These matchbook covers were printed over a period of three years by the Diamond Matchbook Company. In addition to baseball, this company created matchbook covers featuring football and hockey players as well.
They are not traditional baseball cards but were listed in the American Catalog as U1, U2, U3, and U4. The covers came printed in an assortment of colors and include five distinct types spread out over four years:
U3-2 (1937 – mostly Cubs)
All of the matchbook covers have some value regardless of condition. But complete books with the matches unused generally bring a premium. Because these were matchbook covers, they are often heavily worn with creasing, tears, and other flaws. Matchbooks fully intact with the matches sell for a premium and ones with the striker still attached are more valuable than ones where it has been removed.
Some are found with various background colors. They use the same image but are available in an assortment of colors, making the assembling of a master set of the entire series incredibly challenging. Dizzy Dean and Mel Ott are among the biggest names in this series. Surprisingly, though many big stars were not included, such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, and more. Why so many big names were left out is a mystery.
One of the biggest reasons these remain popular with collectors is their affordability. Even the most expensive ones in the series can be found for under $100. Low-grade commons can sell for as little as $1-$3 a piece.
Fronts of the matchbooks feature a black and white image or sepia photo of a player inside of a square along with his name. The backs include a biography and insides of the books (where the matches were stored) are blank.
Separating the Five Sets
While there are five different sets, many collectors have a difficult time determining which ones are which. However, here are the characteristics for the different sets.
U1 – Silver border around player photo
U2 – Black background
U3-1 – Mention 1934 and 1935 seasons in biography
U3-2 – Mostly Cubs and mention 1936 season in biography
U4 – Include team name under the player name on the back (others do not)
Of note here is that the U3-2 series is mostly a Cubs set. However, two Hall of Famers, Dizzy Dean and Paul Waner, are the sole non-Cubs in it. At the time of issue, Dean played for the Cardinals and Waner played for the Pirates. Ironically, Dean would end up with the Cubs in 1938 a year after that set was issued.
Here are pictures of the five types, U1-U4, from left to right.
While many variations exist with the colors of the matchbooks, one variation regarding a an actual photograph is known.
Charlie Grimm is in the 1936 U4 set with both a home and road uniform matchbook cover. However, he actually as two different covers featuring him in his home uniform. One of those is a black and white image while another is a sepia photo. While other slight photo differences exist with other players, the two Grimm photos utilize the same picture.
In addition, a few misidentification errors exist in the sets as well.
The two rarest issues are easily U2 and U4. As a result, premiums are paid for those.
Checklists for these five sets have not yet been developed. However, below is the number of matchbooks (not including color variations) in each set.