1938 Goudey Set Design Draws Mixed Reviews Among Collectors

Goudey gum cards ruled the 1930s in terms of baseball cards. Sure, other sets made waves that decade. Both the 1932 U.S. Caramel set and the 1939 Play Ball set, for example, are popular among pre-war collectors. But no company made the impact on the card collecting industry in the 1930s like Goudey did.

The early 1933 Goudey and 1934 Goudey sets are the company’s most popular issues. But one of their later sets has caused a lot of division among collectors.

About the 1938 Goudey Set

1938 Goudey DiMaggioThe 1938 Goudey cards were actually intended to be a continuation of Goudey’s first set in 1933. That is evident by the card numbering as the set began with No. 241 and the 1933 set ended with card No. 240. As I’ve written before, while some theories abound as to why Goudey did that, the confirmed reasons is still somewhat of a mystery.

The set is also quite small like their last card set before it, which was in 1936 and included only 25 cards. There are actually fewer players featured in 1938 although the full set is larger. Only a total of 24 players are found in the 1938 set but there are 48 cards as each player is featured twice. Each player has two variations – one with a plain background and one with cartoon sketches in the background.

While not rookies, the key cards in the set are early issues of both Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio. And given that each has two cards in the set, that can make it an expensive one to complete.

But it’s those cartoon bodies and real faces that are the head-turners here.

A Design to Remember

1938 Goudey KuhelLike other Goudey issues such as the 1935 and 1936 sets, the 1938 release is distinctive and different from the rest. Most notably, they featured players with cartoon bodies and real heads.

For some, the look is so unique that it warrants a positive reaction. There is nothing really like them among Goudey’s issues and they are one of the more interesting pre-war cards in terms of the design.

What are my thoughts on the set? To be honest, I’m not even sure. Part of me thinks that if these were purely cartoon images, it wouldn’t be a great look. Some collectors would probably even be inclined to call them a somewhat generic set if the faces weren’t too defined. But that’s not the case here because we’ve got real heads on those bodies. The design of the cards doesn’t bother me terribly and I generally give Goudey some points for creativity here. Not my favorite set but there are others I like less.

But here’s the thing – it doesn’t really matter. What is far more important is that the set has collectors still talking about the design today 80 years after their distribution. Whether that reaction is positive or negative is really irrelevant here. The design was so unique that it still has people engaged.

And that’s sort of what designing trading cards is all about. Sure, I imagine card designers only strive for sets that are aesthetically pleasing. I mean, who intentionally creates an ugly set? But if a design isn’t a guaranteed winner, the next best thing is to elicit a reaction from collectors. That reaction, even if divided, is far better than no reaction at all.

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