By John McMurray
Given their bright, eye-catching colors, it is easy to see why the 1934 Goudey baseball cards have retained a dedicated following among vintage card collectors. Made up of only 96 cards, the ’34 Goudey set is not excessively challenging to complete, even with the last two dozen cards being comparatively more difficult to locate.
In much the way that the 1953 Topps set is sometimes overshadowed by the ’52 Topps issue, however, the 1934 Goudeys often play second fiddle to the Goudey cards from 1933, as the latter make up surely the most popular card set issued between the end of the Deadball Era and the early 1950s. Still, the 1934 Goudey set deserves attention in its own right.
There are many obvious similarities between the 1933 and 1934 Goudey cards. First, the ’33 and ’34 cards are the same size (2-3/8 inches by 2-7/8 inches), employ drawings rather than photographs and include similar background color schemes, emphasizing the use of blue, yellow and red. Together, the 1933 and 1934 Goudey sets introduced a new look for baseball cards, one that was larger, more colorful and with more elaborate card back descriptions than any of the tobacco and candy cards that preceded them.
While the front design of the 1934 Goudey cards generally resembles that of the ’33 cards, there are obvious differences. In contrast to the plainer backgrounds in ’33, the ’34 design is busier, with drawn-in generic baseball players on the background of every card. The overall effect in 1934, therefore, is of a card background that bears some similarity to a cartoon sketch, perhaps foreshadowing the 1938 Goudey cards, which employed more elaborate artist renditions.
Several players in the ’34 set are shown in the same pose that was used on their respective 1933 Goudey cards, including Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx (No. 1), Charley Gehringer (No. 23) and Frank Frisch (No. 49), among others. Some of these repeated poses – like that of Mickey Cochrane (No. 2) – actually look sharper in the ’34 set than they did in ’33. Yet there is no getting around that virtually every player’s card in the 1933 Goudey set is worth more than his subsequent card in ’34, a difference that likely stems from the novelty of the first Goudey issue combined with the cleaner overall presentation of the ’33 Goudey cards.
Lou Gehrig says . . .
In addition to being among the first cards issued with bubble gum, the 1934 Goudey cards are largely remembered for including the innovative “Lou Gehrig says” feature, set off by a banner in blue on the front of each of the first 79 cards, as well as for Nos. 92-96. On the back of each card are several quoted paragraphs about each player’s background and achievements, along with the line “by arrangement with Christy Walsh,” suggesting that Walsh, Gehrig’s longtime manager, had a role in ghostwriting the evaluative text. Each player’s basic statistics, along with height and weight, are woven into the respective descriptions, which are typically positive and often border on hyperbole. They are also frequently fun to read.
In addition, some cards include trivia questions about baseball records on the reverse (e.g., on the back of Ed Wells’ card (No. 73): “What famous pitcher was turned down by John McGraw? See answer on card No. 85.”). Near the bottom of Adam Comorosky’s card is the answer: “Lefty Grove, now with the Boston Red Sox – in 1926.”
In lieu of comments from Gehrig, cards 80-91 include a “Chuck Klein says” feature in red on the fronts (along with the same Christy Walsh disclaimer on the reverse), presumably because all of these players were from the National League and were seen in person by Klein, who was then the N.L.’s premier slugger. Gehrig, interestingly, does comment on many National Leaguers in the ’34 Goudey set – including obscure players, ranging from Walter Beck to Baxter Jordan – even though Gehrig certainly did not play against them in a regular season game during the year prior, given the strict division between the two leagues.
The two Lou Gehrig cards (No. 37 and No. 61) are far and away the most popular and valuable in the set. Gehrig’s portrait (No. 37), in fact, is one of the most recognizable baseball cards ever issued. While several star players appeared on multiple cards in the 1933 set – including different poses of Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby – Gehrig is the only player to appear on more than one card in the 1934 set. Though he remained an active player through 1935, Ruth is not included in the 1934 Goudey set, a glaring omission that surely has had some effect on the popularity of the set.
Indeed, player selection is an issue with the 1934 Goudey set overall. On the one hand, the set does include cards of 19 different Hall of Fame players (alphabetically, Appling, Cochrane, Cuyler, Dean, Durocher, Foxx, Frisch, Gehrig, Gehringer, Greenberg, Grove, Hafey, Hubbell, Klein, Lombardi, Manush, Terry, Vaughan and Waner).
On the other hand, the ’34 set is replete with commons, especially in the second half of the set. While Hall of Famers abound in the lower numbers (and, fortunately, the first 48 cards are the easiest to locate), Kiki Cuyler is the only Hall of Fame player included from cards numbered 63-96. Although player selection declines a bit in the latter portion of the 1933 Goudey set, too, the higher-numbered cards there do include Gabby Hartnett, Lefty Grove, Dizzy Dean, and two appearances by Carl Hubbell, counterbalancing the cards of common players.
Ironically, the most famous card issued in the 1934 Goudey style is actually part of the 1933 Goudey set: The rare card of Napoleon Lajoie, which collectors could only receive by mail. That card, which is No. 106 in the ’33 Goudey set, was not released until the next year and has a 1934 design on both front and back. Though it remains one of the most expensive and difficult to locate baseball cards, it is not considered part of the 1934 Goudey set.
Hank Greenberg appears on his first baseball card in the 1934 Goudey issue, and it is one of the set’s best-looking cards. Like Mel Ott, who also played during the 1930s and ’40s, Greenberg is portrayed on relatively few baseball cards since so few sets were produced during that period. Given his career accomplishments, Greenberg’s ’34 Goudey card seems to be notably underrated. Also, Mel Harder, a star pitcher on some subpar Cleveland teams from 1927-47 and a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame, makes his only solo appearance on a baseball card in the 1934 Goudey set (No. 66).
Since about half of the cards in the 1934 Goudey set are portraits, there is less room for distinctive player poses than in other sets. Also absent in ’34 are horizontal poses, as are included on the cards of Fred Schulte (No. 112), Rogers Hornsby (No. 119), and Carl Hubbell (No. 230) in the 1933 Goudey set.
Of course, considering that the 1934 Goudey set was less than half of the size of the 240-card Goudey set issued in 1933, there were obvious limits both on player selection as well as the ability to include a broad range of innovations. Any deficiencies in the 1934 Goudey set, though, are apparent only in comparison to the extraordinary 1933 set and do not diminish either the artistic quality or the excellent overall presentation of the ’34 cards.
The 1934 Goudey set can stand alone. Some of the best players in baseball history have their most memorable cards in the ’34 set, including Greenberg, Luke Appling and perhaps even Gehrig. As a complement to the 1933 Goudey set, the 1934 Goudey cards helped to redefine the appearance of baseball cards and to bring collecting into the modern era.
John McMurray writes a monthly column for Sports Collectors Digest focusing on early 20th century baseball cards. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.