If you had been an aggressive baseball card collector in 1922, you had plenty of options. More than two dozen sets issued exclusively that year are listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. Eighty-nine years ago, they were little more than a novelty; something to help sell candy more than anything. Now, the variety and volume of cards, attractive pricing and the eye-popping selection of players have made 1922 baseball card sets a very good year for today's cardboard collector.
All it takes is a glance at eBay to see that '22 seems to be a boom year. As of early Monday, there were only 357 listings for cards issued in 1921 and a similar number for 1923. There were only 136 cards issued in 1925 offered for sale at last check. "Overproduction" was not a phrase tossed about back then.
1922? Feast your eyes on over 1,200 listings. Even accounting for a few dozen that may sit in the wrong category, it's a big number...the most listings of any year on eBay prior to 1933.
Why? Two words. American Caramel. The E 120, E 121 and E 122 sets are responsible for nearly half of those listings. The black and white sets utilized early photos and include the likes of Babe Ruth, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, John McGraw, Walter Johnson and several other Hall of Famers. Dozens of common cards populate the category, many graded, at less than $30 each for low grade. Even if one isn't focused on collecting the entire set, they're a great addition to your collection at that price. Even the Hall of Famers are reasonably priced. It's also home to the unique "Babe Ruth holding a bird" card.
Even if the E-cards constitute half of those offered online, it still leaves several hundred other issues to populate the category. In addition to the caramel cards, collectors can choose from the "W", or strip cards issued that year that include W501, 503, 573 and 575. Those sets may not be the prettiest ever issued, but they allow collectors to buy some legendary players at a budget price. Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson and Rogers Hornsby can be found in the run of sets that includes the 240-card W573 issue.
There were a pair of Exhibit card sets issued in '22. A 74-card set includes a series of rare umpire cards while the Eastern Exhibit is much more rare. Most non-Hall of Fame players from the Exhibit sets can be had for less than $30 if you're not a 'mint only' kind of person.
Willard's Chocolates also contributed to the 1922 card fun. They're not uncommon and very affordable. The set has several Hall of Famers, but a very respectable PSA 3 Frankie Frisch would set you back around $200. Branch Rickey is in that set. You can find his card for around $300.
Then there's the 1922 Zeenut Pacific Coast League set. It's a big one that has kind of a dual identity. Virtually every card from that series is considered a common today since most of the players never left the minor leagues. However, Jim Thorpe has a card here and it's immensely popular among history-loving collectors.
Gum cards would eventually turn the industry upside down in the 1930s and the tobacco era was all but over. The 1920s didn't offer a wealth of sets or cards we'd consider "iconic" today, but a collector looking to represent every era of baseball without spending a fortune should probably consider the issues of 1922.