Suddenly, the world is interested in E98 baseball cards.
Until this week, considered one of the more scarce issues in the world of early candy and gum cards (that's what the 'e' stands for--the American Card Catalog's original designation for cards of its era and ilk), the set has had babies.
Lots of them.
The Black Swamp Find has poured about 700 new cards into PSA's Population Report. Yet even fairly knowledgeable collectors don't know the ins and outs of this 102-year-old issue unless they've studied them or are collecting them.
We still don't know who made E98s. While many "caramel cards" from the era are easily identifiable, these have only a checklist on the back. Early baseball card scholars weren't able to discover the answer so unless paperwork turns up, we may never know. We assume they were issued as giveaways to any business that may have sold food products, especially candy.
We do know that there are 30 cards in the set from an era that was rich with the still relatively new promotional tool we came to call baseball cards. T205, T206, Ramly, Obak and American Caramel were among the major issues of the day and hundreds of thousands of them still survive today. The set is packed with players who wound up being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
E98 cards should measure 1 1/2 x 2 3/4" and they came printed with a variety of colored backgrounds (red, blue, green and orange).
We also know there were errors. The biggie? See the Cy Young card? That's not him. It's Irv Young, also a pretty fair pitcher for a time, but today's best hurlers do not covet the National and American League Irv Young Awards.
E97s also picture Irv rather than Cy, who threw right handed while Irv was a southpaw. Yet the "Cy Young" E98 value rarely suffers. Go figure.
Heritage Auctions has now registered the near set that will be sold at auction. There are 27 of the 30 cards in their set, which now ranks #1 by a wide margin after the find yielded numerous high grade examples. It has an overall grade of 7.75--almost near mint-mint.
Poor Scott Ireland. He's the vintage collector who had owned the top ranked set for five years running at 5.28 and got left in the dust of the now famous green cardboard box in Carl Hench's old attic.
As for the find hurting the prices of lower grade E98's, consider that an Authentic grade Cobb sold for $777 Thursday night.
While the find poured a lot of high grade cards into the pool (679 PSA 7's or better to be exact), it's clearer now that high premiums will continue to be paid for the five toughest cards in the set, at least from the PSA angle: Christy Mathewson, Ed Walsh, Joe Tinker, Hughie Jennings ("Hughey" on the E98 backs) and Nap Lajoie. Only 30 Lajoie cards have been graded by PSA, just 34 of Bill Dahlen, 24 of Walsh, 22 Mattys, only 17 Tinkers and a scant 14 of Jennings. The highest graded Tinker and Lajoie cards are PSA 6.
Last but not least, the hobby should thank the anonymous printing company representative (at least we assume it was him) who more than a century ago, tied twine around the stacks of cards, tight enough so they wouldn't slide all over the place and loose enough to not crimp the edges of the cards. Without his early efforts at preservation, we'd have a lot of new E98 baseball cards to marvel at, but not a lot of minty ones that helped put the hobby on page one for a couple of days.