Author’s note: This is the eighth 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 focuses on some of the more mysterious relics associated with the 1933 set.
While the famous Napoleon Lajoie card 106 is traditionally regarded as the set’s rarest card, there are a handful of cards even more rare. One such rarity even bears the same number, 106.
Wait, WHAT?! Isn’t Durocher supposed to be card 147?
The “Keith Olbermann” Durocher, believed to be a 1/1 in the Hobby, is what’s known as a proof card from the set. Provided the card’s name is suggestive of its origin, we should imagine this card was part of a pre-production test run of the printing sheet Durocher was ultimately a part of, specifically Sheet 6. (Any speculation that the card might have been produced much earlier, for instance as part of a test run of the entire set, can be quashed by noting Durocher here is already with St. Louis, reflecting a trade that did not happen until May 7.)
An alternative explanation for Durocher 106 has been put forth, claiming it was not a pre-production proof or pre-anything but instead created by hobbyists post-1933 as a means of helping die-hard collectors complete their sets. Ignoring what would seem to be the prohibitive costs of producing a single card to this level of quality, there are at least two reasons to doubt such a hypothesis.
- Duplicating a card already in the set, numbering aside, seems like the least satisfying way in the world to complete the set. I get it that maybe these guys weren’t artists, but even a newspaper picture of Hank Greenberg would seem an upgrade over the second Durocher.
- Even more compelling, however, is the existence of other proof cards from the set, none of which would render any comparable service to collectors since their numbers are not 106.
Here is the most complete list of 1933 Goudey proofs I’m able to assemble.
- Leo Durocher #106 (released as 147)
- Eddie Farrell #107 (released as 148)
- Goose Goslin #110 (released as 168)
- Jack Russell #121 (shown above, released as 167)
- Luke Sewell #123 (released as 163)
- Al Spohrer #124 (released as 161)
- Al Thomas #127 (released as 169)
- Rube Walberg #128 (released as 145)
The numbering of the proof cards is interesting in that it’s hardly a random collection of numbers from 1-240. Rather, we see that all eight proof cards are clustered between the numbers 106 and 128. The numbers take on even greater significance if we consider the state of the Goudey checklist just prior to the release of the set’s sixth sheet.
Remarkably, each of the proof cards fills an existing gap in the set’s skip numbering. Were we to imagine there were once 24 such proof cards (i.e., an entire sheet), we might suppose their numbering would have been as follows. (I’ve used magenta here for the eight known proofs and a lighter pink for the remaining 16.)
Of course, Goudey’s actual Sheet 6 did not fill the gaps in the manner indicated. Instead, it left nearly all of them in place. (And we’ll return soon to the fact that only 23 new numbers are highlighted.)
Were the new numbers for all eight proof cards to be found along this blue band, the story of Sheet 6 would be a simple one: the cards were simply renumbered late in the production process to leave rather than fill gaps.
As for why this occurred, I suppose there are a couple of reasons we could ascribe. Perhaps someone simply forgot that the set employed skip numbering as a means of conning kids into buying more and more packs. Or perhaps Goudey really did intend to close out the set earlier (i.e., at 144 cards rather than 240) but shelved such plans at the eleventh hour.
Of course, as with much about this set, the answer would not be so simple. While five of the proof cards remained on Sheet 6 with new numbering, three of the proof cards (Russell, Goslin, Thomas) landed at 167-169 and would not be seen again until Sheet 7, which included cards 166-189.
Admitting some speculation here, the picture that emerges of the set’s sixth sheet is this:
- Proof version: 24 cards that filled the set’s existing gaps, namely 97-99, 106-114, 121-129, and 142-144.
- Final version: Renumbering of all cards, including the demotion (or promotion if you like) of at least three cards to the next release.
Now let’s take a quick look at Sheet 6 as it was actually produced.
There are at least two key features that distinguish this sheet from all five of its predecessors.
- It has two of the exact same card, Babe Ruth’s iconic card 144. (This explains how the sheet only managed to check off 23 numbers earlier.)
- It repeats (with new numbering and a new color in one case) the Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth cards from earlier releases.
These contrasts are particularly notable as Sheets 1-5 contained no repeats at all, either within or across sheets. Prior to Sheet 6, the Goudey set consisted of 120 distinct players, each appearing in the set exactly once. From this perspective, we might regard five of the cards on Sheet 6 to be anomalies:
- Ruth 144 (first instance)
- Ruth 144 (second instance)
- Ruth 149
- Foxx 154
- Gehrig 160
Already knowing that at least three cards (Russell, Goslin, Thomas) were bumped from Sheet 6 between the proof and production stages, it’s intriguing to consider whether five cards may have been bumped, transforming the sheet from a fairly standard collection of 24 new players to the spectacular, mega-star studded, triple Ruth sheet we know it as today.
If so, this would constitute the biggest (and most lopsided) blockbuster trade ever made!
- Sheet 6 gets Babe Ruth, Babe Ruth, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Lou Gehrig
- Sheet 7 gets Jack Russell, Goose Goslin, Al Thomas, and two players to be named later?
If this is indeed what happened, the next question to ask is why.
- Why turn Sheet 6 from a standard sheet to a super sheet? If Goudey had figured out more stars meant more money, what a curious choice to then follow up with six minor leaguers on Sheet 7!
- Why number two of the Ruth cards 144? Conventional wisdom in the Hobby is that Goudey needed the duplicate numbering in order to ensure a (near) permanent hole in the checklist, thereby causing kids to keep buying packs in futile pursuit of card 106. (I question this theory at the end of my first article.)
Returning to a theme prevalent throughout this series, the 1933 Goudey set holds and will continue to hold mysteries, no matter how much over-analysis we apply. Fortunately, at least in my view, this is precisely what makes the set so fascinating!
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I’ll close this article with a few additional notes on the 1933 Goudey proof cards that may be of interest.
- According to hobby lore, most or all of the proofs came from a single partial sheet obtained by hobby pioneer Woody Gelman directly from a source at Goudey.
- While the most salient feature of the proof cards is their numbering, some also exhibit small differences in artwork or typesetting. For example, notice the placement of “AL THOMAS” on these two cards.
- The Goslin proof card is an interesting one in that its number 110 was ultimately used by Goudey (probably just coincidentally) for Goslin’s other card in the set, his World Series card from Sheet 10. I’ve drawn goose eggs in my search for an image of the Goslin proof, but the Standard Catalog notes his name breaks onto two lines rather than the single line shown on his standard card.
Author’s note: If you are aware of other 1933 Goudey proofs with numbers that differed from their final printing, please let me know.