Mysteriously-Stamped 1939 Play Ball Baseball Card Collection

Vintage Cards That Are Marked And/Or Have Writing On Them Can Still Be Valuable
  • May 11, 2021

Do you know what happened on May 9th, 1941?  One thing happened for certain on that (famous?) date: someone stamped that date and wrote on a collection of 1939 and 1940 Play Ball cards!  Maybe you could help solve the mystery of the newest collection we just purchased and see why even stamped or marked cards can still be valuable.

A family reached out on our free appraisal section to inquire about a collection of Play Ball cards from 1939 and 1940 found in their uncle's belongings. The family was uncertain if the cards were valuable as there was a stamp and writing on the back of every single card. YES! Some cards are still valuable when when marked up thanks to relatively recent updates to card grading.  I'll tell you about about the value of marked cards if you can help me figure out the date stamped on these Play Ball cards!  Let's start guessing, shall we?


  • 161 cards numbered
  • 160 cards in the set; card #126 was never issued
  • Produced by Gum Incorporated which later became BOWMAN
  • 2-1/2” by 3-1/8”  - larger than tobacco cards collectors were familiar with 

In 1939 no other gum companies were issuing baseball cards.  Kids being too young to buy tobacco gave Gum Incorporated a huge market when they released their Play Ball cards.  I believe by not issuing card number 126, the company also introduced us to a fun marketing ploy; let kids keep buying gum to chase a card that never existed.  Evil geniuses...

There are multiple baseball hall of famers in the set like  Leo Durocher on card 6, Bill Dickey on card 30 or Hank Greenberg on card 56; plenty of star power in the set. The two real most valuable cards of 1939 Play Ball are:

  • Card 92, Ted Williams 
  • Card 26, Joe DiMaggio 

'39 Play Ball is the true Ted Williams rookie!  "Teddy Ballgame" was two MVP awards, hit for the Triple Crown, and is the last guy to bat over .400 in a season.  

Joe D, "The Yankee Clipper" won one of his three MVP awards and the World Series in 1939. At just 25 in the '39 Play Ball, DiMaggio was still two years away from his famous 56-game hitting streak!


  • 240 cards
  • Has 51 Hall of Famers in the set!
  •  2 1/2" x 3 1/8"
  • Distributed in two series

A nice change to the 1940 Play Ball set is that Gum Incorporated put the player's names on the front of the card.  You and I know what Joe DiMaggio looks like but let's be honest - you may not recognize a few players even from your favorite team.  It was easier to identify a card without flipping it over!

The second series - the higher-numbered cards in the set are TOUGH to find in good condition.  We have a great story about the 1940 Play Ball set that details the scarcity you can read about here.


After viewing the images of the collection the family wanted to sell, I could see that all of the 1939 and 1940 Play Ball cards had the initials "JS" written on the back of the cards. On the front of just the 1939 cards EVERY card was stamped with the same date: May 9th, 1941.  I had to ask the family WHY?  Neither family member knew the answer, though!  JS is most likely the initials of the uncle - but the date gets me wondering.

The family was located here near my office at Just Collect in New Jersey. Nothing relevant happened here in town that day.  I checked ON THIS DAY  and nuttin'! Nothing related to baseball, gum, big moments in US history - so strange. Here's what I came up with for possible reasons for the stamp:

  • The day the cards were received 
  • Dad worked for a bank and son went wild with a date stamper meant for cashed checks
  • Birthday
  • To make sure older brother didn't steal the cards

What say YOU?  Why do you think May 9th, 1941 is on the cards?  

playball image 1

playball image 3

I love the MO BERG card all the way to the left in the photo above. Aside from being a pro baseball player, Berg was also a spy in WWII.  He could catch and speak 12 languages!  Check out the Mo Berg background here

playball image 6

playball image 5

Just look how young Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio look in these cards! 


No, if you doodle on your 1987 Topps Don Mattingly card you won't really turn a profit.  However, rare cards and some vintage cards are still valuable if the cards have been stamped like these Play Balls or if there are some marks or writing on the card. 

PSA, one of the top card grading companies not only grades cards on a scale from 1 to 10, they also assign "qualifiers" to cards. 

  • Marked: when a card has a stamp, ink or pencil mark, the cards will be given the Marked qualifier.  
  • Authentic: No numerical grade is given but the card is deemed genuine. For example, if a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth is missing a corner, the card is still real.
  • Authentic Altered: Like Authentic, no numerical grade is assigned but when an authentic card has evidence of alterations such as coloring in the card with a marker to brighten the colors, the card is authentic, altered. 

A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card is such a desirable card to collectors, even a Marked or Altered card graded by PSA is still valuable.  An Authentic Alerted Mick rookie sold in April $25,800.

For a long time in the grading industry, altered cards wouldn't have been graded.  PSA now realizes that not all cards were altered to gain an advantage (such as re-coloring a card to make it appear more pristine) but that cards were cut from scrap books, marked with a pen to indicate the card was yours, or having a mystery date stamped on it.  These marked cards can now be graded and still hold value. 


After the family realized the cards could still be sold despite the date stamp, they were excited to offer the cards for sale to us. 

As the US begins to slowly open up and Covid-19 vaccinations are rolling out, I hope to travel more.  Before the Pandemic, I would have hoped into the Just Collect Mobile to see your collection in-person.  Until the Pandemic is over, I can offer a few options:

  • SHIP your collection 

This is how the family sent their Play Ball collection over to me. If you choose to mail your cards, I will evaluate your cards for FREE still. If you choose not to sell the cards, I'll ship them back shipping fees paid by us!  Michael sent his collection via FedEx with 2-day shipping, fully insured, all covered by me so he would feel comfortable shipping the cards. Contact the office or myself to set up this option.

  • Travel to me!

If you're willing to wear a mask when you and I meet, and you can make the trip here - we can make a deal at the office.  Recently I met a father-son duo that drove eight hours from Virginia to meet me to sell a Michael Jordan rookie card stored in Tupperware since 1986 - great read here

  • Come to a Show

We keep a LIST of card shows we'll be attending to buy and sell!  Come stop by our booth!

After my initial offer to the family, they agreed to sell ALL of Play Ball cards to me and I paid them cash.  If we agree on a deal, I'll wire you money, send a check, pay in cash, or send you NBA Top Shots Want me to draw you a personal NFT? I'll get a set of makers our right now.

Making this deal was very simple - I know the cards will all receive either a grade of Marked or Authentic from PSA; no surprises there. Not only have I previously purchased a COMPLETE set of 1940 Play Ball cards but  I've also purchased a collection of 1940 and 1941 Play Ball cards that had marks on them previously that you can check out here.  I'd be happy to appraise any of your Play Ball cards - marks or not!


Just Collect is always buying vintage sports and non-sports cards from 1879 to 1979 as well as select modern cards. Your collection doesn't have to be all vintage baseball like this collection either!  I recently bought a graded card collection that was filled with rookie cards of Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, and even Hulk Hogan that you can see here.

If you have a collection that you are considering selling, contact me today to discuss or get our industry-leading purchase offer. If you have a collection that you want appraised, please contact us and I would be happy to discuss your collection and help you understand the real cash value of your collection in the current marketplace. Check out the Just Collect buy list blog here


I've run into a wide range of people and collections over the last 25 years. Although Just Collect is known for buying vintage sports cards and especially vintage baseball cards, I am also extremely interested in buying non-sports cards, too!  

Every collection and every collector is different and I treat EVERY collection with the respect and attention that we show for our own collections. I understand that many have put their heart and souls into building their collections. So when you're ready to sell, understand the feelings that you're going through and will work with you to help you reach a decision that is a WIN/WIN, because if you're not happy, I'm not happy.


Whether you have vintage cards with a mysterious date stamped on them, graded cards or modern wax you want to sell, you can reach out any time!  ..and if you know ANYTHING about the date of May 9th, 1941 stamped on these 1939 Play Ball cards, please call us ASAP; I must know.


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