Gum, Inc.’s 1940 Superman Set Remains a Favorite with Collectors (It’s Valuable, too)

Cards from the popular non-sports set are on par with many baseball cards

I’ll admit it. I’m not much of a non-sports guy.

Now, I’ve owned some of these types of cards before. But I had a difficult enough time just trying to keep up with all of the sports issues I collect. On occasion, I’ve bought a single card that has intrigued me (I just picked up a graded 1939 Judy Garland, which I believe is her first true card, for example). Beyond stuff like that, though, I’m mostly out of the non-sports discussion.

Still, I do find myself intrigued with certain non-sports cards from time to time and there’s certainly an audience for them. One of the more popular sets is the 1940 Gum, Inc. Superman set.

Ties to Baseball

1940 Play Ball Superman Gum Back

The Superman set actually has ties to baseball.

The cards were printed by a company called, Gum, Inc., which was based in Philadelphia. Many sports card collectors will instantly recognize that name as that was the same company produced the popular 1939, 1940, and 1941 Play Ball baseball cards.

Gum, Inc. actually used their baseball cards to help promote what would be this new set of cards featuring Superman. See, on the back of some of Gum, Inc.’s 1940 Play Ball baseball cards, they advertised this set (other backs, it should be noted, ran different advertisements instead for Play Ball). These ads were printed at the bottom of Play Ball’s baseball cards such as the one shown here. A few different Superman ads are known.

The Play Ball cards didn’t indicate a specific date of release for them but we can tell by these ads that, although both sets were produced in 1940, the Play Ball cards were obviously issued first.

R145 01 SupermanAbout the Set

The cards feature color pictures of Superman on the front performing any number of heroic deeds. Backs captioned the picture on the front and provided a description of what was happening. In addition to the bordered picture on the front, the cards also had a small copyrighted print of ‘Superman, Inc.’.

In all, there are 72 cards in the set and the issue is listed as R145 in the American Card Catalog. Jefferson Burdick offered no further information in that book but the catalog designation is still one used today for the set. The cards are technically ‘rookie’ cards of Superman as they are believed to be the earliest ones produced of him. While he has other collectibles released earlier, these are generally considered to be his first cards.

Cards 49-72 are high numbers and, as seen in many baseball sets (including Gum, Inc.’s Play Ball issues), harder to find than the low-number cards. But don’t be fooled into thinking all of the gems are in those later numbers. Pictured here is the first card in the set. It’s one of the more recognizable non-sports cards of the era and, as we’ll see in a little bit, is not a cheap card.

High-grade cards in the set are extremely rare. While you can find a good amount of examples of PSA 9 and even 10 cards in baseball card gum sets, they are next to impossible for this issue. To date, there is not a single PSA 10 and there are only six PSA 9s out of more than 6,100 cards submitted. Contrast that with something like 1933 Goudey and you see a big difference. There have been many more Goudey cards graded, obviously, but there are approximately 250 PSA 9 and PSA 10 cards of those. Despite more than 86,000 being submitted, those high grades are found at a much higher rate in that baseball set than they are in the Superman issue.

The explanation would seem to be pretty clear. While both adults and children collected baseball cards, fewer adults would have been drawn to the Superman cards. More probably ended up in the hands of children who took their condition less seriously.

You can see a complete checklist for the set here.

Sports Cards

While this is a non-sports set, a few cards depicting minor sports are included in it.

  • Card No. 17 features an auto racing card titled, “Death on the Speedway”
  • Card No. 21 features a boy during a horse riding lesson and is called, “The Runaway Horse”
  • Card No. 48 features an aviator on a card titled, “Death in the Air”
  • Card No. 58 features an archer on a card called, “A Near Tragedy”

Other loose sports pictured in the set include recreational swimming and stunt diving.

Prices

Superman Gum R145But what about price? Many non-sports cards are relatively cheap but that’s not the case with these. In fact, you can expect to pay prices commensurate with many common or minor star baseball cards from the same time period.

Even low-grade, low-number cards start in the $15-$20 range and if you want something better looking, it’ll obviously cost you. Modest lower-end graded cards, for example, start around $25-$30. Mid-grade cards easily top $100 and even modest high number cards start around $150-$200. Contrast that with, say, Gum, Inc.’s 1940 Play Ball baseball set and you see the prices for Superman cards easily outdo those.

The first card in the set simply titled, ‘Superman’ is a pricey card, selling for several hundred dollars, even in modest condition. The card was not printed less than other low-number cards but carries more prestige as the first one in the set. Even folks that aren’t necessarily non-sports collectors show interest in it and that means that finding it on the open market can be a little difficult. The last card in the set is even tougher to find and no less expensive.

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