Breaking into Pre-War Collecting: Strip Cards
The next installment of my series of helping collectors get started with pre-war cards. The first one tackled game cards and another affordable option are strip cards.
Strip cards were generally given with purchases or sold by retailers. Hence the name, they often (but not always) came in a long strip where merchants could cut or rip off a certain amount for customers. For this reason, strip cards often have uneven or rough edges. They are classified in the American Card Catalog as W-Cards.
The hand-cut nature of the cards has given grading companies fits over the years. Some graded strip cards are all deemed as ‘Authentic’ grade since they were hand-cut instead of being factory cut, regardless of what the actual card may look like. Others have been graded based on the rest of their appearance and have earned numerical grades.
Putting it politely, strip cards have a sometimes poor reputation in the trading card industry. Unlike some of the artwork in the gorgeous T205 and T206 sets, the depictions in strip card sets are often poor and without any real quality. Early strip cards used colored drawings while later ones, like other cards, went to real black and white images once that became more widely used.
Still, there are quite a few collectors of strip cards. One of the pros in the strip card category, however, is that since sets were relatively scarce at the time period that many of these were printed, often, they include players that may have only a few cards from their playing days. Perhaps the biggest reason for collecting them is that it is generally much cheaper to buy strip cards of stars than it is other issues such as tobacco and candy cards. Some are generic subjects (such as one of the W542 cards shown here), but many included pictures of real players.
Finally, when it comes to the four major sports (baseball, basketball, football, and hockey), strip cards are mostly a baseball-only thing. Here are the pre-1940 baseball strip card sets. A handful of early football strip cards exist (you can see them here) but I only know of one set with a hockey card and have not documented any basketball cards that would be classified as such. That said, there are several strip cards for other sports, including boxing, which was wildly popular at the time.
So where to get started, right? Well, if you’re interested in getting your feet wet with strip cards, here are some easy sets to focus on.
W512 and W513 Strip Cards
These are among the first strip cards documented by Jefferson Burdick in the American Card Catalog and are also among the most popular.
The W512 and W513 strip card sets can be looked at as one large set. That’s obviously how they were intended to be, anyway. Each one is 50 cards with W512 printed from 1925-27 and W513 printed in 1928. Further linking the two is that the W513 set starts with card No. 51 right after the final No. 50 card in the W512 issue.
The sets contain a variety of subjects, including 35 baseball players. It’s sometimes called largely a non-sports set but that isn’t true. 20 cards in the W512/W513 sets do depict actors and actresses, but the other 80 are all athletes of other sorts, including boxers, tennis players, golfers, aviators, etc. Boxing is the next most populous sport after baseball with 23 cards.
Cheap baseball commons in decent shape are generally in the $10-$20 neighborhood. W513s were only printed one year as opposed to three for the W512 set and they are typically harder to find.
Even if you’re not interested in all 100 cards, completing the baseball subsets from W512 and W513 is an option. The heavy hitters are both Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb in the W512 set. These days, it’s difficult to find Ruth’s card for much less than $450 or so. That’s by far the most expensive one in either set.
W514 Strip Cards
Another common strip card set is the W514 issue. It is popular because the cards are easier to find compared to a lot of other strip card sets and it is also solely a baseball issue.
There are 120 cards in the set, which makes completing it very difficult. Includes stars such as Ruth, Cobb, Joe Jackson, and Christy Mathewson. Those are pricey by comparison but you can get commons often in the $10-$15 range – sometimes even a little less. This set is also very popular because it contains cards of seven of the eight banned players from the 1919 Chicago White Sox team. Those players are heavily collected but many have few cards to speak of.
Some cards in this set are also found with advertising backs on them, such as Barker Bread or Hendler Ice Cream. Cards with any advertising backs are pretty rare. A few other advertising backs have been discovered but those are probably the two that are most well-known. The Barker Bread ones are the most plentiful and even those are difficult finds.
Overall, these, along with the W512 and W513 sets, are probably the most common among collectors. They are more plentiful than others and pretty desirable compared to other strip issues.
W515 Strip Cards
The W515 cards are another strip issue that is relatively common. This set includes 60 baseball cards and, additionally, other cards for boxers and non-sport personalities with this same layout were included as well.
There are actually two different types of W515s out there. They (W515-1 and W515-2) both include the same images and checklist, but the W515-2 cards are slightly bigger than their W515-1 counterparts.
Similar to the W514 cards, a few notable variations exist in this set, too.
First, some are found with the Fleer name on the backs (yes, that Fleer). Fleer grew to prominence in the 1980s got its early start way back in 1923. Fleer used the same cards as the W515 issue, only placing an ad for their company on the back to distinguish them. The Fleer cards are very difficult to find.
The cards are also found with a second variation as some have the name ‘Little Wonder Picture Series’ printed on the border. The name appeared to be on the exterior of the uncut sheets as the full name does not appear on the cards. Instead, cards are found with only a part of the phrase. The Little Wonder variation appears to only be found as the slightly larger W515-2 cards.
Both the Fleer cards and the Little Wonder Picture Series cards are rarer than the regular issues and considered more valuable than the regular cards. The Little Wonder cards, however, do not typically sell for much more.
W516 Strip Cards
W516 cards are another popular strip card series, though these are a bit confusing.
In all, there are five different types. The differences among the series are related to different fonts, different numbering, and reverse imaging. But the same players are generally used throughout the five subsets.
These are among the lest attractive strip cards with many having handwritten names at the bottom and unattractive pictures. But they are popular as they include many big names, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and more.
Issued in 1920-21, these cards are not terribly hard to find. But, as with other sets, prices for the bigger names are still not dirt cheap. Babe Ruth’s card typically starts around $500.
Additionally, there are boxers and non-sport subjects that were created with this same layout. They are not typically grouped together, though.
W517 Strip Cards
W517 cards are jumbo-sized and significantly larger than most strip cards. There are actually two different sizes of them but the smaller version are not as common. The larger cards are nearly 3″ x 4″ and are what you will see more often.
These are a little different from the earlier issues mentioned because they didn’t use colored drawings. Instead, the cards used real black and white or color-tinted photos of players.
Only 54 are in the set (not including team or color-tinting variations) and it is popular because it’s a little smaller than some of the other issues. It also is a baseball-only set and the fact that it uses real pictures of players is considered a bonus for some collectors.
The cards aren’t expensive but they do usually cost a little more than some of the more common strip cards. Commons usually start in the neighborhood of about $15-$20.
W552 Novelty Strip Cards
These cards are probably the most common ones featuring generic players. The W552 set is a unique one to be sure.
First, while the players are generic and without names, some feature depictions of what seem to be real players. In particular, Honus Wagner, Hughie Jennings, and Joe Jackson look like the three that are depicted, for reasons I outlined here.
The cards seem to feature two teams – one is wearing a ‘P’ on their jerseys while the other has a ‘C’. Most cards you see featuring them has the ‘P’ team with a cream-colored jersey and the ‘C’ team in powder blue jerseys, but other variations have them with the colors reversed and a few with even striped jerseys.
In addition, even though the set is generally seen as completed at 12, many more cards exist if you count all of the variations. I’ve documented a total of 39 between regular cards found in sheets of 12, different strips of ten, a 15-card sheet, and a few errors. There could be even more.
Like the others, these cards are pretty cheap as well. You can usually find singles for around $10 and you can even buy uncut sheets or strips of them for a pretty affordable price. Sheets like the one seen here are usually under $100.
W560 Strip Cards
This is one of the later strip card sets that are also quite popular. Issued in 1927, the W560 set has one of the more interesting designs with a playing card style of layout.
This set includes a total of 64 cards. And like the W515 set discussed above, the same design was used for a separate set of actors. Aside from a few big names, the set of actors is not a highly desirable one with most of those cards holding significantly less value.
This set includes the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and some other big names. Additionally, it also has what is considered to be a rookie card of Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx.
While most of the cards in it are baseball players, it does include a few other athletes from boxing and aviation. Interestingly enough, it also features some college football players — a rarity for strip issues.
W590 Strip Cards
Finally, another notable set is the W590 strip card issue.
These strip cards used real black and white images and are among the more desirable ones out there. The problem is the cards are not easy to find. This is among the tougher of the well-known strip card sets out there.
Believed to have been distributed from 1925 through 1931, it is one of the more impressive multi-sport sets, boasting numerous baseball stars and other athletes. Baseball players include Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Lou Gehrig, among others. The card of Gehrig’s is considered to be somewhat of a rookie card.
In addition to the many key baseball players, plenty of other cards are sought after in this set, such as a card of the legendary football star Red Grange, boxing Hall of Famers Jack Dempsey and Jack Johnson, tennis great Bill Tilden, and golfers Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Hagen’s card is considered a rookie issue and is one of the more prized non-baseball cards in the set.