Odd 1938 Goudey Card Numbering Remains a Mystery

Goudey’s card numbers from the 1938 set still don’t make sense

The 1938 Goudey set is one of the company’s more interesting issues. Collectors are divided on it with some that enjoy the look of real players’ heads plastered onto cartoon bodies and others not as excited by them. But whatever side you’re on there’s no denying that it’s one of the more interesting 1930s gum issues.

There’s more here than just the look of the cards, though. In addition to oddly duplicating cards in the set, the card numbering has long been a point of discussion because the release didn’t begin with No. 1.

Card number a continuation of 1933 issue

38g-264-fellerThe 1938 Goudey set begins with … Card No. 241? Um, what?

Often, you see that in pre-war issues that were part of larger multi-sport sets. It isn’t uncommon for cards for a particular sport to begin numbering in the middle of a set. But that wasn’t the case here, so what gives? Well, you actually have to look to the 1933 set for answers.

The 1933 Goudey set is one of the most famous pre-war sets of all-time. It’s not T206 but with four Babe Ruth cards and a massive checklist, it’s darn close. And because the cards are a little more affordable, it’s collected by a large number of vintage fans. That set ended with No. 240 and the 1938 Goudey set is an obvious continuation of that.

But why?

Thoughts on the Numbering

While the cards are clearly intended to continue on from the 1933 set, the exact reason remains a mystery. Now, some of the backs of the 1938 cards do state that they were part of a series of 312 baseball stars while others say 288. The 1938 set with its 48 cards took the set from 240 to 288 so the plan was to print another 24 of … something. But that never happened and the real question is why did Goudey choose to go back to 1933?

If Goudey had taken a break from printing cards since 1933, it would be easy to understand. But Goudey not only produced cards in 1934, 1935, and 1936, they printed a whole host of premium items as well. Goudey did take a break from its standard cards in 1937 but did produce a couple of issues, including some more of its black and white R314 photo premiums as well as its small Thum-Movies.

Ruth 1933 Goudey Batting

There were so many Goudey issues printed after 1933 that I don’t know why the numbering picked up to that year. No other Goudey cards did that and it doesn’t make much sense to pick that particular year. But if I had to suggest a theory, it’d be this.

If there was going to be a continuation, the 1933 set was really the only one that made much sense.

The 1934 set was a shorter issue that didn’t feature Babe Ruth and was likely a disappointment to collectors even though the Babe’s career was nearly over by that point. Using the 1935 set as a continuation didn’t really work because the 4-in-one cards were drastically different. The 1936 set would have been even stranger as those cards were only black and white and didn’t include many big names found in the earlier sets. 1933, despite the fact that it was so long ago, seems to have been the best option.

So if any set was going to be the starting point for a new master set, 1933 would have been it. The question I keep coming back to is why was any continuation made in the first place? This may have been a simple case of trying to jump start its business. Today, the 1934, 1935, and 1936 card sets fall well short in terms of popularity with collectors and that was probably no different in the 1930s. Goudey could have been reaching back into its past to connect the 1938 set with its best release in a way to get more collectors interested.

If that was the case, did it work? I’d suggest not for a few reasons. First, Goudey didn’t produce another card set in 1939 (only issuing a premium photo set) or 1940. Presumably, if there had been big demand, they would have printed some cards and, at the very least, continued its plans for a 312-card master set. In addition, even when they did again produce a final card set in 1941, the numbering was not a continuation and instead started at No. 1 again. The 312-card set just didn’t seem to go anywhere and I can’t help but think it was because the 1938 set was not all that popular.

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