Despite Lack of Teams, no Shortage of Pre-War Major League Baseball Cards in Canada
Numerous major league sets surfaced in Canada during the pre-war era
Major League Baseball didn’t come to Canada until 1969 when the Montreal Expos showed up on the scene. But the country had a long history of following and playing baseball. That’s evidenced not only by historical records and such but even by some early baseball cards of local players.
For example, some local baseball players are found in the 1925 Dominion Chocolate set. And the 1930s Vancouver Peanuts sets included more than 100 cards of players in a local league. Additionally, one of the World Wide Pen issues included Canadian players. In short, even without the presence of major league baseball, the sport has had a presence in Canada for some time.
Sets featuring minor league players, of course, made sense. After all, minor league baseball was certainly in Canada before major league teams showed up. Sets like the 1912 C46 Imperial set help document that with several players from Montreal and Toronto appearing in the minor league-only release.
Only a few different teams are featured in the set and more than 1/4 of it is actually made up of players on those Canadian minor league teams from the International League. Included in that set is an early minor league card of Chick Gandil, who would go on to play on the 1919 Chicago Black Sox team.
But let’s stay on track here. Undoubtedly part of the reason major league baseball was featured so prominently in Canadian sets is due to the minor league teams playing in the country and the sport’s overall popularity there. Baseball obviously did not rival the popularity of hockey but it was certainly on the radar.
It is safe to say that some of the major league sets in Canada may not have been produced without American counterparts.
The 1922 Neilson’s Chocolates set, for example, used the same images of cards found in American Caramel’s popular E120 set. Additionally, the 1930s O-Pee-Chee premiums set used the same images found in the larger 1930s Butterfinger premiums set. Assuming the American versions came first, it is difficult imagining either of those sets get produced without the U.S. version being made.
Chief among those examples, however, were the World Wide Gum issues created by American company Goudey. Several of the 1930s World Wide Gum issues were similar to the Goudey sets and would have been simple to produce. The cards that were included in the 1933 and 1934 sets, for example, were pictures that had already been used by Goudey. Similarly, the World Wide Gum V351 Photos set is nearly identical to Goudey’s American R303 ‘How To’ Photos set.
Interestingly enough, though, we sort of get an indirect glimpse into the popularity of baseball in Canada from the World Wide Gum set issued in 1936. That’s because, in that year, the World Wide Gum set was no longer a cheap knockoff. It was its own legitimate set and it was even far more substantial than Goudey’s 1936 American set. While the 1936 Goudey set had only 25 cards, the 1936 World Wide Gum issue was a massive 135 cards. The cards are much rarer and more valuable than the Goudey cards from that year. The massive World Wide Gum set of 1936 tells us that the sport’s popularity in Canada was so significant that it was enough for an entirely new set to be created independent of the American Goudey set.
Plenty of Others
Aside from that 1936 World Wide Gum set, sets like these could give the impression that major league baseball was not too important. But plenty of sets were created that stood on their on and were not related to American issues.
O-Pee-Chee began to be a player in the baseball card industry in the 1930s. They did have the photos set, which was a spinoff of the American issue but they also created their own card set, too, in 1937.
The 1937 O-Pee-Chee set was independent of others and was a pop-up/die-cut set, similar to the Batter Up issues that preceded it. Of interest here is that O-Pee-Chee also created a similar set for hockey that same year. And get this — the 40 cards in the baseball set were actually more than the 36 included in the hockey release. Again, baseball wasn’t nearly as important to Canadians as hockey was. But instances such as these sort of point out the popularity of it baseball in that country.
A similar point of comparison should be made in the multi-sport 1924 Willard’s Champions set. This set included all kinds of sports, including baseball and hockey. The three baseball players (Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Eddie Collins) equaled the amount of hockey cards in that set.
But other baseball-only sets featuring major leaguers were issued, too. One was the 1922 William Paterson set and another was the 1923 Maple Crispette set. These sets both contained dozens of cards with players ranging from Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and countless other Hall of Famers.
None of that even covers the food issues, either. Among those are the 1925 Holland Creameries Washington Senators team set and the 1927 Honey Boy Ice Cream set – both are sets with more major leaguers. And one of the rarest sets of all time, the 1920 Peggy Popcorn set features major league players, too — even though we don’t even know the full checklist of it.
Canada doesn’t boast the long history of producing baseball cards as is found in America. But the country has seen its share of major league cards even decades before such a team was established there.