases rather than rushing them onto shelves.
So are the copyright cards correct?
I would love to offer a resounding YES! but there are a few things that give me pause–
- The December 23 date for the World Series cards feels very late.
- The separation between Sheet 3 (May 19) and Sheet 4 (May 24) seems odd.
- Ditto for Sheet 7 (September 1) and Sheet 8 (September 5).
And of course, as soon as you start to doubt some of the cards, you wonder if you can trust any of them!
WHERE ARE WE?
Though we’ll see some new clues (!) in “part six” of this series of articles, the picture we’re left with from the clues reviewed so far is akin to how different witnesses might describe a car crash. The individual accounts might all have their own errors and omissions, but the accounts taken together–even when contradictory–present at least a reasonable approximation of a reality perhaps unknowable otherwise.
At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. If you’ve got a different one, put it in the comments or tell it to the judge!
In the next installment of the series, I’ll offer some methods for estimating the relative scarcity of cards in the set.