1939 Churchman Kings of Speed Set has a Healthy Mix of Intrigue

The multi-sport UK tobacco card set has Jesse Owens and a lot more

1939 Churchman Kings of Speed BackJesse Owens 1939 Kings of Speed Track and FieldThe 1939 Churchman Kings of Speed set was one of the first UK sets I bought. Once I found out that there were high-grade international tobacco issues at low prices, I immediately was hooked.

The set is your standard 1930s UK tobacco release. Like many others, it includes a total of 50 cards and has white borders with biographies on the back. The set was issued by Churchman, which was a cigarette brand under the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Ireland. Churchman was one of the more popular brands that distributed cards and you’ll see a gaggle of sets that bear their name.

The Kings of Speed name is an appropriate one for this multi-sport set. Essentially, we’ve got a collection of ‘fast’ subjects from a variety of occupations.

Track and field star Jesse Owens is the set’s headliner here. Owens took home four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics, winning the 100m, 200m, long jump, and 4×100 relay. His card is generally seen as the key to the set, though prices fluctuate pretty wildly. slabbed cards in mid-grade condition generally sell in the $25-$50 range.

Howard Hughes 1939 Kings of Speed

Paavo Nurmi 1939 Churchman Kings of SpeedOwens isn’t the only popular card in the set, though. Track and field is something highlighted in the set and that subset also includes famed distance runner Paavo Nurmi. Nurmi captured a total of nine gold medals and three silvers spanning three different Olympic games. Despite that success, his cards don’t sell for too much. In raw condition, it’s about a buck or two.

But in terms of popularity, the only real candidate for the second-place award behind Owens is a card featuring Howard Hughes is a close second in terms of popularity. Hughes is in the set for his aviation skills and his ‘Round the World’ trip in record time (three days, 19 hours, and 17 minutes) is cited on the back. Howard had an average speed, including stoppages, of 163 miles per hour. In terms of value, Howard’s cards are generally a little less than those of Owens with raw ones fetching about $5.

Sports or Not Sports?

Sir Malcolm Campbell 1939 Churchman Kings of SpeedSome might consider Howard’s card as one that borders on the non-sports line. After all — cards for aviation?

But while we don’t really consider aviation much of a sport when it comes to card collecting today, it was far more popular in the pre-war era and you’ll commonly see aviators in sports sets. In fact, the first 12 cards in this set are dedicated to aviation. While I’m at it, here’s the breakdown of sports found in the set:

  • Cards 1-12: Aviation
  • Cards 13-25: Motor Car Racing
  • Cards 26-30: Motorcycle Racing
  • Cards 31-35: Cycling
  • Cards 36-39: Water Sports
  • Cards 40-43: Winter Sports
  • Cards 44-50: Track and Field

Other popular cards are found for other low-radar sports include Harold Vanderbilt for yachting and Sir Malcolm Campbell, who held the record for water speed in a motor boat.

Several of the cards will definitely be out of the sports boundary for some collectors. But the set also includes several definitive sports cards, featuring track and field, cycling, auto racing, and ice skating.

If you’re looking to buy, I’d definitely go the complete set route. For one thing, many of the individual commons aren’t seen much for sale because of low demand. And there’s no sense in paying a buck a card when a complete set in solid condition can be bought for around $30 or so. Sets in lesser grade are even cheaper and you can find reasonable ones in Good condition starting around $15 sometimes. Most sellers of these cards are from overseas, so the shipping is another consideration.

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