Starting a Pre-War Card Collection with $100

As I wrote recently, the 1936 Goudey set is the perfect set introduction for new pre-war collectors. It’s short, affordable, and doesn’t have any expensive cards if you can handle low-grade.

But what about for those that don’t collect sets? Well, I recently wrote an article for Sports Collectors Daily, highlighting some cards featuring pre-war Hall of Famers that you could buy for $25 or less. But what can you get for $100 if you include some commons? Quite a bit, actually.

Here’s one way to start a small pre-war card collection for a Ben Franklin.

1913 Nap Lajoie Game Card

13parkerbrothers-lajoieThis is always one of my favorite bargain cards. Lajoie had a 50-card game produced in 1913 bearing his likeness and, despite the fact that it’s more than 100 years old, the cards are still somewhat plentiful by comparison. That’s partially because Lajoie is on every single card in the set. The one pictured here has a blue tint but there are also red-tinted versions, too.

There are several things that make this card great. First, it features a Hall of Famer. Lajoie wasn’t just an early baseball star, he was one of the best players in his generation. He was so revered by the fanbase, that the Cleveland Indians’ franchise was named after him from 1903-14.

Second, these cards are usually in pretty nice condition. With rounded corners and due to the fact that they were part of a game that perhaps didn’t get played too often, they didn’t suffer the same kind of wear other cards did. Third, and most importantly for the task here, it’s really affordable. They sometimes sell for more but are often in the $10-$15 range. I bought one for about $12 last year.

Damage: $15.00 for one card

1930s Diamond Matchbook

prewarcards-diamond-matchbook-bill-leeSome of the cheapest pre-war ‘cards’ you can get are the 1930s Diamond Matchbook covers. These were matchbook covers that included pictures of athletes on them and there are baseball, football, and hockey players available.

Your cheapest ones will be the ones with the striker part removed. Ones with it still intact or with matches still included will usually cost more. But you can often find these in the $2-$3 range. Finding a pair for $5.00 isn’t that hard to do.

New collectors to this issue might be a little confused at first as the set includes all kinds of color variations. There are several different sets of these that were produced in the 1930s and even within the same set, you can find a player with several different background colors.

Collecting matchbook covers may seem a little weird at first. But they feature real players and real teams, and the biographies on the back make them practically like an actual card. Plus, the lie flat and are easily stored inside of a semi-rigid toploader.

Damage: $5.00 for two cards

1880s Merchants Gargling Oil Trade Card

prewarcards-h804-7-merchants-gargling-oil-trade-card-put-it-thereNo pre-war collection would be complete without a trade card from the 1800s. And if the goal is to save money, your best bet will be to pick up one of the 1880s Merchants Gargling Oil cards.

Trade cards were basically advertisements for businesses that included pictures of various subjects, including baseball players. The vast majority were printed in the late 1800s.

These specific cards produced in the 1880s featured an overweight baseball player and advertised Merchants Gargling Oil, as well as other products. Even though they are from the 1800s, the cards are still somewhat plentiful today. A total of five different cards are in the set and it’s relatively easy to find a complete set.

Many collectors trimmed the bottom portion of the cards (which included an advertisement) off leaving only the picture. While the full-length cards are a little more you can get a trimmed version for around $5.00.

Damage: $5.00 for one card

1909-11 T206 Card

Abbaticchio Blue Sleeves T206How can you start collecting pre-war cards and leave out the most important set of all time?

You can’t, really.

The T206 cards are easily the most famous pre-war cards that exist and you’ve simply got to find a way to add one here. Even if what you add is a common, that’s still a nice way to begin a pre-war collection.

That isn’t abundantly easy on a shoestring budget. And with prices on the move over the last couple of years, that’s especially true today. It wasn’t uncommon before to find low-grade T206 cards for about $10 but that’s much harder today except for the absolute worst cards most of the time.

Take $15 out of your budget and pick up a low-grade T206. There are more than 500 to choose from and many commons, so find one you like. The good news is that there’s really no shortage on most of them.

Damage: $15.00 for one card

1930s Glen Burn Coal Trade Card / Scatter Tag

Glen Burn Coal Trade Card Scatter TagAnother really inexpensive pre-war card is the 1930s Glen Burn Coal cards. These were a form of trade cards since they were an advertisement of sorts for Glen Burn Coal, which was mined from Pennsylvania. But they were also used as scatter tags, which were placed in coal shipments to help buyers identify the brand.

These cards feature a red baseball with a flame and ‘A Ball of Fire’ printed on one side. Distributor names were printed on the other.

The circle cut of the card here probably aids in keeping them in good condition and you can always find these in great shape. Better still is they’re incredibly affordable. You can sometimes get them on eBay for as little as $1 each. Let’s add three of them to our collection since it never hurts to have extras to trade. Also, keep in mind there are two different sizes – a smaller one and a larger one. If you’re buying three, you might as well look for an auction that offers both.

Damage: $3.00 for three cards

1932 Astra/Sanella Hockey or Netball Card

hockeysanellaThe 1932 Astra/Sanella set is a multi-sport issue known mostly for a Babe Ruth card and a card of a Japanese player that is likely Jiro Kuji. But the set also includes an ice hockey card as well as a card featuring netball, a close cousin of basketball.

This release is a German set that featured all sorts of sports. It is most commonly called the Sanella set and that was a brand of margarine. However, a second margarine brand, Astra, distributed these cards as well. Astra cards are significantly rarer but don’t sell for a large premium over the Sanella issues.

Both the hockey and netball cards are somewhat collected here in the states (though this is a German set but relatively easy to find on eBay) and are really affordable. Usually you can get either for around $5.00 at a straight auction and sometimes even less. You’re more likely to get a Sanella card for that price but you may get lucky with an Astra.

Take your pick of either sport here.

Damage: $5.00 for one card

1909-11 T51 Murad

T51 Murad FordhamThe T51 Murad set is a multi-sport issue featuring colleges and universities.

Many of the sports are minor but there are several cards from the sports of baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. The cards are mostly inexpensive with only a few (in particular, the Williams basketball card and the Michigan football card) that can be a little pricier.

For $5.00, you aren’t likely to get the Michigan or Williams cards – the Williams card is considered by some to be the first true basketball card. But you will occasionally see some of the others for around $5.00 in low-grade condition. My list of top ten cards includes a few that you might be able to find.

Damage: $5.00 for one card

1936 National Chicle Premiums

r313-009-bergerNational Chicle and Goudey printed a few sets of premium photos for collectors in the 1930s. Both are legit pre-war issues and both are cheap.

For the purposes of our project, I’m going to lean towards the National Chicle premiums as they can be slightly less expensive. Both are similar in appearance using real black and photos and player names written onto the cards.

These photos include a variety of poses and action shots. The National Chicle set is dubbed as the ‘fine pen’ set since the player names on the photos were written with a thin pen (conversely, the Goudeys have a thicker font and are called ‘wide pen’ photos.

While the stars are more expensive, you can get plenty of commons in low-grade condition for around $2.50 each. Let’s add a couple to our imaginary cart here.

Damage: $5.00 for two cards

1933 Goudey Card

Lew Fonseca 1933 GoudeyWhenever you think of pre-war cards, two general types often come to mind. The first are the smaller tobacco and caramel cards, largely produced in the early 1900s. The other would be the square-like cards of the 1930s, including the Goudey, Diamond Stars, World Wide Gum, and other sets.

Goudey cards aren’t too hard to find and while some (1935 and 1938, in particular) can be a little more, 1933 Goudey commons can be found in low-grade condition for as little as $5.00. With a set of 240 cards, there are plenty of non-stars to find.

The 1933 Goudey set is similar to T206 in that it’s one of the most famous sets in the hobby. Those two are often combined with the 1952 Topps set as a ‘Big 3’ of sorts so it’s way too hard to leave it off of our list.

Damage: $5.00 for one card

1939 Centennial of Baseball Stamp

1939 Baseball Centennial StampWhile most of the items on this list are cards or at least card-like, this one is a little different. These were stamps that were issued in 1939 to celebrate the centennial of the sport baseball.

The 1939 Baseball Centennial stamps if you’ve never seen them, are pretty cool looking. They were originally three cents when distributed in 1939 and show a baseball scene with children playing.

They’re really the perfect thing for what we’re after here and even have some added history behind them with the centennial anniversary. They’re also cheap. While not quite as inexpensive as their initial three-cent price, they are usually only about $1.00 a piece so lets add a couple.

Damage: $2.00 for two stamps

1936 S&S Game Card

36ss-33-hermanMany pre-war baseball games that used cards featured cards with generic images – or sometimes even cards with no images at all. But the 1936 S&S Game set not only included pictures of real players, they went a step further including statistics as well.

Like other game issues, these cards have rounded corners, helping them to remain in pretty good condition. The cards are really affordable, too. High-grade commons sell on eBay starting around $10.00-$15.00 and you can get raw ones that are a little banged up for even less. I once got a lot of about a dozen for about $3.00 a card.

Finding them as little as $5.00 might take a little bit of time but it’s not that hard.

Damage: $5.00 for one card

1939 Play Ball Cards

Ostermueller 1939 Play BallWhile the Goudey cards were kings of the 1930s, the 1939 Play Ball set is one of the more popular issues for collectors.

Unlike many of the gum issues of that decade that utilized colored artwork, the Play Ball cards included real black and white images. That made them in sharp contrast to things like the 1930s Goudey and National Chicle cards.

The set is famous for producing the rookie card of Ted Williams but there are lots of cheap cards to be found here with more than 150 cards in the set. The high number commons are pricier, but you can find low-grade, low-number commons around $3.00 with some patience. Let’s add three here.

In addition, Play Ball also produced card sets in 1940 and 1941. However, while the 1940 set used black and white pictures again, 1941 switched to color. The 1939 set is also the only one without player names printed on the fronts.

Damage: $9.00 for three cards

1939-46 Salutation Exhibits

pafko-exhibitThese postcard-like cards are popular for their large checklists and low cost. By the definition of this site, the set started in 1939, the final year of the pre-war era. It extended until 1946, which is beyond the date that most consider pre-war but because it started in 1939, it’s fair game.

These exhibit cards featured all sorts of baseball players with black and white and lightly tinted pictures. It is somewhat famous for its many variations. Unlike postcards, the 1939-46 Salutations Exhibits are blank-backed. One nice thing about them is they are a little thicker, which has helped keep many of them in decent condition.

Most cards in the set are pretty inexpensive. Even stars such as Bob Feller and others in low-grade condition are often around $10.00 or even less, depending on the player and the condition. Finding cards in the $2.50-$3.00 range on sites like COMC from time to time isn’t uncommon.

We’ll take two.

Damage: $6.00 for two cards

T205 Card

T205 Ball.jpg$15.00 left.

Instead of adding a few small issues, let’s go out with a bang and pick up a T205.

T205 cards don’t have quite the level of prestige of T206, but you can actually make the argument that the artwork is even better. The set is almost entirely a set of portraits but the detail in some of the cards is flat out spectacular. The cards have a unique gold border which, unfortunately, has faded quite a bit over time on lower grade cards.

In the plus column, not only is the artwork incredible, but the backs are unique as this was perhaps one of the earliest sets to include player biographies with statistics.

$15.00 won’t get you Cobb, one of the tougher variations, or any of the key cards in the set. But for that price, you can pick up a decent low-grade card. There are 208 basic cards in the set in addition to a number of errors, so you’ve got your pick here. But adding a T205 to our virtual shopping cart is the perfect way to end our spending.

Damage: $15.00 for one card

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