The Baseball Card Sets Of The 1940s

41-playball-tedThe 1940s saw a rather sparse issuance of baseball cards, with seven major sets produced.

Card production in the early 1940s was quite slow, which some blame on the lack of supplies (particularly paper and gum). However, things started to return to more normalcy in 1948, following the end of World War II.  

Although there were fewer sets produced in the 1940s, the era still produced some of the most beautiful sports cards of all time. And some, in my opinion, represent the most important cards in the hobby.

I will cover each set by discussing player and set specifics and fun facts for cards; going over the top cards from each set; critiquing set and card aesthetics, and commenting on recent market values for certain cards and grades using PSA’s population reports.

What’s your favorite set from the 1940s?  Let me know in the comment section below.

1940 Play Ball Set

The 1940 Play Ball set was produced by Gum Inc, and it is the largest set of the decade, 240 cards, in total. In my opinion, this is the least appealing of the seven sets on this list, both from an investment and aesthetics standpoint.

For starters, the 1940 Play Ball is devoid of any bright colors in any of its 240 cards: it’s a straight black and white set.  Cards that feature more colors are more evocative, they speak and appeal more to the viewer’s imagination; the 1940 Play Ball set just doesn't do it for me.

But that’s not to say there aren’t some great cards that are worth a pretty penny!

1940 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio #1

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The Joe DiMaggio card is the most sought-after in the set, and is the first card of the issue, making it very difficult to find in a high-grade.

To put it into perspective just how rare this card is, there has not been a PSA graded 1940 Play Ball DiMaggio sold in a grade above a PSA 5 EX in approximately three years. In fact, less than 30 copies have been graded Near Mint (PSA 7) or above.

However, the most recent PSA 5 sold on eBay in June of this year for just over $3300, leaving hobby enthusiasts, like myself, wondering what potential prices higher grades will command in the marketplace.

1940 Play Ball Ted Williams #27

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The Ted Williams card is very nice as well; 1940 marked Ted’s second year in the big leagues and this is his second card ever produced. Overall, it looks like a nice photo of Ted, but the 1941 Play Ball set uses the same photo, only it adds a splash of vibrant watercolor that enamors the viewer.

PSA has graded over 400 copies, so not necessarily 'rare', but compared to any of his later year cards, especially his Bowman or Topps issues, it's a much tougher find. Ultimately, this in my mind, makes the 1940 Play Ball Ted Williams one of his better cards from an investment standpoint; even lower grade copies can still be found for less than $2000.

1940 Play Ball "Shoeless" Joe Jackson #225

I believe Shoeless Joe Jackson cards remain a good investment, simply because he’s one of the most notorious baseball players of all time. His name is much more likely to be recognized for being involved in the fixing of the 1919 World Series, than he is for having a lifetime batting average of over .300.

This is tribute card, as Shoeless Joe had long been banned from baseball when this card was produced. Still, it has a lot of demand among vintage collectors. 

As a side note, I as a movie buff need to mention Shoeless Joe's depictions in two Hollywood movie pictures from the 1980s, Eight Men Out (1988) & Field of Dreams (1989), with the latter being an unforgettable, all-time cinema classic, starring Kevin Costner. (Ray Liotta plays Shoeless Joe).

1941 Double Play

In 1941, a somewhat unknown issuer, Gum Products (not to be confused with Gum Inc which produced Play Ball cards) issued a set of two player cards.  There are 75 total cards, featuring two players on each card.  The set is designated as R330 in the American Card Catalog.  The cards aren't overly appealing, but the set has 30 HOFers in total.  

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1941 DOUBLE PLAY PEE WEE REESE KIRBY HIGBE #23/24 SIGNED by REESE J.S.A. LOA

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1923 W515-1 Grover Alexander PSA 8 NM-MT Rare in High Grades

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1941 Playball #6 Carl Hubbell SGC 88 2X NL MVP

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TED WILLIAMS JOE CRONIN 1941 DOUBLE PLAY # 81 /82 PSA 7 CENTERED RARER PLAYBALL

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1941 Goudey

The 1941 Goudey issue is not really all that memorable in comparison to its issues from the 1930s, but it is an important set for the fact that it was the last set produced by the company.  As Old Cardboard notes, the 33 card set was plagued with "poor production quality control, miscuts and rough edges".

The backs have no border and the fronts have black and white player images issued with five different colored backgrounds. There are only two HOF players in the set, Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott. 

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A 1941 Goudey Carl Hubbell

1941 Play Ball and 1933 Goudey Cards- See Pics!!

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1933 INDIAN GUM #44 BILLY BOWLEGS SERIES OF 48 PSA 4 VG-EX SET BREAK BLUE LABEL

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1933 INDIAN GUM #41 CAPTAIN JACK SERIES OF 192 VERY RARE PSA 4 VG-EX SET BREAK

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1941 Goudey Gum #33 Mel Ott New York Giants Yellow SGC 1.5 HOF

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1941 Play Ball

The 1941 Play Ball set was the last major Pre-War set to be released (some purists may scoff at my omission of the 1943 M&P set), and it may be the most gorgeous set in the hobby.

This set features Hall of Famers like Ted Williams, Joe Di Maggio, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Pee Wee Reese, Mel Ott, and others. The lone rookie of the set is the Pee Wee Reese card.

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The colors of the set bring some of the same card depictions seen in the 1940 Play Ball set to life. The players in the cards seem almost mythical, and the cards make the game of baseball look so surreal. 

Just like in the 1940 Play Ball set, the two top cards are the Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. It was a special year for these two AL sluggers in 1941. They both accomplished something in that season that no other baseball player has accomplished since, or ever.  

1941 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio #71

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1941 Play Ball Ted Williams #14

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Ted Williams finished the 1941 season with a BA of .400 or better, a feat unmatched by any player since; Ted finished the season at .406. However, somehow Ted’s .406 BA that season was topped, because in that same season Joe DiMaggio went on a magical 56-game hitting streak, a record which many agree is one of the most unbreakable records in sports.

These remarkable achievements have stood, untouched, for roughly 80 years, which is simply astonishing. 

1941 Play Ball Jimmie Foxx #13

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Jimmie Foxx’s card in this set is one of my personal favorites. 1941 was Jimmie’s last season in the big leagues after almost 15 years in the majors. This card, whose magnificence is accentuated by an invisible setting sun casting red-orange shades behind Jimmie epitomizes what a baseball legend should look like; he looks like a baseball god.

Also, a little fun fact, Tom Hanks’ character, Jimmie Duggan, in the 1992 hit film “A League of Their Own”, is loosely based off Jimmie Foxx, further adding to my allure with this card. Sorry, I love baseball movies, what can I say?

1948 Bowman

The 1948 Bowman is a valuable set by any measure. It may be overshadowed by the Leaf Issue, but it features key rookie cards of iconic hall of famers. Some of the cards in this set are also very pleasant to look at, although it takes some time to appreciate their simple beauty.

The set contains HOF rookie cards of Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn and Ralph Kiner.

1948 Bowman Yogi Berra #6 (RC)

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The most interesting card of this set, I think, is the Yogi Berra rookie card. Larry “Yogi” Berra has won the most World Series out of any player in baseball history. Yogi won 10 World Series as a player, winning 5 of those in a row from 1949-1953. He also won 3 World Series as a manager. From 1947 to 1976, Yogi Berra was a part of every Yankees World Series, either as a player or a manager. Therefore, I think purchasing the RC of the most decorated champion from the most decorated franchise in sports history seems like a prudent investment to me. 

1948 Bowman Stan Musial #36 (RC)

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Bowman's inaugural issue in 1948. Stan Musial RC shown.

The 1948 Bowman is an equally accepted RC of the two 1948 Stan Musial cards. A Stan Musial 48 Bowman PSA 8 in late July of this year sold for $11,400, including the buyers fee, on Heritage Auctions.

There are only 77 cards graded greater than or equal to a PSA 8 NM MT, with one being a gem mint.

1948 Bowman Warren Spahn #18 (RC)

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Finally, I must mention that the Warren Spahn RC may be one the ugliest rookie cards in the sports card collecting hobby. It’s a picture of the side of his head and he’s completely oblivious to the picture being taken. Maybe I'm biased as I put a lot on a card's overall look and appeal, but I don’t see much long-term value in his 48 Bowman rookie card.

1948 Leaf

This is a loaded set, and one of the top sets in the sports’ card collecting hobby, if not the best. It’s filled with many high-quality hall of famers and 3 monster rookie cards that more resemble miniature works of art than baseball cards.

The three prominent rookie cards in the set are Jackie Robinson, Leroy “Satchel” Paige, and Stan Musial. The other popular hall of fame rookies in the set are Warren Spahn, Phil Rizzuto, and Bob Feller.

1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson #79 (RC)

In 1947 Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and made history by becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues. He is the most important athlete in the history of sports.

It’s no wonder his rookie card has experienced tremendous growth in value over the past two decades; it’s on the Mount Rushmore for top rookie cards and all-time cards.

The uncanny increase in the price of this card is best illustrated in the sense that a PSA 7 at a sizeable card show in 2002 would most likely fetch $1,000 to $2000 from a private dealer and today, at auction, that same card would almost certainly sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

1948 Leaf Satchel Paige #8 (RC)

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However, one’s best play from an investment standpoint, if somehow, one can afford it, is to purchase a 1940s Satchel Paige card. He was, I believe, the oldest of any player at the time of their rookie card debut, as Satchel’s Paige’s true age was unknown.

In general, there aren’t many Satchel Paige baseball cards, especially when compared to the number of Jackie Robinson cards there are, especially in the 1950 sets. Still, Satchel was arguably more talented than Jackie.

Jackie was the young buck at the time when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him in 1947, and Satchel was the old, formidable veteran. Timing is everything in life, people say, and Satchel got the short end of the stick when it came to timing, but you can’t let that detract from his greatness.

Satchel can be found in three major card sets: the 1948 Leaf, the 1949 Bowman, and the 1953 Topps.

Therefore, strictly from a supply perspective, I think either Satchel Paige card from the 1940s is a wise investment, considering there are only 1,109 PSA graded Satchel Paige cards in total of both his issues in the decade.

Approximately 15% of those PSA graded cards are 1948 Leafs.

1948 Leaf Stan Musial #4 (RC)

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Stan Musial is an unusual case regarding rookie cards, because he has two of them: the 1948 Bowman and the 1948 Leaf. Warren Spahn also has two recognized rookie cards from the 48 Leaf and 48 Bowman sets. The 48 Leaf's are the more valuable cards of the two sets, and I believe the reason why is because it simply comes down to the question of “who would choose black and white versus having color in any respect?”. 

1948 Leaf Warren Spahn #32 (RC)

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In addition, two of my favorite non rookies in the sets, include the Babe Ruth and Ted Williams cards. The Babe is more or less a tribute card, as he stopped playing in 1935.

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1948 Leaf BABE RUTH #3 EX

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1948 Leaf #3 Babe Ruth PSA 7 **Great Color and Corners**

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1948 Leaf #3 Babe Ruth Yankees PSA 4 - VG/EX. Really Sharp Corners.

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1948 Leaf Babe Ruth #3 PSA 6 EX-MT PWCC-A  * CENTERED*

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1949 Bowman

The 1949 Bowman is the final set on the list, wrapping up the 1940s with one more vibrant color scheme. There are 4 HOF rookie cards in this set: Roy Campanella, Robin Roberts, Edwin “Duke” Snider, and Richie Ashburn.

Quick side note is that the '1948 Leaf' set is widely believed to have been issued in early 1949 and not 1948, thus technically making the Bowman Robinson and Paige cards their true rookie cards, along side the Leaf issue. The grading companies still adhere to the 1948 issuance for Leaf and don't acknowledge the 1949 Bowman cards as rookies, even though they should be.

1949 Bowman Roy Campanella #84 (RC)

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An interesting card to consider with this set is the Roy Campanella RC. Not only was Roy Campanella an all-time great catcher but he is the first person of mixed race to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a fact that goes widely unobserved by most sports memorabilia fans. The rookie cards in the 1949 Bowman set, however, are outshined by the likes of Leroy “Satchel” Paige and Jackie Robinson. 

1949 Bowman Satchel Paige #224

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1949 Bowman Jackie Robinson #50

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1948 Leaf Ted Williams Baseball Card, PSA 3.5, VG+

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1948 Leaf WARREN SPAHN Rookie #32 EX

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1948 Leaf WARREN SPAHN Rookie #32 VG

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1948 Leaf WARREN SPAHN Rookie #32 EX

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Joe Volpe
 

Joe is a passionate collector and a lover of all things vintage. He graduated with a BA in Finance from Catholic University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Publishing from George Washington University.

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