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 mostly 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 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 above), 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.
Collecting an entire set isn’t all that easy because the cards aren’t super plentiful. Most were printed on low-quality cardboard and easily damaged, which probably led to quite a few being discarded. But you can find cheap singles from these sets with little trouble.
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 set 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-$15 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.
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 $8-10 range – sometimes even a little less.
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.
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 is another mixed set with 60 baseball cards and 60 other personalities, giving us a total set of 120 cards.
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 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.
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.
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.