Even Post-Career Cards of Pre-War Era Players can Fetch Big Prices
Some of the most popular pre-war cards came after players’ careers had ended
You might recall that I began collecting Dwight Gooden cards last year. What began as a side project quickly consumed much of my time. Even though I’ve secured the majority of Gooden’s cards from his career, collecting his post-career stuff has been nearly impossible, thanks to all of the low-numbered inserts and such.
Topps and others have taken to not only producing cards of retired collectors, but printing, in some cases, dozens of them for a particular player in a given year. But the idea of creating cards of former players isn’t a new idea. In fact, some of the most famous pre-war cards were issued after a player’s career.
A Look at Pre-War Post-Career Cards
At or near the top of the list of pre-war post-career card is the Nap Lajoie 1933 Goudey card. If you’re unfamiliar with this shortprinted issue, it was actually distributed in 1934 for the 1933 set.
The card was made famous since it was not issued in packs and was given to those who asked for it by contacting Goudey. Today, the card is one of the more iconic pre-war cards and, had it been issued in packs like others in the set, demand for it would not be nearly as high. But it wasn’t and, today, it’s a five-figure, or even six-figure card.
Some post-career cards are popular but, fortunately, not quite as rare. One of those that fits that mold is another Goudey card found in their Sport Kings set featuring the legendary Ty Cobb. Cobb had retired several years before this card was first offered in 1933. Yet, there he is, one of three players in the set, alongside then current players, Babe Ruth and Carl Hubbell. Even in low-grade condition, that Cobb card sells for a few hundred dollars. Cobb is also found in other sets, such as the 1933 U.S. Caramel issue. And coincidentally, that aforementioned Sport Kings set was also home to other cards of retired players, such as football star Jim Thorpe.
Speaking of Ruth, he was one of the more oft-used post-career players used in sets.
Ruth was commonly seen in international sets in the 1930s, which were often tobacco issues. Some of those, came after his career had ended.
One of the tougher ones to find is his 1939 African Tobacco World of Sport card (shown here).
This card came after Ruth’s career had ended but since it was only a few years after that, it still commands a good bit of money. You can expect to pay several hundred dollars for this card and, in better condition, it can easily top a grand.
Another pricey post-career card is known for Shoeless Joe Jackson. Jackson appears in the 1940 Play Ball set with several other legendary players. The card recently made my list of the top ten cards from the 1939-41 Play Ball sets. And even though he had finished his career two decades earlier, the card is still arguably the most expensive one in the set, commanding nearly $1,000 in even low-grade condition.
While some cards like Lajoie and Jackson were printed many years after they had finished playing, some were issued with a much shorter gap. I recently looked at cards from Cy Young’s career and two of the notable ones in terms of affordability were his 1913 National Game and 1913 Barker Game sets. Young is found in both of those following his retirement after the 1911 season. And while they are no doubt some of his less expensive cards, you can still expect to pay at least $100 for them.
And sometimes, post-career cards ended up being tributes to players after their death. One of those is found in the T205 set. The card was not likely intended to be a post-career card and featured star pitcher Addie Joss.
Joss pitched with Cleveland in 1910 but suddenly collapsed on the field in a spring training game in 1911. He was diagnosed soon after with meningitis and died soon after that. The T205 cards were issued in 1911 and Joss’ card would have likely been designed prior to his death.
The distributors of the set decided to keep it in and make it a tribute to him with the back including a short description of his career and noting his death.
The card has become one of the more popular cards in the T205 set and is quite desirable. Even in low-grade condition, you can expect to pay prices starting at around $300. In mid-grade condition, it can quickly go over $1,000.
Another posthumous card featuring a star pitcher was issued in the 1930s. Fellow hurler Christy Mathewson was one of baseball’s beloved players and was included on a few post-career cards.
One in the 1930s Post Cereal Famous North Americans set stands out. The set is almost entirely a non-sports one but Mathewson’s card has helped put it onto the radar of sports collectors. Mathewson’s card, blank-backed, doesn’t have the same kind of glowing tribute that Joss’ does. But it does reference his life on the front with his year of birth (1880) and death (1925) while calling him the “greatest of all baseball pitcher.”
While Mathewson’s card isn’t as expensive as some of the others listed here, it is easily the most expensive card in the set and sells for considerably more than the card of others. It often sells for more than $100 while even other key figures in the set are usually in the $10-$20 range.
Post-Career … Rookie Cards?
Finally, collectors should know that, on some rare occasions, an athlete’s post-career card may actually be a rookie card.
Typically, that’s in the case of an athlete either having a modest career and being recognized later or in the case of an athlete participating in a sport so long ago that cards were not even widely existent.
Such is the case in legendary golfer Old Tom Morris. Morris is heralded as one of golf’s earliest stars. But since he was mostly active in the mid-1800s when cards were just first being created, his rookie issues came near the end of his life.
Morris is on a few cards from the early 1900s, including the 1900 Cope’s Golfers set and early 1900s Ogden’s Sportsmen issue. Those cards are generally cited to be his rookies even though Morris was around 80 years old at the time.
Just because Morris is a golfer, don’t expect his cards to come cheap. Even in low-grade condition, his Ogden’s cards sell for more than $100 and his rare Cope’s card can command several hundred dollars.
Post-career cards are often good ones to pick up at affordable prices. And, truth be told, some of the ones here would be considered bargains when compared to prices for a player’s card during his playing days. But it’s clear that not all post-career cards are inexpensive ones.