Author’s note: This is the second in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of fact, fiction, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment looks primarily at the set’s sequel and how the two sets might fit together.
1934 Goudey Basics
“1934? Don’t you mean 1933?” No, not a typo. Just a very long detour.
We’ll start with some basic information about the 1934 Goudey set.
- The set included 96 cards, a significant drop in the size from the previous year’s 240-card offering.
- While the set included two cards Lou Gehrig and single cards of several Hall of Famers, Babe Ruth is conspicuously absent from the set.
- Cards 1-79 and 92-96 feature a blue “Lou Gehrig says…” banner while cards 80-91, all National Leaguers, feature a red “Chuck Klein says…” banner.
With that background out of the way, we’ll jump into the checklist.
1934 Goudey Checklist
Just as the 1933 set was produced on sheets of 24, the 1934 set used at least three sheets of 24 and a fourth sheet of 25. “That’s 97 cards,” you say, and indeed it is! A careful look at the sheet of 25 will reveal a card not formally considered part of the set: the “1933” Napoleon Lajoie.
I don’t know if all copies of the 1934 set’s final sheet were 5 x 5 and included the Lajoie, or if some/most copies were 6 x 4 and minus the Lajoie. (As always, let me know in the comments if you have information on this.)
The first sheet in the 1934 set was by far the most star-studded, highlighted by Grove, Dean, Foxx, Hubbell, and others. In fact, 13 of the set’s 20 Hall of Fame cards live among the set’s first 24 cards.
Unlike the 1933 set, cards on Sheet 1 bear the numbers 1-24, though the numbering within the sheet is so random even I have literally zero to say about it.
The most salient (but not immediately evident) characteristic of the set’s first sheet is that every single one of the cards is recycled from the 1933 set, artwork and all.
First, here are cards 1-6 from the 1934 set…
And their counterparts from 1933.
And here are the next six cards, 7-12, in the 1934 set…
…along with their 1933 doppelgangers.
And finally we round things out with cards 13-24.
And once again…
Study the artwork carefully enough and you’ll spot some changes. One of the more notable updates is the coloring of Lefty Grove’s hat to reflect his move from the A’s to the Red Sox.
Add Ruth and Gehrig and this sheet would be nothing more than “1933 Goudey’s Greatest Hits!” Care to guess how many of the next 72 cards in the 1934 set reuse their 1933 images? [Cue “Jeopardy theme” while reader thinks.] Zero! This first sheet provides the only instances in the entire set and does so by going a perfect 24 for 24.
Given the star power of Sheet 1, it’s no surprise that the second sheet has far fewer luminaries. Appling, Hafey, Lombardi, and Gehrig are the sheet’s lone Hall of Famers, but oh what a Gehrig! The next sheet will feature a Gehrig as well, but this yellow one, Card 37, seems to be the one nearly everybody wants more.
Cards are numbered 25-48 but again are scrambled within the sheet in a seemingly random manner. But hey, since it’s what I do, I’ll offer at least one thing not random about the numbering. Cards 25-36 are in the top two rows and cards 37-48 are in the bottom two rows.
Feel free to read a much earlier post on 1934 Canadian Goudey for more detail, but this is as good a time as any to note that its crazy hodgepodge of a checklist corresponds exactly to this sheet (numbered more sensibly), the preceding sheet, and Sheets 4 and 5 from the 1933 U.S. set.
Reminiscent of the early 1933 sheets, we finally encounter a sheet arranged by color, this time progressing from yellow to green to red to blue. We are down to only two cards of Hall of Famers, though they represent two of the three top cards in the entire set: the Hank Greenberg rookie card and the green Gehrig. This Gehrig will also be the only instance of a repeated player in the set.
Card on this third sheet are numbered 49-72 but again in no particular order. A bit of trivia is that the mini-Gehrig icon that lived in the “Lou Gehrig says…” banner on Sheets 1-2 has now been updated to a new mini-Gehrig icon. The Coleman (Sheet 2) and Bolton (Sheet 3) cards below show the change at a size you can maybe even see on your phone.
I started off the post with a picture of this final sheet, which not only includes cards 73-96 but the “1933” Lajoie as well.
If every instance of Sheet 4 looked like this, then we are forced to conclude that, at least off the press, the Lajoie card was no more rare than, say, Lloyd Johnson. Of course, very few Lajoie cards (I’ve seen estimates around 100) ever made it to collectors, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that a gigantic pile of these cards were simply thrown away…either that or make for one helluva find someday.
What kind of set is it?
You’re forgiven if you’re wondering what the question even means, but let’s take a quick detour nearly 40 years ahead and I’ll explain.
The first card below is from the 1981 Topps flagship set: 726 cards issued around the start of the 1981 baseball season, and largely a redo of similar sets from previous years (e.g., 1980, 1979, …).
The next two cards are from the 1981 Topps Traded set, which was very much not a redo of the flagship set but an extension of it. Were you to imagine a world where the flagship set never came out and only the Traded set were issued, collectors would no doubt be irked. No Garvey, Bench, Reggie, Ryan, Rose…just a bunch of rookies, benchwarmers, and traded guys!
Redo sets stand on their own. Extensions do not. What extensions do well is improve upon a prior set. What they do so poorly as to not do at all is replace a prior set.
Returning to the 1934 Goudey set, I consider the first 24 cards a redo, albeit a lazy one artistically and of course a much smaller one. Had Goudey only issued those 24 cards as their 1934 offering, we’d conclude that they simply wanted to go small that year. Good set, lots of stars, updated teams and bios, a new design…only ten percent the size.
As for cards 25-96, my conclusion is just the opposite! Of these 72 cards, 64 were of players absent from the 1933 Goudey checklist, which largely meant rookies, backups, and lesser stars. Had Goudey wanted an even bigger set in 1933, these 64 cards would have fit the bill perfectly.
Now what about the other eight cards, the players repeated from the 1933 set?
Two were the Gehrig cards already identified. With Gehrig the front man for the set, his two cards make sense, even if they “ruin” the clean run of nearly all new players. The next three cards will make sense also, even if the star power is several notches turned down from the Iron Horse.
First up is Mark Koenig, whose new card shows his move from the Cubs to the Reds.
Next up is Marty McManus, whose new card shows his move from one Boston club to the other.
Finally, Adam Comorosky’s new card shows his move from the Reds to the Pirates.
What remains are three players whose card in the 1934 set feels more mysterious to me. All were stars of the era but by no means the top stars from which to choose.
Even with these multiple exceptions, I choose to believe the final three releases of the 1934 Goudey set were an extension of the 1933 release more than any sort of redo. Along these lines I do not believe the set was small for financial reasons alone. I believe it was small for the same reason the 1981 Topps Traded set was small. Coming one heels of a release that already averaged more than a dozen different subjects per (Major League) team, were there really that many more cards left to add?
Thinking about the 1934 Goudey set as we would a more modern day Traded Set answers several questions at once:
- Why no Ruth? He didn’t get traded!
- Why so much smaller? It’s a traded set!
- Why so many no-names? It’s a traded set!
In reality, I believe these same questions, particularly the first two, have other answers as well. Still, I believe the notion of the 1934 set adding to or updating the 1933 set is a mostly correct and mostly useful way to understand the two sets that for most collectors are synonymous with the Goudey brand.
In the next installment of the series, following up on a question from Nick, I’ll examine the chronology of the 1933 release based on three different sources.