Ted Williams (aka ‘The Splendid Splinter’) was one of baseball’s all-time greats and one of the purest left-handed hitters to play the game.
Even with his career interrupted for three full seasons during World War II and later in his career for duty in the Korean War, Williams amassed 521 home runs with a staggering .344 batting average. If he hadn’t served in the military, it’s hard to say what Williams might have been capable of.
Today, demand for Williams’ cards is still quite strong among vintage collectors, with his early Bowman and Play Ball rookie cards the most highly desired.
In this piece, I take a look at some of Ted Williams’ rarer and more obscure cards, while examining the population relative to some of his more widely produced cards during the early 1950’s.
1939 Goudey Premiums (R-303A) Ted Williams
The Goudey Premium cards were distributed at stores in the US and likely sold as a way to promote Diamond Stars gum, owned by Goudey Gum at the time. The cards are printed on thin paper and feature a photo of each respective player with a facsimile autograph on the front and baseball instruction on the back (“How to Bunt”, “How To Steal Bases” etc).
The thin paper makes it quite challenging to find these Goudey Premiums in good condition. The cards are over-sized (measuring 4″ x 6 3/16″) although a bit smaller than two separate issues from the set (cataloged as R303-B and R303-C). Note that Williams is only a part of the R303-A issue.
The Williams card is a very tough one to find; as of this writing, PSA has graded only ten, with SCG grading only seven. The last sale I can find was in 2017 for a Near Mint copy for $4500. Today, a sale would likely net over $10,000, depending on condition. Considering that this would technically be a ‘rookie card’ for Williams, it could be worth the investment (if you can find one).
Note that PSA has graded 870 of what is considered his true rookie, the 1939 Play Ball card and would likely be in the same ball park for value. Thus, given the scarcity of the Goudey Premiums, it looks like a relative value to me. Note there is also a Canadian version of this card (cataloged as V351 and known as World Wide Gum) which is even harder to find. Keep your eyes peeled for either one.
1939-46 W462 “Salutation” Exhibits – Ted Williams
If you’re not familiar with the Exhibits cards, they sit somewhere in the middle of baseball cards and postcards and were distributed in vending machines. The 1939 Exhibits Salutations set features photos of the players with ‘salutations’ on the front (“Sincerely yours” etc). There are two Ted Williams cards in the set; the one with Ted staring you down with his 9 visible on the back of his shirt was a short print.
PSA has graded only 43 of the “#9 Shows” card, whereas SGC has graded 38. Note the other version of the card is usually referred to as “#9 Not Showing” and is a completely different pose and much more plentiful.
Now, there’s something to watch out for with this Exhibit issue. The “#9 Shows” was believed to have been printed only between 1939-1941 whereas the other “#9 Not Showing” was believed to have been produced up into 1960. The key is in the bottom right corner whereas those with a ‘Printed in the USA’ dates to the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Check out this Exhibits dating chart for a great resource on this.
Whatever the case, the “#9 Shows” is the one you want to target. Considering that only less than 100 have been graded, it’s relatively affordable. They show up on eBay quite often and can be found for under $500 in VG condition or better.
1943 M.P. & Co (R302-1) – Ted Williams
These colorful cartoon like cards were produced by Michael Pressner & Co in New York City, issued in eight card strips and sold at candy counters. Two separate sets were produced, one in 1943 (also known as R302-1) and one in 1949 (R302-2). The difference between the two sets has to do with the ink on the back (early set has black ink and later set has blue ink) and the numbering (R302-1 is un-numbered, whereas R302-2 is numbered).
As with many old strip cards there are a lot of inconsistencies in this set and as discussed on this Net54 thread, the 1943 Williams strips have the company’s tag line on the bottom of the card as shown below.
PSA has graded only 81 of these Williams strip cards and can often be found on eBay for under $500 in Good to Very Good condition. A relative bargain if you asked me.
1947 Bond Bread (D305) Ted Williams
Most likely the rarest of the bunch, the 1947 Bond Bread cards were inserted in loaves of ‘Homogenized’ Bond Bread. The corners were rounded so that they could fit into the bread loaf packages. There is a lot of confusion regarding these cards; in the 80’s a big collection was found with squared corners yet it is believed that these were never issued in Bond Bread loaves and issued later. The squared corner cards are also the subject of many counterfeiters as many examples are circulating today. In addition, the big grading companies have erroneously graded the square corner cards as 1947 Bond Bread originals when in fact they were likely issued in 1949 or the early 1950’s.
This Net54 discussion is a great tutorial for anyone interested in the significant differences between the original 1947 cards, the later reprints and the forgeries.
Note that I believe the big 3 graders have stopped grading the square issues, although many are still circulating. However you will find a lot of the lower tier graded cards from companies such as FGA and MINT, but I would probably stay away from these. Now if you can find a TRUE 1947 Bond Bread Ted Williams card, it’s a gem.
1952 Berk Ross Ted Williams
The 1952 Berk Ross cards issue represented the second foray into trading cards for New York based Berk Ross & Co. The cards were issued in two card perforated panels that were separated and sold in individual wrappers. If you had 40 cents in your pocket back in 1951, you could have purchased the complete set of “Hit Parade of Champions” sport cards, which features cards of Williams, Mickey Mantle and many other big time stars.
PSA has graded only 170 of the Berk Ross Williams cards. A Near Mint copy today can be found for just shy of $1000, a relative bargain compared to some of the other mainstream issues of the day. As shown below, if we compare the Berk Ross card to the two early Bowman issues and the 1948 Leaf card, it certainly looks like an attractive proposition given the relative scarcity.