Unfolding chaos at National Chicle, Part One

As detailed in my prior articles (listed below), the 1934-36 Diamond Stars release from National Chicle started slowly in 1934, picked up speed in 1935, and then unceremoniously fell off a cliff in 1936.

Were one to extrapolate to the larger goings on at National Chicle, the image wouldn’t be entirely incorrect. After all, the company filed for bankruptcy in early 1937. At the same time—and I mean literally at the same time, from 1934-36—another National Chicle baseball card set brings to mind the “not dead yet” scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Evidently, there were a lot of new cards coming out of National Chicle that year, just not Diamond Stars.

1934-36 NATIONAL CHICLE “BATTER UP”

Like Diamond Stars, the Batter Up set was produced by National Chicle from 1934-36 and consisted entirely of baseball subjects. A typical card in the set is this one of Dodger legend Hack Wilson, numbered 73 in the lower right corner. The most distinct feature of the set is the die cut around Wilson’s upper body, which allows for turning each card into a self-standing version of itself.

If you thought this card looked familiar but remembered it a different color, there’s a good reason for that. Six different colors (or “tints”) were used in the “Batter Up” set, with each card coming in either four or six different tints, though only four of the six were used for Wilson. (More on this later.)

As for the self-standing feature of the set, the pictures below, courtesy of David at Cigar Box Cards, shows how these cards looked when folded as intended. Though it may be Hobby heresy to say so, I’ll die on the hill that these cards look better folded than mint!

Notably, three cards in the set featured more than one player, something uncommon though hardly unprecedented at the time.

Separate from these multi-player cards, there are also 35 players who appear twice in the set. A typical example is Ben Chapman of the Yankees, and a very atypical example is White Sox pitcher Clint Brown.

In comparison to the Diamond Stars set, which features colorful artwork, updated statistics, playing tips, and biographical information, the Batter Up set can come across as a mere novelty or oddball offering. On the other hand, the sheer size of the Batter Up set casts doubt on such an impression. Ignoring color variations, the set is nearly twice the size of Diamond Stars (192 vs 108), and counting color variations there are 848 different cards!

SERIES ONE VS SERIES TWO

Virtually all documentation organizes the set’s cards into two series, differing in multiple ways including the physical size of the cards:

  • Series One: Cards 1-80, measuring 2-3/8″ by 3-1/4.” The first 40 of these cards are available in six tints (black, red, brown, blue, purple and green) while the second 40 are available in only four (black, brown, blue, purple).
  • Series Two: Cards 81-192, measuring 2-3/8″ x 3″ (a quarter inch shorter) and available in four tints (black, brown, blue, and green)

Recall I mentioned earlier that Clint Brown presented an unusual—really the unusual—example of a player with repeated cards in the set. Of the 35 repeats, 34 have their first card in Series One and their second card in Series Two. For whatever reason, Brown has both his cards in Series Two. (Offer up a theory in the comments if you have one!)

No uncut Batter Up sheets are known, but the shift in color schemes has led to speculation that Series One cards were printed in sheets of 40, with Series Two cards possibly printed in sheets of 56. Certainly another possibility, even with the card sizes changing, is that all sheets had 40 cards but double-prints occupied the 8 surplus slots left over from a 192-card set.

The key detail I have not yet shared about the Batter Up set is which cards came out when. To my knowledge this information is currently unknown or at least unpublished. The question then is whether it’s even possible to assign a specific year to the various cards in the set. For example, is there any way to determine whether this Goose Goslin card is from 1934 vs 1935 vs 1936?

As it turns out, I believe the answer is yes!

“BATTER UP” RELEASE SCHEDULE BY YEAR

When I began my analysis of this set, I presumed the release schedule would look something like this:

  • 1934: Cards 1 through n
  • 1935: Cards (n + 1) through k, plus possibly some repeats from 1934
  • 1936: Cards (k + 1) through 192, plus possibly some repeats from 1934/1935

In brief, I expected some number of new cards each year. I furthermore was biased from my work with Diamond Stars to expect a Diamond Stars-like pattern of some small number of cards in 1934, some much larger number in 1935, and finally some small number in 1936. Here is an example of the sort of thing I expected to find.

  • 1934: Cards 1-40
  • 1935: Cards 41-160
  • 1936: Cards 161-192

However, I now believe no new cards were released in 1935 and that the release schedule for the set was quite simply the following:

  • 1934: Cards 1-80 (i.e., Series One)
  • 1936: Cards 81-192 (i.e., Series Two)

If correct, the 112 brand new cards issued in 1936 suggest a company that was still putting the pedal to the metal on baseball cards in 1936, even as it slammed the brakes on its contemporaneous Diamond Stars release.

TEAM CHANGES

The teams that players in a set appear with offer important clues to the timing of its cards. For example, a card of Dick Allen on the Dodgers would likely be from around 1971 and certainly would not pre-date his October 5, 1970, trade from St. Louis to Los Angeles.

More relevant to set at hand, take the example of John Irving “Jack” Burns, whose Batter Up card shows him with the Tigers.

Burns did not become a Tiger until April 30, 1936, thus we can conclude his Batter Up card was produced no earlier than this date. As such, we know the card dates to 1936 rather than 1934 or 1935.

Series One

There are nine players in Series One who changed teams during the 1934 season or 1934-35 offseason. Where we see such players with their original teams, we should suppose their cards were issued in 1934 rather than 1935. Likewise, if we see these players on their new teams, we can conclude their cards were produced after the relevant transaction date and possibly as late as 1935.

The first player on the Series One checklist to be involved in a trade is Wes Ferrell, whose card #12 shows him with Cleveland. Because Ferrell was traded from the Indians to the Red Sox on May 25, 1934, this card most likely dates to 1934, probably even early 1934, rather than 1935.

Of course with a low position on the checklist like #12, you probably already assumed Ferrell’s card was from 1934. But what of Chick Fullis, on the other end of the Series One checklist with card #74? His card shows him on the Phillies, who traded him to the Cardinals on June 15, 1934. Once again then, the card likely dates to 1934.

If card #74 is indeed from 1934, there is only one barrier to concluding that all 80 Series One cards are from 1934. What if Series One employed skip numbering where various card numbers, presumably an entire sheet’s worth, were left vacant in 1934 to be filled in 1935? If so, then we could have Ferrell and Fullis date to 1934 while still having some haphazard subset of Series One date to 1935.

However, were some significant number of Series One cards not produced until 1935, we would expect to see some of these cards show players on new teams. Instead, here is what we find.

#PlayerFromToDate
12Wes FerrellIndiansRed Sox5/25/34
74Chick FullisPhilliesCardinals6/15/34
73Hack WilsonDodgersPhillies8/10/34
43Joe HevingWhite Sox(released)10/21/34
32Joe CroninSenatorsRed Sox10/26/34
4Dick BartellPhilliesGiants11/1/34
60Ed MorganRed SoxCardinals11/22/34
56Sammy ByrdYankeesReds12/1934
13Bill CissellRed SoxPortland (PCL)2/1/35

Notably, all nine players are shown with their original teams, suggesting a 1934 issue since a 1935 issue would in all likelihood featured updated teams (and exclude Heving and Cissell altogether).

Another thing we might have expected to see, had some Series One cards, not been produced until 1935, would be a handful of players who made their Major League debuts in 1935. In fact there are none. In contrast, Series One does include three players who debuted in 1934: Cookie Lavagetto (#51, MLB debut: April 17, 1934), Ollie Bejma (#55, MLB debut: April 24, 1934), and Zeke Bonura (#65, MLB debut: April 17, 1934).

Is this enough to conclude that all 80 Series One cards were issued in 1934? By itself probably not. For example, here are two players who didn’t change teams at all. What prevents these two cards from having been issued in 1935?

Had cards been produced individually, I would not have an argument. However, we should keep in mind that the cards were almost certainly produced in sheets, with perhaps 40 cards to a sheet. Because there are none of the things we should expect a full 1935 sheet to include (i.e., at least one team update or debut), my conclusion is that there was no 1935 Series One sheet, hence no 1935 Series One cards.

Series Two

I’ll begin my look at Series Two team changes with a team change that wasn’t really a team change, best demonstrated by Wally Berger’s two cards in the Batter Up set.

Wally Berger was with the Boston N.L. franchise continuously from 1930 to 1937, but you’ll note a small difference in how his team is noted on each of his two cards. On card #1 he is with the Braves while on card #172 he is with the Bees. (Something similar happens in the Diamond Stars set between Berger’s card #25 and card #108.)

As the change of the franchise nickname was not announced until January 31, 1936, the use of “Bees” on Berger’s second card tells us the card was issued in 1936, though perhaps you would have assumed that anyway from the card’s high number. However, Berger was not the only Bee in the set. Here are the other four:

Unlike Berger, these Bees have relatively low numbers (83, 96, 99, 107) within Series Two, yet still date to 1936 based on the Bees nickname on the cards. The immediate implication, barring a skip numbering scheme, is that all or nearly all of Series Two came in 1936. (And when I say nearly all I really mean it since the only Series Two card numbers lower than 83 are 81 and 82.)

Before addressing skip numbering, let me first kill off the possibility that cards 81 and 82 (but not 83-192) could have been released separately, for example in 1935 or even 1934. I think the strongest evidence against such a possibility is that the Series Two cards are different sizes than their Series One predecessors. Imagine then, either in 1934 or 1935 producing 80 of the 82 cards one size but two another size. That just seems bizarre, even to someone like me with a huge appetite for bizarre.

Now what about skip numbering? Could National Chicle have released some subset of Series Two but left gaps in numbering that would not be filled in until 1936? Anything is possible, but I do think this is unlikely. After all, imagine that there were a significant release of Series Two cards in 1935. There are two things I would expect such a release to have.

  • Boston N.L. players on the Braves (not Bees)
  • Players on their 1935 rather than 1936 teams, assuming the two differed

However, as we examine the Series Two cards themselves, there are no Boston Braves. (In contrast, cards 1, 2, 37, 47, 59, and 75 from Series One are Braves.) Similarly, when we look at players whose 1935 and 1936 teams differed, we again see a rather one-sided pattern.

Here are the players who changed teams between 1935 and 1936, either during the 1935 season or during the 1935-36 offseason. The table is sorted by transaction date and uses boldface to indicate the team each player appears on in Series Two.

#PlayerFromToDate
151Ski MelilloBrownsRed Sox5/27/35
142Tony PietRedsWhite Sox6/4/35
163Bud HafeyWhite SoxPirates6/9/35
162Joe CascarellaAthleticsRed Sox6/30/35
92Dick CoffmanBrownsGiants11/14/35
94Roy ParmeleeGiantsCardinals12/9/35
144Jimmie FoxxAthleticsRed Sox12/10/35
99Ray BengeDodgersBraves12/12/35
107Ed Brandt[Bees*]Dodgers12/12/35
95Carl ReynoldsRed SoxSenators12/17/35
122Fred LindstromCubsDodgers1/16/36
167John BabichDodgersBees2/6/36
115Jim BottomleyRedsBrowns3/21/36
179Jim BottomleyRedsBrowns3/21/36
82Clint BrownIndiansWhite Sox4/11/36
189Clint BrownIndiansWhite Sox4/11/36

Among the 16 cards listed, 14 show the player with his new team. Of the two that don’t, the first is card 107 of Ed Brandt, which still shows him with his 1935 team, Boston. However, Brandt’s card uses the Bees nickname, hence cannot be from 1935.

This leaves only John Babich, whose card 167 still shows him with Brooklyn. One interpretation is that this card, hence an entire sheet of Series Two cards, genuinely dates to 1935. However, I don’t think the numbers are there to support this. (Where are the Braves cards? Where are the other players still on their 1935 teams?) The alternative I favor, therefore, is that of Babich simply being missed somewhere in the editorial process. If not for this exception, I would bet the house that no Series Two cards date to 1935. The Babich card compels me to maintain the same opinion but with less certainty.

Combining my analysis of Series One and Series Two, I believe the most likely release schedule for the set is the following:

  • 1934: Cards 1-80 (i.e., all of Series One)
  • 1935: No new cards
  • 1936: Cards 81-192 (i.e., all of Series Two)

It’s an unexpected result and one that lends itself to plenty of head scratching. Still, it appears to be the direction the clues have taken us.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 1935?

While I’m fairly confident that new Batter Up cards were on hiatus in 1935, it’s entirely possible that Batter Up cards continued to be sold, either as excess inventory from the prior year or further (new) print runs of earlier 1934 cards. National Chicle reissued all 24 of their 1934 Diamond Stars cards in 1935, so why not do something similar with Batter Up?

1934 Dixie Walker card with 1935 reissue

That said, the Diamond Stars reissues had updated stats and ages (and in some cases updated teams and biographies) to distinguish them from the originals. In contrast, there are no known variations (aside from tint) among the Series One Batter Up cards. Therefore, if any of the 1934 cards were indeed reissued in 1935, no updates or changes were made to them. (This isn’t 100% true, but let’s go with it for now.)

The lack of any evident updates to the Series One cards suggests one of two approaches for any 1935 reissues that might have occurred:

  • Cards were reissued, perhaps all 80, without regard to accuracy. For example, a 1934 Wes Ferrell would still show him with Cleveland rather than Boston.
  • Only the cards that remained accurate were reissued. For example, Wes Ferrell would have been excluded due to his team information being out of date.

I’m not ready to take a stab as to which of these, if either even occurred, would have been more likely. However, I do believe a study of the PSA population report will prove useful in corroborating or refuting the second of these approaches. Stay tuned for Part Two of this series if this is something of interest to you.

Before closing I want to come back to the not quite true remark I made about any potential 1935 reissues being identical to their 1934 predecessors. From the perspective of the photos used and the text and numbering of the cards, this is a true statement. However, the door is open to one type of change that is at least a maybe.

Recall the six tints used for cards 1-40 and the four tints used for cards 41-80. It’s probably simplest to assume that all of these tints were used in 1934, in which case any reissues simply repeated one or more of them. However, it’s also possible that some subset of these tints was in fact “1935 only.” As an example, we might imagine that the 1934 versions of cards 1-40 used only black, brown, blue, and purple while the 1935 reissues of these cards used only red and green. I am not endorsing this theory but simply including the possibility to close a loophole I left open a few paragraphs ago. In all likelihood, it’s not something that I believe could ever be determined barring some miracle find of documents or uncut sheets.

Thank you to David at Cigar Box Cards for the photos from his collection, and as always a huge thank you to Trading Card Database for the checklists, images, and other resources that make my research possible.

Author: jasoncards

I mainly enjoy writing about baseball and baseball cards, but I've also dabbled in the sparsely populated Isaac Newton trading card humor genre. As of January 2019 I'm excited to be part of the SABR Baseball Cards blogging team, and as of May 2019 Co-Chair of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee.

2 thoughts on “Unfolding chaos at National Chicle, Part One”

  1. More great 1930s investigation! I bet the lack of dates and stats on Batter-Up also made it easier to sell similar products across multiple years. Since die-cut printing requires specialized equipment otherwise little-seen on sports cards, I’ve wondered if National Chicle printed this set _because_ they had access to a die-cutter. Also wonder if their commitment to a large second series for Batter-Up explains why they produced such a limited run of new 1936 Diamond Stars.

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    1. Thank you, MG! Yes, I originally assumed the weak 1936 offering in Diamond Stars was simply because EVERYTHING was winding down. Now I too wonder if resources were simply shifted to Batter Up. As for why, I admit to being rather perplexed.

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