Major Variances to be Expected in Strip Cards

Strip cards can vary in size, color, and just about everything in between

Strip cards, if you’re unfamiliar with them are generally a low-grade type of card produced, primarily in the 1910s and 1920s. They were sometimes printed on sheets with rows and columns but also were sometimes printed in one long row where vendors would tear or cut them for customers. Some have even borders and others have torn ones.

These types of cards are widely collected though some collectors definitely steer clear of them for any number of reasons. Chief among those is that many of them are not too appealing to look at. Some, in fact, are among the ugliest cards in history. But the benefits are that they are often cheaper than things like candy and tobacco cards. If you need more background on them, here you go.

One of the common things that can scare collectors off is that many strip cards, even ones featuring the same athletes from the same set, can look quite different from each other. And that can make it difficult to determine authenticity.



Take, for example, these two examples of boxing Hall of Famer Jack Dempsey that I own. These cards are from the W512 strip card set, a relatively common set of baseball players, other athletes, and non-sports personalities.

Now, a collector unfamiliar with these cards may be inclined to think that one, or possibly even both, is a fake. But the reality is that both of these are very much authentic cards. The reality is that strip cards were among the cheapest to produce and quality control wasn’t real high. Quality control was even lacking in other more expensive sets and when it came to strip cards, sometimes it was downright terrible.

For starters, the biggest variance in strip cards is always going to be size. These cards were all designed to be the same size but because vendors hand cut most of them, the sizes can vary quite a bit. I have many strip cards that vary by 1/8″ of an inch and some vary by even more. Finding these types of cards with different sizes isn’t only common, it would actually be somewhat surprising to find most cut to the same size.

On top of that, some cards in the same set were sized differently on purpose.

Jack Scott W515 strip cards

For example, there are two types of W515 cards known as W515-1 and W515-2. W515-2 cards are larger, regardless of any sort of trimming issues. Here on the left is a W515-2 card of Jack Scott while a W515-1 card of the same player is on the right.

Colors also don’t always look the same, either. Take the two Dempsey cards above. The card on the left has an abundance of red ink. which is evidenced by the background and the bottom of his picture. Similarly, look at the colors on the Scott card. You clearly can see much more yellow on the card to the left if you look at his hat and also his face. Colors were often all over the place in strip issues as printers did not seem to get the ink levels quite right (nor did they seemingly check them all that much) in some cases. It is quite common to find these cards with varying depths of colors.

Print quality is another issue, too. Some strip cards had serious print flaws, including registry issues where the images were not lined up quite right. Again, we see that in the Dempsey card on the left where the red ink is shifted to the left just a tad too much. That led to ink being printed outside of the picture border on the left and a strip of area on the right side that doesn’t have any ink at all.

Finally, keep in mind that paper type can also vary, too. It is evident that printers sometimes used more than one style of paper for some strip card sets and while that can sometimes be a telltale sign of a fake in other issues, it doesn’t necessarily mean a card is fake if it’s a strip card issue. The W512 and W513 sets, for example, have been seen with a few different styles of cardboard and none any less authentic than the other.

None of this is to suggest that there aren’t fake strip cards out there. Cards of popular players like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and others are commonly faked. There are certainly more fakes of those types of players than legit issues. Part of the reason for that is because it’s easier to get away with because of the low-grade nature of strip cards. It can be much more difficult to spot a fake strip card as opposed to something like a caramel or tobacco card. For that reason, I always recommend buying a graded example if you’re not too familiar with a particular strip card set (or, in some cases, even if you are familiar with them).

However, if you see variances in strip cards, you should know that it’s not always an authenticity issue.

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