When researching the 1934-36 National Chicle “Batter Up” set I came across the curious fact the set’s first series, cards 1-80, included no Chicago Cubs. At first this seemed like a quirk unique to the set. However, further research revealed that the lack of Cubs was fairly common among the gum and candy cards of the era. Here is a chronology of the major sets from 1933-49 along with the status of their Cubs cards or lack thereof.
The 240-card set in 1933 included 17 Cubs cards, including at least one in each of its first 9 series, which is about what you’d expect. I’ve mainly included this set because A) it’s THE gum set of the 1930s, and B) it’s the last set before things got weird.
The 96-card follow-up set in 1934 included 6 Cubs cards, which by itself doesn’t suggest anything anomalous. However, the distribution of Cubs in the set is worth a quick note. Series one included three Cubs, but all were repeated from the 1933 set, artwork and all. (This was true of all 24 cards in 1934 series one.)
When the set did issue its first series of new players, none were Cubs. It wasn’t until the set’s third series that new Cubs (Lynn Nelson, Lyle Tinning) finally appeared. (The fourth series brought back another Cub, Kiki Cuyler, from the 1933 set but with new artwork. And as Matthew notes in the comments, the twelve “Chuck Klein says” cards also add to the Cubs fourth series presence.)
The 1935 Goudey set primarily relied on recycled artwork and players from their 1933 and 1934 releases. Of the 144 “cards” (really, quarters of cards) in the set, there are only 11 new players. None are Cubs. Overall, the Cubs are tied with the Phillies for fewest cards in the set: either one or four, depending how you choose to count.
The small 25-card set in 1936 included one Cubs player, Chuck Klein.
Subsequent Goudey sets seemed to be fairly normal with respect to Cubs players.
National Chicle debuted two significant multi-year sets in 1934. One was the Batter Up set, whose 80 cards that year have already been noted to have avoided the Cubs entirely. The other set, Diamond Stars, was equally devoid of Cubs among its 24-card offering that year.
Diamond Stars continued in 1935 with 60 new players, and this time there were three Cubs, two of whom were repeated with identical artwork in the 1936 release.
Meanwhile, series two of Batter Up, which I place entirely in 1936, exploded from zero to 11 Cubs among the final 112 cards in the set.
Gum, Inc., is best known to collectors for two different offerings: Play Ball (1939-41) and Bowman (1948-55). The three years of Play Ball cards included 473 different cards. Believe it or not, none were active Cubs players! The 161-card 1939 set and 72-card 1941 set included no Cubs at all while the 240-card 1940 set included three retired greats and one coach card.
The Gum, Inc., shutout continued into their debut Bowman offering that included 48 cards but no Cubs. Beginning in 1949, however, the Bowman sets had about the number of Cubs cards one would expect.
1934 Butterfinger Premiums
This set included 65 cards. None were Cubs.
1937 O-Pee-Chee Batter Up
This 40-card set had no Cubs, but it’s a bit of a special case as only American League teams were represented.
1941 Double Play
This set had 75 cards (150 if cut in half) including five (or ten) Cubs cards, among them the first card (or two cards) in the set.
1948 Swell “Sport Thrills”
This highlights set included only 20 cards, none of which were Cubs. Then again, there were five other teams that didn’t make the checklist either. Still, you’re gonna tell me this was a bigger thrill than the Homer in the Gloamin?’
Chicago-based Leaf Candy introduced a 98-card set (likely intended to be larger) in 1949, and 11 of the cards were Cubs.
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I posted some key elements of this article to the SABR Baseball Cards readers on Twitter as well as the collectors on the Net54 Baseball forum. Leading theories on the omission or delayed inclusion of Cubs in the various sets tended to relate to the Cubs being owned by the Wrigley family. Why help the competition, right?
Of course Cubs did ultimately crack the checklists, even if it took ten years in the case of Gum, Inc. One wonders, therefore, what made the difference. Did the rival gum and candy makers make P.K. Wrigley an offer he couldn’t refuse? Did the players break from official or unofficial team policy to sign with rival confectioneries? Did Wrigley ultimately decide that Cub-less baseball card sets would hurt the popularity of his franchise?
Whatever prompted the return of Cubs cards, I can’t even imagine being a Cubs fan from 1939-41, buying pack after pack of Play Ball, and not pulling a single Cubs player. I guess the closest I can come is being a Dodger fan in 2021 and not finding packs to open at all.