When you try to picture a Lou Gehrig baseball card, what image comes to mind?
If you’ve spent much time at all perusing hobby publications and websites over the last, say, 80 years, then chances are pretty good that the colorful Goudey issues of the early 1930s crowd into your mental card gallery.
It’s fitting imagery, too, because Goudey’s 1933 set ushered in the first Golden Age of gum cards, thanks to their blazing hues and larger-than-normal (for the time) size of 2-3/8″ x 2-7/8″. Not surprisingly, the primetime Gehrig was a centerpiece of the issue, clocking in with a pair of cards (#92 and #160), though the two pasteboards were nearly identical from a visual standpoint.
The gum company hit their stride the next season with maybe the most recognizable cards of the pre-War era (1934 Goudey), again featuring two Gehrig cards. In addition, most of the cards in the set feature “The Iron Horse” along the bottom of the card front with the slogan, “Lou Gehrig says …” and text description about the pictured player in quotes on the card back.
Then, as the Thirties rolled into their second half and the Great Depression plodded on, card production took it on the chin, and Goudey’s offerings tapered off. And, even though they did produce sets in 1935 and 1936 — and in 1939 and 1941 — Gehrig was nowhere to be found.
[bctt tweet=”1936 World Wide Gum Lou Gehrig is last gum card of The Iron Horse produced in his lifetime.”]
A clue from Goudey’s inaugural set, though, served notice that they might not be finished with “Larrupin’ Lou” pasteboards quite yet.
From Doppelganger to Main Feature
If you hit the treasure-hunting trail in search of a 1933 Goudey Gehrig, you might be surprised to find three different card numbers turning up in your results, as opposed to the two detailed above.
But the truth is that #55 belongs NOT to the Goudey set but to the World Wide Gum issue. World Wide Gum was the Canadian counterpart to Goudey, and they produced a 94-card set in 1933 as premiums for their own chewy confections. The cards were very similar to their American cousins, often sporting identical images and mostly printed in English, with at least a few known examples that exist with French text.
Then, World Wide Gum was back for another go in 1934, but sat out 1935.
When Gehrig became the Amelia Earhart of American gum cards after 1934, though, it seems that World Wide Gum took notice of the lack of Lou cards the following season. Because, in 1936, WWG and Gehrig were back … together.
Unlike the 1933 rendition, the 1936 World Wide Gum cards weren’t quite dead ringers for their Goudey counterparts. Although both sets featured black-and-white photos as opposed to the earlier bright paintings, there were a couple of distinctions.
The two sets used different images, for example, and Goudey provided player names through facsimile autographs, while World Wide Gum opted for black type in white boxes, which also included card numbers.
And, of course, player selection was a differentiator.
With just 25 cards in their offering, Goudey missed out on many of the biggest names in the game, including Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, and the rookie card of Joe DiMaggio.
That Gehrig pasteboard isn’t much to look at: the legend is caught in a half-smile with his Yankees cap on his head and the top of the NY logo just barely visible over his heart. In an eerie bit of of foreshadowing, Gehrig’s shoulders and arms were cropped out of the photo so that he looks like a Hall of Fame bust set against a gray background.
Farewell Chew, Lou
Lou Gehrig was struck down by ALS early in the 1939 season, playing just eight games, and retired in June. The newly-formed Hall of Fame waived their own rules and welcomed him to Cooperstown that same year through a special election.
With a HOF bust on the horizion and the admiration of millions of grieving fans, Gehrig had made one last speech (on July 4, 1939) to the throngs and then stepped into the unknown.
He died less than two years later, on June 2, 1941.
And, during those two fateful years, when the US was gearing for war and a young generation of players was making a place for themselves in the game, new Gehrig card were virtually non-existent.
It’s little wonder, then, that PSA lists the #96 Gehrig in the 1936 World Wide Gum set as a five-figure card in anything better than NM condition. Only 12 have been submitted for grading, after all, and only one of those has achieved that NM grade.
Beyond the numbers and modern dollars attached to it, though, that dingy black-and-white bust of the Iron Horse is special. It’s the last Lou Gehrig baseball card issued with gum while he was still a rollicking model of physical perfection that inspired the dreams of millions.