Takeaways from Two Series’ of 1933-34 Goudey Sport Kings

The Goudey Sport Kings cards were printed over two years — and that provides us with some interesting thoughts

Almost all references to the Goudey Sport Kings set point to it being released solely in 1933. But while the set’s origins started in that year, they didn’t end there.

Sure, we can view the Sport Kings set as one singular ‘thing.’ By using the same basic design and sequentially numbering the cards, picking up where they left off in 1934, it’s clear that is how Goudey wanted it to be viewed, anyway. But two distinct series’ made up that release — one in 1933 and a second in 1934. We know that because 1933 cards have a 1933 copyright while 1934 cards have a 1934 copyright. That copyright is hard to miss as it’s printed on both the fronts and the backs.

That, no doubt, is new information to some folks. We are so used to seeing the set as “1933 Goudey Sport Kings” (including on this very site) that it is natural to believe it was all printed that year. But in reality, a better description for this set would be the 1933-34 Goudey Sport Kings set, even if the hobby won’t recognize it as such.

One set. Two series’. Two years.

Looking at the set in that light provides us with some worthwhile reflections. And I’ve given those a bit of thought below.

Rethinking the First Basketball Cards

The Goudey Sport Kings set has long been heralded as producing the first real cards of professional basketball players. In all, there are four of them in the release — Nat Holman, Ed Wachter, Eddie Burke, and Joe Lapchick (Lapchick’s card has his name incorrectly printed as Lopchick).

These cards have gotten hotter over the years with collectors starting to realize their importance. There simply aren’t many basketball cards in the pre-war era compared to the likes of baseball, or even football or hockey. And the majority of them do not feature actual players. Add in the fact that three of the four (Wachter, Lapchick, and Holman) are Hall of Famers, and you can see why these cards are so desirable.

Most of the time, they are all considered to be on equal footing in terms of being ‘the first’ real cards of professional hoopsters. But only Holman and Wachter were printed in that first 1933 printing. Burke and Lapchick were both printed in 1934 and, technically, should not have that ‘first’ designation.

Seem silly? A little, I suppose. But it’s no different than the T51 Murad College Sports set. That set boasts 150 total cards with six basketball cards. However, the only one printed in the first series was the one for Williams college and that card is the one that many collectors consider the first true basketball card. The other cards were printed in different series’ and, even though they were all possibly printed in the same year, they don’t get the same ‘first’ treatment that the Williams card does.

So if you’re looking for the first of the Sport Kings cards, those would be Holman and Wachter.

No Rush on Carl Hubbell

Carl Hubbell joined Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb as the only baseball players in the Sport Kings set. And while his name does not reach the heights of Ruth or Cobb, as I wrote here, he was a completely logical choice as the third baseball subject.

To understand that, you need only consider the time these cards were printed. In 1933, Hubbell was arguably the sport’s most dominant pitcher, winning the Most Valuable Player award to go along with a fantastic postseason for the World Series-winning Giants.

The back of Hubbell’s card cites his 1933 season as well as his incredible postseason performance, winning two of the five games payed in the World Series. Those games were played in October and would have given Goudey a short turnaround time to squeeze him into the set if it was exclusively a 1933 issue. But Hubbell’s card was one of the 24 that were printed in 1934, making the inclusion and ability to tout his 1933 season much more doable.

Design Differences

Some observant collectors might have realized that, while the cards generally have the same look and feel, there are some slight differences to their appearance.

The two big differences other than the copyright are easily seen by comparing the two series’ side by side. The most notable variation, arguably, is how the names are presented on the front. Names of subjects from the first series are printed in a significantly smaller font. Names on second series cards are much bigger. You can see that in these two cards for Hall of Fame cyclists, Bobby Walthour, Jr., and Bobby Walthour, Sr. (Quick plug: I’ll be writing about these two cards shortly).

The backs also have a slight variance. At the top of each card is the subject’s name and sport. The sport on the 1933 cards is in parentheses while the sport on the 1934 cards is without that designation.

First Series Loaded

The set, as a whole, is full of big names. With the Goudey name behind it, you can make a case that this is one of the most significant card sets of the pre-war era. Few checklists boast the type of star power across such a variety of sports, after all.

But if you break the set apart, you see unbalanced lineups. The set is very much star heavy in the first series.

That is not to suggest the second series is devoid of big-time athletes. All of the subjects in the set, after all, were considered to be ‘kings’ of their own respective sports. The second series has lots of familiar names, including the likes of Knute Rockne, Bobby Jones, Babe Didrikson, and the aforementioned Hubbell. Didrikson’s card, no less, has become one of the most valuable in the entire set, simply because she has few early trading cards printed in America.

However, if you compare the list of notables in that series against the first series, you see a sizable gap. The first series is where many of the heavy hitters reside. That series includes Ruth, Cobb, Holman, Red Grange, Jim Thorpe, Walter Hagen, Bill Tilden, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Howie Morenz, and ‘king of surfing’ Duke Kahanamoku.

The set has a lopsided checklist to be sure, but why? It’s quite possible that Goudey had no idea if they would even get to a second series. Card set plans were often altered and the fine folks at Goudey certainly would have wanted to get the big names in early. Just as importantly, a set full of big names would have hopefully generated enough initial interest in the set so that it could continue — which it did for another year.

Mission accomplished?

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