Basketball Cards are Few and Far Between in the Pre-War Era

Limited options exist for collectors in search of pre-war basketball cards

Today, basketball is one of the world’s most popular sports. But while all kinds of trading cards exist for it these days, at least by comparison with baseball, there weren’t many cards featuring basketball players in the pre-war era.

Collectors looking for early basketball cards do have options, though. Here’s a look at some of the types of cards one can find from the pre-war days.

Generic Basketball Cards

Jules Macors Basketball Women Trade Card (1900s)1933_briggs_basketballOne option to collectors are the numerous postcard (and less numerous, trade card) issues. Most of those, interestingly, feature women. Unlike other sports where women’s participation was limited, basketball was one sport that was played by women a great deal since the sport’s beginnings in the 1890s.

Women were an easy target for these types of cards. For one thing, the sport was a legitimately popular one among them. For another, postcard printers and artists loved little more than picturing pretty women on their products (just as companies did earlier with baseball cards in the 1800s). Both of those things made for a terrific fit.

The great thing about most of these cards is that, like other postcard issues, most are cheap. Many of them can be bought for around $10 or so.

Lots of other generic options are known, too. A rare one (shown here) is known in the tough 1933 C.A. Briggs set. Frankly, you hardly ever see these cards available for sale. Others would include some trade cards and ink blotters.

Specific Teams … but not Players

Basketball was largely a collegiate sport in the beginning so it isn’t surprising that many early basketball cards have an amateur focus. A step up from the cards that are entirely generic are ones that show actual teams.


Now, many of the college basketball cards are for actual teams that existed but don’t depict actual players. But since they are tied to real teams, they do have value.

The argument is wide open on this but the T51 Murad College Sports cards are often viewed as the first basketball cards. Earlier generic cards exist but since they picture collegiate teams, some see these as the first.

In all, there are four basketball cards in the set – Xavier, Williams, Northwestern, and Luther. All are desirable but the Williams card is viewed as the first as it is the only one to appear in Series 1 of the set. The others came in later Series’. The card is undervalued but has been on the rise lately with first series’ cards often selling for $50-$100 (and even more in excellent condition).

Some other team-specific options exist, too, though some can be rare, including the B33 College Felts and the 1930s Leader Discs, where an NYU basketball card is found.

Real, Identifiable Players

Wachter Sport Kingsaguilitas-basketballAs you would expect, these are the most collectable cards from the pre-war era. And while there aren’t a ton of pre-war basketball cards featuring real players, there are some.

The most popular pre-war basketball cards in this category are probably those found in the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings set. A total of four players are found in that issue and three ended up going to the Hall of Fame. Those cards are sometimes called the first basketball cards. But even if you use the ‘real players’ stipulation for a true basketball card, they aren’t the first.

One of the sets ahead of it was the 1928 Cuba Deportiva set, which is part of the popular Aguilitas series. While the names of players will not be familiar to 99% of collectors, they did picture (and name) real, live basketball players.

Several other cards picture real players but don’t name them.

That is the case with several 1930s Olympic sets. These cards were generally international issues centered around the 1936 Olympics. 1936 was the first Olympic Games to feature a men’s basketball tournament and several card sets were printed to commemorate the event.

Most, if not all, of these cards are more like small photographs and printed on thin paper. But they feature real black and white photographs of players at the Olympics. Unfortunately, in most cases, only the team is referenced.

v122-42-edmonton-gradsOther popular cards that were printed showing real basketball players were for some women’s issues based in Canada that feature the Edmonton Grads.

The Grads, if you’re not familiar with them, are considered to be one of the winningest teams in any sport.

Despite their popularity, few cards of the team were produced. But a few Grads cards were included in the 1924 Willard’s Chocolates set as well as the 1925 Dominion Chocolates issue. Both cards are popular and usually start around $50 in lesser condition.

sanella-netballThe Netball Conundrum

Additionally, there are cards picturing loose variations of the sport. The most common of those is netball.

Netball is similar to basketball but not quite the same. Interestingly, it’s still played today but is mostly an international sport.

One of the biggest differences is that the basket does not include a backboard. That often can help in identifying a card and trying to figure out if it’s a netball issue or a real basketball issue.

When it comes to netball cards, two of the most popular ones found are in the 1932 Astra/Sanella sets, which were German issues distributed by margarine companies. The cards have the same front (shown here) but different back advertisements.

While not technically basketball, these issues are often treated as such.

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