The 1941 Play Ball Set is Short, Sweet, and Relatively Simple

Despite some more expensive cards, the set is one of the easier ones to put together

If you’ve been following on Twitter, you know I recently began a foray into some later gum issues. Now, full disclosure here – I certainly still consider cards printed after 1939 to be out of the pre-war discussion as I outlined here. Still, it’s a legitimate war-time issue and I’ve become more interested in them. One set that caught my eye was the 1941 Play Ball set.

The 1941 Play Ball set grabbed my attention one weekend when I was browsing online. I’ve been working on the 1939 Play Ball set for the past six months or so. But the 1941 issue is less than half the size and a much less daunting set. I like shorter sets and they can be a nice diversion from larger collecting goals. I once put together the 1936 Goudey set over a weekend buying individual cards online. Short, sweet, and simple. And as I’ve said before, it’s the ideal starter set for those looking to get into pre-war cards. In less than two weeks, I’ve managed to assemble 3/4 of the set with little trouble.

1941 Play Ball isn’t quite as easy as that one with some high-dollar cards but with only 72 cards, it’s also something that can mostly be done for a reasonable amount.

About the 1941 Play Ball Set

Buddy Lewis 1941 Play BallBill Jurges 1941 Play BallThe 1941 Play Ball set is possibly one of the more underrated ones of its time.

It’s a full-color set produced by Gum, Inc. and was their final one. Play Ball’s first two sets, issued in 1939 and 1940, were both larger and black and white. From an aesthetics point of view, it’s probably their most attractive issue. This was a short, full-color set, issued in 1941, the year the U.S. officially got into World War II after the December 7 bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The cards are attractive and Cardboard Connection’s description of them being somewhat of a combination of the Art Deco design from the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set and the comic/cartoon 1938 Goudey look is pretty accurate in my mind.

Like other early gum-era cards, these cards are much closer in appearance to a square than a rectangular shape. The aren’t a perfect square with four equal sides but measuring about 2 1/2 x 3 1/8″ (the exact size varies a good bit), they aren’t quite as elongated as later gum cards.

The set doesn’t include every big star from the era but has quite a few, including Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, and plenty of other Hall of Famers.

Buying the Set

One of my favorite things about set collecting is grabbing a bunch of cards early on and get off to a good start. I’ll make exceptions for good deals on expensive cards (one of the set building tips I mentioned here) but I often will buy up a bunch of commons first and work my way towards the pricier stuff. That allows me to make good progress and have a bunch of cards to enjoy at the same time.

If you’re a similar type of collector (or even if you’re not), the great news is you can bang out about half of the set at a low price. In low grade, it is pretty easy to find many cards starting at around $5-$10. With a little bit of patience, getting to the halfway point can be done for only around $200-$300.

Ted Williams 1941 Play BallAfter that, there are a bunch of cards that are difficult to find much below $25, even in lesser condition. These are the lesser Hall of Famers and the higher number cards. Like many sets, you can expect to pay more for the high number commons in this set than the low number ones.

In addition to those, there are some Hall of Famers like Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Gomez, Hank Greenberg, and others that will certainly cost more than that. Greenberg and Foxx are typically starters at around $100 each in low-grade. But the reason this set is affordable is because of its small size. Even shelling out some more money for the bigger names isn’t the end of the world.

Where many collectors will struggle is with the set’s Big 2. Two cards in particular are fairly expensive, no matter what grade you find them in — Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

Pee Wee Reese’s card doesn’t come cheap because it happens to be his rookie. Reese’s card can be bought in lower grade starting around $300 these days. But DiMaggio and Williams are the two big fish here. In lower grade, Williams will usually start around $400 and DiMaggio is around twice as much since it’s a high number card.

Prices for those final three cards have really pushed the value of this set up. But the rest of it can be built at reasonable prices.

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