A Look at the Rarity of Goudey’s Baseball Card Sets
How do the Goudey baseball card sets stack up with each other in terms of rarity?
Beginning in 1933 and ending in 1941, Goudey dominated the landscape of baseball cards. Even decades later, their cards remain very popular with collectors. While they produced many types of cards and products, they’ve generally got six ‘main’ baseball card sets:
The massive 1933 Goudey set is by far and away the most popular. In fact, interest probably starts there and wanes slightly after that almost in the order of release.
The 1938 set probably tops both 1935 and 1936 in terms of popularity among collectors today. But, aside from that, you get a pretty clear idea of the cards getting decreasingly less popular.
But what about rarity? How do the sets stack up against each other in terms of rarity? Well, let’s take a look. Here are the population reports for each set with the total number of graded cards (combined PSA, SGC, and Beckett):
- 1933 Goudey – 119,735
- 1934 Goudey – 31,431
- 1935 Goudey – 8,905
- 1936 Goudey – 2,627
- 1938 Goudey – 7,695
- 1941 Goudey – 2,531
Now, we can’t take these numbers on their face simply because these sets have drastically larger/smaller checklists. In general, the bigger the set, the larger number of total cards they will have graded.
The 1933 Goudey set, for example, has 240 cards. In fact, it is the only set with more than even 100 cards. There are less than 50 cards in each of the sets from 1935 through 1941. Thus, it makes sense why the 1933 set would have so many graded cards.
The total number of graded cards is a nice start. However, we can get a more accurate picture of actual rarity by looking at the average per card graded number for each set because that doesn’t necessarily ‘punish’ a smaller set for having fewer cards.
For clarity’s sake, while the 1935 and 1936 sets have numerous different front/back combinations, I’ve only used the number of actual cards with different fronts in the standard checklist without those variations. Same goes for the 1941 Goudey set, which has multiple colored backgrounds for each card front/player. Thus, for example, the 1936 Goudey set has 25 cards by this determination.
With those considerations, here are those per card averages for each set.
- 1933 Goudey – 499
- 1934 Goudey – 327
- 1935 Goudey – 247
- 1936 Goudey – 105
- 1938 Goudey – 160
- 1941 Goudey – 77
As you can see, the per card averages generally follows the same pattern as the overall number of graded cards as we get a mostly steady decline from start to finish. But if you take a closer look, you can see the extremely large disparity from the 1933 and 1934 sets from the rest of the pack has shrunk considerably.
There are other factors to take into consideration, too, that can prove that even the per card average number is a little deceiving.
For one thing, collectors are more likely to have star and valuable cards grade. The 1936 Goudey set really takes a beating there since it’s not only tiny at only 25 cards but has few stars and no real valuable cards to speak of. Thus, that 2,627 total graded is probably not truly reflective of how many of those cards are.
Another issue? Condition-sensitive cards.
The 1941 Goudey cards, as I’ve written about before, are kind of a mess. They are miscut, can have rough edges, and generally just are not too easy to find in high grade.
That means collectors are less interested in sending them in for grading and we’ve got another example of a set that might have numbers that are somewhat skewed. The cards are undoubtedly much tougher than Goudey’s earlier sets. But are they as tough as the population reports indicate? Maybe not quite.
A counter to that argument regarding the 1941 set can be made. Those commons, after all, are worth considerably more than the 1933 or 1934 Goudey commons. That could mean more collectors are seeking to grade them over the earlier commons. However, because many would receive so poor grades (and subsequently, would not be worth much more than a raw card), I believe that probably balances out that equation to some degree.
It’s easy to see that the 1933 Goudey set still holds a considerable lead over the others in terms of number of cards graded (both in total and with the per card average), which mostly tells us that an awful lot of those cards were printed by comparison with the others. And essentially, the one conclusion we can draw is that, in general, Goudey appears to have produced less of their cards as time went on.
Part of that could be because they were printing other products during the 1930s, including premium photos and flip books. The cards may also just have become less popular with players like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig being phased out (I wrote about Gehrig’s disappearance here). Perhaps Goudey had already established themselves and simply didn’t need to grab as much attention. Lots of things could have played into that decision.
One could also note that the rarity of the cards has not necessarily played into the values. For example, while the 1936 set is much rarer than the 1933 set, those commons don’t really sell for much more. Commons from the 1935, 1938, and 1941 sets do sell for more but the price isn’t necessarily commensurate with the rarity compared to the 1933 set. One could argue that based purely on the rarity alone, those cards are all a bit undervalued.
But again, rarity is only one factor in determining a card’s price. Popularity and demand is much more important and there, the 1933 Goudey set is king.