If you loved caramel, the first part of the 20th century was a good time to collect baseball cards. The little pictures of ballplayers were the early premiums of their day, handed out with purchases of the sweet confection. In 1914 and ’15, you also got one in a box of Cracker Jacks. One of the earliest ‘food issues’, the square cards picture some of the greatest players of the era and some guys time has all but forgotten. Ninety-nine years after the first card was pulled from the penny box comes “The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball’s Prized Players”, a coffee table book that brings the sets, the era and the athletes back into focus.
Authors Tom and Ellen Zappala have collaborated with PSA to produce mini histories of the players in each set. The 177-page book was just released and has been anxiously anticipated by fans of the set and vintage card collectors in general. The book comes three years after the release of The T206 Collection; The Players and Their Stories.
The Cracker Jack book features photos of original cards and period pieces including a vintage Cracker Jack box and the rare advertising poster.
There’s a player index in the back which makes it easy to find the player you’d like to read about.
You’ll learn plenty about the players, managers and front office types in the set through their biographies (did you know Ray Schalk founded Baseball Anonymous, a program that helped poor players?). You’ll read about Cracker Jack, the product (did you know they’d only been putting prizes into the boxes for a couple of years when they decided to go the baseball card route?). And you’ll also learn about the two sets (for example, a comparison of total graded examples between the 1914 and ’15 sets. It’s a striking number because the ’14 set wasn’t available through a mail-in offer and the 1915 set was).
As with their T206 book, the authors have produced some easy to watch, slick little videos on the players in the sets and have been distributing them online.
Unless you’re wealthy, you don’t have much of a shot to accumulate anything close to a complete set of the 1914 Cracker Jacks so the book offers a net way to enjoy the set. You almost get an appreciation for those beat up, stained cards that come up for auction, knowing they could only be obtained by handing the candy man or the grocer a penny and digging into the sticky contents.
The only thing missing is perhaps a more in-depth look at the cards themselves. With only a small number of surviving sets and near sets of either issue and the extreme scarcity of the 1914 Cracker Jack set , it would have been nice to read more about landmark sales of scarce cards like the Christy Mathewson or collectors’ adventures in piecing sets together.
Overall, though, The Cracker Jack Collection is a must-have for your hobby library. It’s one of those books you’ll grab off the shelf on a hot summer day when the topic of Deadball Era stars comes up or a cold winter night when thoughts drift back to a different time in the game of baseball, one that will always be synonymous with what was even a century ago called “The Famous Confection”.