A while back, I wrote about the 1936 Goudey set, which is one of the easiest ways to break into pre-war cards if you’re a set collector. If you’re new to pre-war baseball cards and looking to break in without needing thousands of dollars to get started, here are some of the easier sets.
The 1936 Goudey set is probably at the top of my list when it comes to easy pre-war sets and I’m not sure it will ever be topped.
Not only does it consist of a mere 25 cards, but there are no real high-dollar cards here, especially if you’re willing to settle for lower grade.
The Hank Greenberg card, one of his earliest, is the most expensive card and in low-grade condition, you can usually get one for about $50-$75. If you’re fortunate, you might even be able to get it lower than that as I once did, landing one for about $35.
What’s even greater is that because so many cards in the set are commons, you can get about half of the set for about $125 with some patience. If you’re just looking to complete a pre-war set, this one’s for you.
When talking bang for your buck, this might be the best available set. While there are no high-dollar cards here, it still has several Hall of Famers, including Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Gomez, Paul Waner, and a few others.
I started this set about a year ago after picking up a few of these and you’d be shocked at how affordable you can find these cards with some patience. At 150 cards, it’s not as easy as the 1936 Goudey set, obviously. Typically, I wouldn’t call a set with so many cards ‘easy’ but this one is an exception.
The T51 Murad set includes all sorts of sports and while the baseball, basketball, football, and hockey cards are the most desirable, the others are generally pretty inexpensive. I’ve bought these in low-grade shape for as little as $2-$3 and you can bang out many of them for that price if you are willing to wait for the right deal.
Like the 1936 Goudey set, there are no expensive cards here. The most expensive card is generally either the Michigan football card or the Williams basketball card (sometimes considered to be the first true basketball card) but even those can be had for under $50 in lesser condition.
1880s Merchant’s Gargling Oil Trade Cards
This unique trade card set isn’t only able to be easily assembled but it is also likely to be the oldest issue in your collection if you’re just getting started with pre-war cards.
The Merchants Gargling Oil trade cards (cataloged as H804-7 by Jefferson Burdick in the American Card Catalog) featured an overweight baseball player. The player is unnamed but he is wearing a red and white uniform for Merchant’s Gargling Oil, a liniment product.
The cards are believed to be from some time in the late 1880s although dates have fluctuated on them. Collectors looking for these cards should pay attention to the sizes. The full cards will have the picture of the player along with an advertisement at the bottom (or the ad area will be blank if it was a stock issue that had not yet had an ad printed on it). Many collectors trimmed the bottom portion off, leaving only the picture of the player. Those cards are worth less than the full version.
Even the full, unaltered cards aren’t too expensive as you can often get them in the $10-$15 range. And since the set has only five cards, it makes for an easy set to complete by a few clicks on eBay.
Complete Game Sets
This is a little outside of the box since it’s not really a set you have to assemble. But if you’re looking for complete pre-war sets, a good way to knock out one all in one shot is through the purchase of a game that had cards as a part of it.
Many of these are popular and ones featuring actual players are generally the most expensive. But there are plenty of other sets that have pictures of generic players that are pretty inexpensive.
The 1938 Whitman Game set is one of those and that set even has a card that could have been printed to represent Lou Gehrig. Another is the 1922 Olsen Game set. Those are two of the cheaper ones you can often find for sale and they are typically under $100 for the entire set.
1932 Sanella Set
The 1932 Sanella set was an issue distributed by a margarine company in Germany. The cards featured color pictures of various athletes on the front and advertisements for Sanella on the back. The cards were also distributed by Astra Margarine and some bear their name on the back (those are significantly rarer).
The big draw to this set is a card of legendary slugger Babe Ruth and it’s one of Ruth’s most affordable cards. But the set also includes a card of a Japanese player (which I believe to be Hall of Famer Jiro Kuji), a hockey card, and a card featuring netball, which is essentially a form of basketball.
The biggest downside for some collectors is probably that the cards are on paper thin stock. Really, they are more like miniature photos than they are traditional baseball cards. In addition, the set has 112 cards with the majority being more ‘minor’ sports. Still, if you’re looking for a cheap set that features a legit Babe Ruth card, this is one of your better bets. You can often find complete sets (albeit, sometimes ones that have been pasted into albums) for $150 or less on eBay.
1935 Goudey Set
If you’re looking for a more mainstream set and are turned off by the black and white pictures in the 1936 Goudey set, the 1935 Goudey set might be for you.
That set is bigger but not by much. It has a total of 36 cards and only 11 more than the previous year. Even better, each card contains four players, so while there are only 36 cards, a lot of ground is covered with the 4-in-1 design.
The cards are pretty affordable, too. You can usually get low-grade commons for $15 or less and even the stars aren’t too much more in low grade. The big card is a Babe Ruth card but most of the others can be found in the $20-$30 range in low grade with maybe one or two exceptions that might cost around $40.
The Ruth card isn’t cheap but, compared to many of his other cards, it’s not ridiculous, either. Low grade ones are usually in the $300-$400 range and it’s a popular enough card that it isn’t all that hard to find.
1920s W542 and 1919 W552 Strip Card Sets
These are generic issues but about as easy as it gets. If you’re looking for the absolute fastest, cheapest strip card set you can get, these might be it.
The 1920s W542 set is a 10-card, multi-sport set that includes two baseball cards in it. Other sports featured are things like hockey, boxing, and tennis. The hockey card is one of the few pre-war hockey strip issues out there and the only one I know of to date. This is a set that PSA has only recently begun grading and I’m pleased to have the site been a part of helping that along.
The 1919 W552 set is a 12-card (or more with variations) baseball set. The great thing about it is that while the pictures and players are considered generic, some actually seem like they could be real players.
You’ll often see singles selling for $10 or so but you can get the sets even cheaper than that. Full uncut strips of the W542 cards and full uncut sheets of W552 sets both often sell for $50 or less.