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Baseball Card Help: 1939 Play Ball Sample Card

Updated on June 4, 2013

1939 Play Ball Selkirk

True Rarity

OK baseball card fans – I need a little help from you, my friends.

This past weekend, while working at the show in Staten Island, I traded for a 1939 Play Ball Sample card of George Selkirk. The card is in fabulous condition and caught my attention because I had never seen one before.

Not ever.

I wasn’t aware of anything about this card and I traded a 1/1 Ian Kennedy press plate which I had picked up for $5 at a show in New Jersey. One of my vintage customers, who has now seen this gem, has been raving about how expensive this card is and how rare. He’s spoken to several other vintage collectors and dealers and they agree – rare and expensive. The feeling is I should get it graded and give it to an auction house to sell it.

Here’s the problem…

After reading the 1939 Play Ball write up in Beckett, they mention the samples and make them out to be uncommon but not all that rare. They also claim that the cards are worth about double the price listed in the guide. I’ve done a bit of research and can conclude that these cards are NOT common at all. There are examples out there for sure but not too many. They apparently made sample versions of each of the first 115 cards in the set.

I’ve been told they were distributed mostly out west in 1938 – in preparation for the 1939 season. These were the first Baseball cards from Gum Inc., which would later become Bowman. Gaum Inc, made the Play Ball sets in 1939-1941 and then the war hit and baseball card production largely ends (in 1943 M.P. and Company made cards but that's about it during the War years) and then Bowman reemerges in the late 40's.


Free Sample Back Text

So Which Is It? Uncommon or Rare

So the dilemma is really in trying to figure out what I have here. Yes, it's a 74-year old baseball card in spectacular condition. Selkirk is a New York Yankee which helps. It's a "Free Sample" card that was likely given out to store owners to give out to potential customers as they bought candy and gum at the counter in 1938 (and Gum Inc.'s Horrors of War cards).

There aren't many out there one way or another. I've been collecting almost 35 years and had never seen one. Most cards from 1939 are not found in top condition - this would likely get a 6 or 7 from the grading companies. Beckett makes them out to be easy to find yet nothing I've read or heard confirms that. Beckett states that the card is worth about double-book, everyone else thinks much higher - and not just much higher - MUCH HIGHER if you get my meaning.

The book value of this card in in EX-MT condition is $40. This card is in better condition than that but let's use that as a base. By Beckett, this card is worth about $80. I've seen and heard examples anywhere from 10 to 50 times the regular card price putting a theoretical value from $400 to $2000!

That's a huge difference, and not chump change either.

I need some guidance from my vintage collector and dealer friends out there. What do you think I've got? Is this just a cool uncommon and weird item that happens to be in great shape or do I have a truly significant item that's both very rare and expensive, and in great shape. I usually trust Beckett for my information but on certain vintage sets and items, I have found that Becket''s information and/or pricing just doesn't match the real world (1950 R423's Small Strip cards come to mind - Babe Ruth is only $100?).

Let's sum up the positives on this card:

  • it's a 1939 Play Ball - one of the more significant sets in baseball card history
  • George Selkirk is pictured as a New York Yankee (yes-baseball cards in general, and this set in particular, have a huge New York bias - blame the Yankees for that if you want but they do have a lot of star players in their history)
  • It's a limited production "FREE SAMPLE" card that isn't found very often in the hobby
  • it's in great condition for it's age - likely to get at least a 6 or 7 from a grading company

So let me know what you think vintage collector's and dealers out there - I could really use the help on this one.

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