Collecting Baseball Cards and the 1948 Leaf Set

The back of the Jackie Robinson card from the 1948 Leaf Set.
This Jackie Robinson card from the 1948 Leaf Set—a “rookie” card—is considered in excellent to mint condition and is valued at $1,250. The 1948 Leaf Set is one or the harder sets to fill.

Collecting Baseball Cards and the 1948 Leaf Set

By Ed Kushner

As a baseball card collector and likely a collector of all collectibles, the first of each item, set, issue is generally the most sought after items pertaining to a particular producer. In this case it was the first and last set produced by Leaf Gum. With an exception to a small set Leaf produced in 1960 that is often forgotten about, this is their first and last.

This set was the first color baseball cards of the post World War II era and consisted of 98 baseball players. The whole set consisted of 168 cards, but also included Football and Boxing athletes’ cards. This is probably one of the most difficult set of the post-war era to complete, mainly due to the fact that exactly one-half of the set, 49 cards, are considered to be “short print” cards (the term short print means those particular cards were produced in significantly less numbers then the other 49). There is no definitive ratio, but is estimated that the short print cards were produced 1 to 12 of the other 49 cards. That means there are only 8.5 percent production, in estimation, of one half the set in comparison to the other half, so collecting the easier to obtain 49 cards isn’t too much of a problem. It’s getting the second half of the set that becomes very challenging.

Being the first of its kind and that most are considered a 1948 issue by collectors, it is thought that many of the cards weren’t actually issued until 1949. So when referenced, one may think there were two sets produced, but either 1948 or 1949 is correct in describing these cards.

This set contains many significant cards of player’s first appearances, better known as rookie cards, including: Jackie Robinson; Stan Musial; Phil Rizzuto; and, by far the most popular 1948 Leaf card, Satchel Paige. In addition to such great rookie cards, the set also contained legends who were either at their peek years, near the end of their legacies, or retired, such as: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner.

The Values
The values of these cards, based on mid-range grades, such as the Jackie Robinson (pictured), range from average prices to highly priced. For example, a common card (non-short printed card) averages about $25-$40 for excellent-to-mint (ex-mt) condition, the Jackie Robinson shown is valued at $1,250 in the condition shown, and the highest-priced card being the Satchel Paige rookie card, which would sell for about $10,000 in ex-mt condition. The short-printed cards are very expensive, and common players sell for about $500 in ex-mt condition, while star player cards that were short-printed usually sell for anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 per card. Overall, if you were to manage to put this set together in ex-mt condition, which is a 6 in the PSA (Professional Sports Authentication an independent sports card grading company) 1-to-10 grading scale, you could expect to spend about $50,000.

The unique thing about this set, unlike just about every other set produced, is that the card numbers range from 1-168 but there are only 98 baseball cards in the set, so the other sports players fill in the number gaps. You can have a baseball player whose card is number 117 and the next baseball card is number 120. The two cards in between could be a football card or boxing card, so unlike any other baseball set, this one had it’s sense of being unique even before collecting baseball cards was a form of an investment; when most kids bought the cards for the gum.

The concept of mixing sports cards into one set with hard-to-find cards did not seem to go over well with the public. My thought is that kids got so many duplicates and couldn’t get the other 49 cards they needed to complete the set they gave up on them since another company, Bowman was introduced the same year and all the cards were equally available.

A Very Challenging Set to Fill
This set is a very nice and colorful, and these cards are highly sought after by collectors today. Condition is always an issue with all cards when determining value, and these weren’t made on the best quality of cardboard, so finding them in top condition is very challenging. Of course once you are fortunate enough to find top-grade cards, keeping them in that condition is very important. The best way to store these cards are in non-pvc holders that don’t allow the card to move around and cannot be damaged easily. Being that these cards hold significant values, it is highly recommended that one who possesses high-grade examples of this issue have them professionally graded and sealed in one of the grading company’s holders. Of the major graders, I generally don’t like endorsing one over another, but my preference is with SCG (Sportscard Guaranty) or PSA, as those grading companies have shown their responsibility in correctly grading and authenticating cards over their years of service.

If you are collecting and interested in starting a collection from your favorite set, I always recommend reading up on that particular set and seek out reputable dealers what will assist you and work with you in your interest. The 1948 or 1949 Leaf set is a very nice set, but extremely tough to complete and there are many cards in this set in average condition will cost a pretty penny to obtain. So if you are on a restricted budget, this may be a very tough set to work on.

And even if you are not on a budget, this set is very challenging to complete; just finding some of the short prints are just impossible to find regardless, of cost, and if they appear at auctions you may find you need to pay five to 10 times their value to own them. I’m not trying to discourage people from collecting this set, but just be prepared for a long and costly battle if this is the set you choose to assemble.

Until the next article, happy baseball card collecting.

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