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1941 Play Ball Baseball Set

1941 Play Ball Baseball Set

1941 Play Ball #54 Pee Wee Reese

In the spring and summer of 1941, the war that would turn the nation upside down for the next four years was still months away. For a penny, you could get a piece of gum and two baseball cards at the local drug store.

The 1941 Play Ball set is remembered fondly as the last major issue until World War II had been over for nearly three years. When the war started, American business was told to conserve everything—including paper—to fight the Axis powers.

Unlike the company's 1939 and '40 issues, the '41 Play Ball set featured color pictures, with a pastel-type look that brought the players to life. Some of the photos in the set are the same ones used in the black and white 1940 set. A clean and simple design evokes memories of a different era and there are many great portraits of the players of the day. The card backs have an extensive biography of the player pictured on the front. Despite the fact that several Hall of Famers are in the set, including Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, the set's relatively small size makes it an attractive goal for set collectors. Even if you don't chase the entire set, the '41 Play Ball issue is an important one in hobby history and owning at least one should be the goal of any collector.

The third and final release from Gum, Incorporated's Play Ball series, the 1941 Play Ball issue featured 72 cards, each measuring approximately 2 ½" x 3 1/8". Each Play Ball release featured a unique scheme. The inaugural 1939 Set was a black & white photo with a white border. The follow-up in 1940 presented with a more ornate, baseball gear stylized border design, player name banner and sepia toned image. The 1941 Play Ball Set featured a colorized image and the player name in block text in a banner running across the bottom of the image.

The cornerstones of the set are Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Hank Greenberg, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Carl Hubbell, Mel Ott and Chuck Klein are also featured in the issue.Many of the images used in the 1941 Play Ball Set were colorized versions of the photos used in the 1940 release.


The 1941 Play Ball release has a few interesting quirks. It is the only issue with Pee Wee Reese's rookie card and is also the only set to feature the all three DiMaggio brothers, Joe, Dom and Vince, in the same set during their playing careers.

1941 Play Ball DiMaggio Brothers

Cards #1 through #48 can be found with and without the 1941 copyright date at lower-left on the reverse. Cards #49 through #72 do not have the 1941 copyright date. This has led to speculation that another run without the copyright may have been printed and issued into 1942.

After World War II, Play Ball resurfaced as the Bowman Gum Company and began making card and was one of the very few card manufacturers that released cards before and after the war.

Style – Borrowing From the Past:

The addition of color to the Play Ball design wasn't the only thing that made the cards unique. The backgrounds are extremely vivid and widely colored, including depth and shadowing. The design appears to draw from the Art Deco characteristic that made the 1934 Diamond Stars and the comic-art-inspired 1938 Goudey sets so popular.

The 1941 Play Ball Baseball card backs are similar to the other Play Ball sets and feature a detailed biography.

Paper Cards:

There are twenty-four 1941 Play Ball cards that are printed on paper rather than cardboard. These are the first 24 cards in the set and these examples were most probably part of an advertising promotion as they all appear to be hand-cut.

Easiest to Complete:
Of the three Play Ball sets, the 1941 set may be the easiest to complete primarily because of the small number of cards in the set.

The "Lost-Then-Found" 1941 Play Ball Collection

Here's a bit of information about an amazing 1941 Play Ball Collection we purchased back in 2014.

"My dad had [collected] 1941 Play Ball cards since he was young. He put them in the attic for years and left them untouched. Years ago, he had work done in the attic and when the work was done, my dad could not find the cards. Years passed and he became ill. He died thinking the contractors stole the cards.

Four years ago, my mom sold the house and my brother was moving everything out of the attic. On the last day of the move, he saw something sticking out of the insulation. He checked it out and in an open box, he found the baseball cards. My dad died thinking the cards were stolen when, in fact, he still had them."

Left alone in the attic for decades, most of the cards still remained in incredible condition and composed virtually a complete set of 72 cards sans a few commons.

The big guns were all there, including Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Pee Wee Reese, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell and all of the other stars of the era. There were also plenty of duplicates including several additional Pee Wee Reese rookie cards.

Unfortunately, a few of the cards succumbed to the elements with some mild toning and a few with silverfish damage, but all-in-all, they presented one of the nicer 1941 Play Ball finds in recent memory. The majority of the collection ranged from Excellent to Near Mint.

Looking to sell your 1941 Play Ball Cards?

Just Collect is the nation's top buyer of vintage cards and memorabilia. We are always buying 1941 Play Ball cards in any condition.

Thanks for reading.

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