As the quotes in the title suggest, there was no 1937 Diamond Stars release. However, an uncut printing sheet found many years later (1980 or 1981, I believe) fueled speculation that a 1937 offering may have been in the works at National Chicle.
Popular dealer, Den’s Collectors Den, used the images from the sheet to create a 12-card 1937 Diamond Stars “Extension Set” in 1981. I find the set to be particularly well done, including the bios on the back, which read nearly identically to the Austen Lake bios from the original set. Christopher Benjamin, who authored the card backs, signed his name as Christy Benjamin, no doubt in homage to Christy Walsh (see 1934 Goudey, cards 25-96).
You can currently buy not only the cards but a replica of the sheet itself from Larry Fritsch Cards. Note the 1937 year used in the image, which is also the year Trading Card Database assigns to the cards. (In contrast, this Beckett article by Ryan Cracknell and this SCP Auctions listing use 1936 as the date.)
In this article I will provide additional information about the cards and player on the sheet in hopes of determining not only its year but potentially a bit more.
As the back of the sheet was blank, there are fewer clues than usual to consider. However, we can still look at the following:
- Players who changed teams around the period in question
- Status of National Chicle and Diamonds Stars set around the period in question
- Other clues
TEAM CHANGES, PART ONE
Though I’m currently unable to track down the source, I’ve read at least one article or post that called out certain team changes as relevant to dating the sheet. For example, these three player-team combinations guarantee that the sheet could not have been produced before or during the 1935 season.
- Roger Cramer is shown on the Red Sox, the team he played with from 1936-40.
- Gene Moore is shown with the Braves/Bees, the team he played with from 1936-38.
- Jim Bottomley is shown with the Browns, the team he played with from 1936-37.
Of course, these same cards leave the door open to 1936 or 1937 as the date of the sheet. If we had nothing further to go by, I’d place a small wager on 1936 for the simple reason that it’s when cards of these players would have been the most exciting for collectors, i.e., right when they joined their new teams.
However, there is still more evidence to consider.
TEAM CHANGES, PART TWO
Three relevant team changes occurred following the 1936 season.
- Rip Collins (not to be confused with the other Rip Collins, but more on that later) was traded from the Cardinals to the Cubs on October 8, 1936.
- Lon Warneke was traded from the Cubs to the Cardinals in that same trade.
- Lonny Frey was traded from the Dodgers to the Cubs on December 5, 1936.
We can see clearly from the uniforms of Collins and Frey that they are still with their original teams. As the trades occurred well in advance of the 1937 baseball season, it’s hard to imagine that National Chicle would have used this artwork for a 1937 release. (See this article for an example of how National Chicle handled team changes.)
As for Warneke’s card, the uniform is much more non-descript, though it most likely shows him as a Cub based on its similarity to the uniform of sheet-mate Phil Cavarretta.
Another notable team change belongs to Benny Frey (no relation to Lonny), who was with the Reds through the end of the 1936 season but did not play at all in 1937. (There is a sad story here, starting with Frey’s April 16 release by Cincinnati and ending with his suicide later in the year.)
Because Frey was still with Cincinnati in the 1937 preseason (though he saw zero action), his Reds card is compatible with a 1936 or an early 1937 release.
We know National Chicle was actively producing baseball cards in 1936. Furthermore, we know the company’s 1936 release included only 12 new players, a staggeringly low number for a set of cards intended to include “240 major league players,” not to mention a significant drop-off from the 60 new players introduced the year before. This signals (to me, at least) that something happened during (not after) the 1936 season that led National Chicle to stop making new cards. If so, pulling the plug even while twelve new cards were making their way to completion would be an unfortunate but not altogether unlikely outcome.
Alternatively, we can entertain the notion that our uncut sheet was simply the first (or one of the first) sheets put together for an ultimately ill-fated 1937 release. However, with National Chicle filing for bankruptcy “around March 1937,” the window for such a thing would have been tight, and I at least imagine company execs would have seen the writing on the wall enough to avoid unnecessary expenses such as baseball cards of Benny and Lonny Frey.
As our sheet is blank-backed, about the only remaining timing clues will come from the card images themselves. For example, were the sheet to include an image based on a 1937 photograph, we could completely rule out 1936 for the sheet’s production. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t find this.)
While I have been able to locate source photos for more than half the cards on the uncut sheet, none has provided any definitive evidence for 1936 over 1937 (or vice versa). Still, because the image overlays look cool, I’ll share my findings regardless.
The first example is Benny Frey, whose card image uses a cropped portion of his 1934 Butterfinger photo.
The second source image I found is for Mel Harder’s card. The same photo was used on his 1936 Leather Finish (R311) premium card.
The third source image I found is for Goose Goslin’s card, which matches a 1935 Detroit Tigers team issue photo.
The fourth source image I found is for Roger Creamer’s card, which “matches” his 1935-36 Diamond Matchbook. (Note the team change, however.)
The fifth source image I found is for the Lefty Gomez card, which matches his 1934 Butterfinger photo.
The sixth source image I found is a fun one. First off, can we agree Pete Fox’s card does look a bit odd? There is a twisting of his torso that suggests having misjudged the ball a bit or…
Hey, wait a minute, this picture looks a little too familiar!
Sure enough, the Diamond Stars artwork comes from a batting image of Pete Fox, one that was also used on his 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Premium.
The final source image I found is the one corresponding to the set’s most unique card, the Bottomley/Hornsby combo card. Notes on the back date the photograph to late March 1936, probably between March 24 and March 28.
As with the other six source images, the dating of the Bottomley/Hornsby photo does not provide any definitive guidance as to dating the card or sheet. On the other hand, I’ll go back to my earlier point about when such a card would have been coolest to find in a pack. The Bottomley/Hornsby reunion (from their earlier stint as teammates with the Cardinals) was notable and exciting in 1936 but definitely old news by 1937.
I never did find the source photo for Phil Cavarretta, but I did find a second card (probably) produced from the same photo, at the same time learning there was a 1953 Parkhurst “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” set!
I also failed to find the Rip Collins source photo, but I did discover something odd with his card. As background, there were two players named Rip Collins who played in the 1930s.
- Harry Warren “Rip” Collins, a pitcher, played from 1920-27 and 1929-31 with the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, and Browns
- James Anthony Collins (often “Ripper” but sometimes “Rip”), a first baseman, played from 1931-38 and 1941 with the Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates
In all likelihood, the Rip Collins shown on the Diamond Stars sheet was supposed to be the second of these two players. For one thing, the other Rip had been retired 5+ years. For another, he is wearing a Cardinals uniform.
Nonetheless, if we compare the baseball card of Rip of photographs of both Rips, there is a much stronger resemblance to Rip 1.0.
This is neither here nor there in attempting to date the Diamond Stars uncut sheet, but I thought it was still worth mentioning. The implication, of course, is that had the sheet of cards gone through production, young gum chewers might have ripped the wrong Rip.
As with most of the analysis I do, I can’t say there is a definite conclusion here. However, I do think the majority of the clues I’ve reviewed point to 1936 as significantly more likely than 1937. The strongest evidence, in my opinion, comes from the artwork used for Rip Collins and Lonny Frey (add Lon Warneke if you like!), which depicts players in uniforms that would have been outdated by the start of the 1937 baseball season.
If we accept 1936 as the year for the sheet, there is still the question of when in 1936. The likeliest spot for a sheet of cards that was never finished would be following the cards that were finished. Then its unfinished state could be easily explained by running out of money or time. If I had to make a guess, this would be it.
Were the sheet produced earlier than that, we would be left wondering why these twelve truly new cards were scrapped while comparatively stale reissues were greenlit for production. The simplest answer is always money, but was the cost of finishing this sheet really that different from reissuing an older series of cards?
After all, even the reissued cards were updated with new stats and in some cases revised artwork, biographical information, and card numbers, so this was not a situation where excess inventory from the year before was simply loaded onto trucks. One could argue that if the uncut sheet cards already had bios (which they might have, even if the lone surviving relic was blank-backed), the cost of sending them to production would be the same as moving ahead with reissues. So no, barring horribly expensive, slow, or unavailable bios still needed, I don’t imagine National Chicle would have halted these cards to crank out filler.
Another theory occasionally advanced and unrelated to money is that these cards were scrapped due to the artwork itself, with some National Chicle exec presumably hating the shift from stadium and city scape backgrounds (left, below) to geometric ones (right, below). My personal feeling is that yes, the old backgrounds were better, but no, nobody would choose this as their hill to die on.
My takeaway, therefore, is that the “1937 release” was in fact a relic from 1936, and was probably created after the various series of cards that genuinely made it into packs and onto shelves. In this sense, the twelve cards on the sheet may well be the final baseball cards National Chicle (almost) ever made, a swansong barely heard among the packing of equipment, shredding of papers, and closing of doors that would come soon enough, or too soon if you ask me.
Related reading: My friend Matthew Glidden discusses the possibility that National Chicle may have had its hands in yet another baseball set before being gobbled up by Goudey.