1939 Play Ball Baseball Cards

1939 Play Ball Baseball Cards

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While the cards may not seem monumental today, 1939 Play Ball Baseball was the beginning of a shift in the hobby. A larger size and clearer photographs offered card collectors more and the industry began to grow as a result.

Had World War II not intervened, 1939 may have been seen as a starting point for the modern hobby era. That year saw the first baseball cards from a company that would later become known as Bowman. Gum, Inc. was founded by Warren Bowman around 1930 in Philadelphia.

Despite the economic issues brought by the Great Depression, Gum, Inc. grew each year. The company first entered the card business in 1938 with Horrors of War, which was considered controversial because it showed graphic images of war scenes. It was such a success in terms of sales, Bowman decided to get into the baseball card business the following year with the release of 1939 Play Ball Baseball.

1939 Play Ball Baseball Wrapper Pack

In 1939, no other gum companies were actively releasing regular baseball card sets. That immediately gave Gum, Inc. a boost and established the upstart company as a leader. Naming the set 1939 Play Ball - America, the cards were made to be slightly larger than what Goudey had been issuing earlier in the decade.

Issued in baseball's centennial season, the set is designated as R334 in the American Card Catalog and features a simple design that utilities crisp, black-and-white photographs of the player and no other elements. Measuring 2-1/1" by 3-1/8", the cards are adorned with only a white border. Between Gum, Inc. and their later sets under the Bowman name, the company would return to this design concept often (1939, 1948-1950, 1953). The backs feature the player's full name and an extensive biographical write-up. At the bottom, an advertisement mentions that there were 250 cards in the set, which is incorrect.

1939 Play Ball Baseball Ted Williams1939 Play Ball Baseball Ted Williams back

Although the full set is numbered to 162, in reality, there are only 161 total cards. Card #126 was never issued and was thought to be a purposeful decision in an attempt to keep people purchasing to complete the set. Approximately half the cards in 1939 Play Ball also have variations. The majority of the variation cards feature the player name either entirely in capital letters or in capital and lower-case letters. The rest simply update errors.

1939 Play Ball Baseball cards #115 and above are considered high numbers. They are significantly more scarce and therefore more valuable. In addition to the variations, sample cards are occasionally found and are stamped on the back. These cards were inserted into packs of other Gum, Inc. products as a cross-selling promotion and are quite limited.

1939 Play Ball Baseball Ted Williams sample back

The set features most of the stars of the era. Among them are a rookie card of Ted Williams (#92) and a popular early card featuring Joe DiMaggio (#26). Earl Averill (#143) is the only Hall of Fame subject included in the high-numbered series, so his card is given a boost in value that might not otherwise be attached to his cards.

An interesting card in the 1939 Play Ball Baseball set features Al Schacht (#113) clowning around which was fitting as he was known as "The Clown Prince of Baseball." Schacht was a former player and coach who eventually became a comedic entertainer, performing for the audience in the same manner as Max Patkin did later on and mascots still do today.

1939 Play Ball Baseball Schacht

A favorite among pre-war collectors, the only critique most collectors have of the 1939 Play Ball Baseball set is the omission of several key Hall of Fame players, including Lou Gehrig, Ernie Lombardi, Johnny Mize, Joe Cronin, Luke Appling and Bob Feller. Despite that oversight, there are still plenty of marquee players to pursue.

For those attempting to complete a higher grade set, the most noticeable condition issue is centering which was very common for the time period. Perfectly centered examples command a significant premium on the secondary market. This is particularly true for the key cards in the set.

Top eBay Listings

1939 Play Ball #7 Bobby Doerr Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame
$39.95

1939 Play Ball Emerson Dickson Boston Red Sox #17
$9.95

Emmett Mueller 1939 Play Ball # 63 GD - Philadelphia Phillies
$6.99

Lynwood Schoolboy Rowe 1939 Play Ball # 60 GD - Detroit Tigers
$13.99

Paul Waner 1939 Play Ball # 112 F-GD - Pittsburgh Pirates HOF
$22.99

1939 Play Ball #115 Red Kress VG G158
$23.00

1939 Play Ball Set Break #46 Morrie Arnovich Philadelphia PhiliesPSA 7 NM
$47.00

1939 Play Ball Set Break #34 Frank DeMaree NY Giants NM 7
$57.00

1939 Play Ball #108 Frank 'Blimp' Hayes VG G186
$21.00

1939 Play Ball #111 Van Mungo VG G650
$17.00

1939 Play Ball #111 Van Mungo EX G588
$30.00

1939 Play Ball George Selkirk Extremely Rare Baseball Card New York Yankees
$49.00

1939 Play Ball Joe Dimaggio RC Extremely Rare Baseball Card New York Yankees
$299.00

1939 Play Ball Tommy Henrich Extremely Rare Baseball Card New York Yankees
$59.00

1939 PLAY BALL CHUCK KLEIN #82 * Pittsburgh Pirates HOF outfielder
$49.99

1939 Play Ball #91 John H Knott VG-EX Chicago WHite Sox
$10.00
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Key Cards

Key 1939 Play Ball Baseball Cards

Click on the images or listings to shop for cards on eBay. 

#92 Ted Williams

1939 Play Ball Ted Williams

#26 Joe DiMaggio

1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio

#143 Earl Averill

1939 Play Ball Earl Averill

#56 Hank Greenberg

1939 Play Ball Hank Greenberg

#103 Moe Berg

1939 Play Ball Moe Berg

Top eBay Listings

1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio #26 Yankees HOF PSA 1.5 Not SCG 20
$329.99

1939 Play Ball #39 Rick Ferrell (HOF) WashingtonSenators SGC 80 6 EX-NM Centered
$79.99

1939 Play Ball #33 Del Young (Lionel Carter Collection) SGC 92 Finest Known
$134.95

1939 PLAY BALL HANK GREENBERG SGC 80 EX NM 6 DETROIT TIGERS #56 WELL CENTERED
$212.50

1939 PLAY BALL CARL HUBBELL SGC 60 EX 5 NEW YORK GIANTS #53 SMR $95-
$68.00

1939 PLAY BALL CHUCK KLEIN SGC 70 EX+ 5.5 PITTSBURGH PIRATES #82
$59.50

1939 Play Ball Baseball Lonnie Warneke #41 Cardinals SGC 7 NM 84
$44.00

1939 Play Ball #56 Hank Greenberg SGC 50 VG EX Tigers
$124.95

1939 Play Ball #52 - Tommy Henrich (RC) - SGC 84 -- Yankees Rookie (mikedenero)
$390.00

1939 Play Ball #50 Charlie Gehringer SGC 88 = 8
$245.00

SGC 55 - 1939 Play Ball # 30 Bill Dickey New York Yankees HOF
$59.95

1939 Play Ball #107 Joe Vosmik SGC 50 VG EX 4 *6209
$15.00

1939 Play Ball Baseball Card #86 Dolph Camilli SGC 80 EX-NM Brooklyn Dodgers
$59.99

1939 Play Ball #53 Carl Hubbell SGC 7 G465
$250.00

1939 Play Ball #92 Ted Williams Rookie SGC 50 = 4
$1,249.00

1939 Play Ball #92 Ted Williams Rookie SGC 45 = 3.5
$1,295.00
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Set Checklist

1939 Play Ball Baseball Set Checklist

161 cards. Card #126 does not exist.
1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio

1 Jake Powell RC
2 Lee Grissom RC
3 Red Ruffing
4 Elden Auker RC
5 Luke Sewell
6 Leo Durocher
7 Bobby Doerr RC
8 Cotton Pippen
9 James Tobin RC
10 Jimmie DeShong
11 Johnny Rizzo RC
12 Hersh Martin RC
13 Luke Hamlin RC
14 Jim Tabor RC
15 Paul Derringer
16 John Peacock RC
17 Emerson Dickman RC
18 Harry Danning RC
19 Paul Dean RC
20 Joe Heving RC
21 Dutch Leonard RC
22 Bucky Walters RC
23 Burgess Whitehead RC
24 Richard Coffman
25 George Selkirk RC
26 Joe DiMaggio RC
27 Fritz Ostermueller
28 Syl Johnson RC
29 John Wilson RC
30 Bill Dickey
31 Sam West
32 Bob Seeds RC
33 Del Young RC
34 Frank Demaree
35 Billy Jurges
36 Frank McCormick RC
37 Virgil Davis
38 Bill Myers RC
39 Rick Ferrell
40 Jim Bagby RC
41 Lon Warneke
42 Art Jorgens
43 Mel Almada RC
44 Don Heffner RC
45 Merrill May RC
46 Morrie Arnovich RC
47 Buddy Lewis RC
48 Vernon Gomez
49 Eddie Miller RC
50 Charlie Gehringer
51 Mel Ott
52 Tommy Henrich RC
53 Carl Hubbell
54 Harry Gumbert RC
55 Arky Vaughan
56 Hank Greenberg
57 John Hassett RC
58 Lou Chiozza RC
59 Kendall Chase RC
60 Schoolboy Rowe RC
61 Tony Cuccinello
62 Thomas Carey RC
63 Heinie Mueller RC
64 Wally Moses RC
65 Harry Craft RC
66 Jimmy Ripple RC
67 Eddie Joost RC
68 Fred Singleton RC
69 Elbie Fletcher RC
70 Fred Frankhouse
71 Monte Pearson RC
72 Debs Garms RC
73 Hal Schumacher
74 Cookie Lavagetto RC
75 Stanley Bordagaray RC
76 Goodwin Rosen RC
77 Lew Riggs RC
78 Moose Solters
79 Jo-Jo Moore
80 Irwin Fox
81 Babe Dahlgren RC
82 Chuck Klein
83 Gus Suhr
84 Lamar Newsome RC
85 Johnny Cooney RC
86 Dolph Camilli
87 Milburn Shoffner RC
88 Charlie Keller RC
89 Lloyd Waner
90 Bob Klinger RC
91 John Knott RC
92 Ted Williams RC
93 Charlie Gelbert RC
94 Heinie Manush
95 Whit Wyatt RC
96 Babe Phelps RC
97 Robert Johnson
98 Pinky Whitney RC
99 Wally Berger
100 Buddy Myer
101 Doc Cramer
102 Pep Young RC
103 Morris Berg
104 Tommy Bridges
105 Eric McNair RC
106 Albert Stark
107 Joe Vosmik
108 Frankie Hayes
109 Myril Hoag
110 Freddie Fitzsimmons
111 Van Mungo RC
112 Paul Waner
113 Al Schacht
114 Cecil Travis RC
115 Red Kress
116 Gene Desautels RC
117 Wayne Ambler RC
118 Lynn Nelson
119 Willard Hershberger RC
120 Rabbit Warstler RC
121 Bill Posedel RC
122 George McQuinn RC
123 Ray Davis RC
124 Walter Brown
125 Cliff Melton RC
127 Gilbert Brack RC
128 Joe Bowman RC
129 Bill Swift
130 Wilbur Brubaker RC
131 Mort Cooper RC
132 Jimmy Brown RC
133 Lynn Myers RC
134 Tot Pressnell RC
135 Mickey Owen RC
136 Roy Bell RC
137 Pete Appleton
138 George Case RC
139 Vito Tamulis RC
140 Ray Hayworth RC
141 Peter Coscarart RC
142 Ira Hutchinson RC
143 Howard Earl Averill
144 Henry Bonura RC
145 Hugh Mulcahy RC
146 Tom Sunkel RC
147 George Coffman RC
148 Bill Trotter RC
149 Max West RC
150 James Walkup RC
151 Hugh Casey RC
152 Roy Weatherly RC
153 Dizzy Trout RC
154 Johnny Hudson RC
155 James Outlaw RC
156 Ray Berres RC
157 Don Padgett RC
158 Bud Thomas RC
159 Russell Evans RC
160 Gene Moore RC
161 Linus Frey
162 Whitey Moore RC

Top eBay Listings

1939 Play Ball Vernon Gomez #48 PSA 3.5
$18.57

1939 Play Ball Lamar Newsome Philadelphia Athletics Card 84 PSA 4 VG EX
$14.99

1939 Play Ball #90 Bob Klinger PSA 6
$15.99

1939 Play Ball #34 Frank Demaree PSA 4.5
$6.99

1939 Play Ball #26 Joe DiMaggio PSA Graded VG-EX 4 - New York Yankees
$698.00

1939 Play Ball #48 Vernon Lefty Gomez Yankees PSA 8 *551925
$281.00

PSA 4 1939 Play Ball Jimmy Ripple #66 NY GIANTS 20600971
$9.99

1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio #26 Yankees HOF PSA 1.5 Not SCG 20
$329.99

1939 Play Ball Baseball #043 Melo Almada RC PSA 8 NM MT (#22679821)
$169.00

1939 Play Ball Van Lingle Mungo #111 PSA VG-EX 4 P166
$30.00

1939 Play Ball Set Break #57 Buddy Hassett Boston Bees PSA 6 Ex-Mt
$30.00

1939 Play Ball Set Break #58 Lou Chiozza NY Giants PSA 6 Ex-Mt
$24.00

1939 Play Ball Set Break #49 Eddie Miller Boston Bees PSA 6 Ex-Mt
$25.00

1939 Play Ball Set Break #55 Arky Vaughn Pittsburgh Pirates PSA 6 Ex-Mt HOF
$100.00

1939 Play Ball Set Break #54 Harry Gumbert NY Giants PSA 8 NM-Mt
$100.00

1939 Play Ball Set Break #51 Mel Ott NY Giants PSA 6 Ex-Mt HOF
$140.00
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Chris is an avid vintage sports card collector who is The Cardboard Connection's resident expert of all things vintage.

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