For the better part of 90 years it sat inside a Wisconsin barn. Through the era of Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb. From Ruth to Gehrig, past DiMaggio and Williams and onto the era of Mantle and Mays. From Pete Rose’s first hit to his last and through all of Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 strikeouts.
Decades of dust accumulated. Edges frayed and once sharp corners disappeared. Seasons changed—from damp springs to brutal winters– but it survived. Finally, about ten years ago the owner who had inherited the old baseball poster when he purchased the property on which the barn had sat, brought it inside his house.
Then he saw the story of the Lucky 7 Find of rare T206 Ty Cobb cards. And he wondered.
Is that old poster from the barn worth anything?
One conversation with a baseball-loving friend led to another with Mile High Card Company President Brian Drent and now a newly discovered example of one of the hobby’s rarest and most desirable advertising pieces—a 1915 Cracker Jack advertising poster—is coming to auction.
Relic From a Sweet Past
On the scoreboard as one of the top finds of 2016, the newly discovered poster will headline the company’s auction that begins later this month. The man who found it will stay anonymous but it’s safe to say it paid for him to preserve that old poster with images of Deadball Era stars on the front of a piece that hung in candy and drug stores to drive sales of the famed caramel and peanut snack.
“It’s amazing,” Drent told Sports Collectors Daily on Tuesday. “He told a co-worker who knew a little about collecting and after looking online the other man said ‘you’ve got one of those at home?’. They contacted us and I met him in Chicago during the Fanatics show in March.”
Reward for a Sweet Tooth
The number of surviving specimens can be counted on one hand. Given the same attention to detail that has made the 1915 Cracker Jack series one of the most coveted collections of all-time, the front of the display poster features examples of 12 stars that appear in the series: Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Joe Jackson, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Stuffy McInnis, Vic Saier, Rabbit Maranville, and George Mullen. The reverse suggests “Millions of Pictures of the World’s Greatest Baseball Players-Free, a picture in each package of Cracker Jack” and provides details on how customers can get the complete 176-card set via a mail-in offer. Store owners were instructed to “Place this show card in a prominent place. It will help sell CRACKER JACK.” and touts the series as “the finest collection of baseball pictures ever issued.”
In 1914, Cracker Jack cards were only available through purchases of the product but the company’s mail-in offer gave consumers the option to send in 100 “coupons” (proofs-of-purchase) or a quarter and one coupon. The poster also an offer for an album to hold the cards.
Over a century later many vintage card hobbyists still view the ’15 Cracker Jack series as one of the greatest ever made. The poster was a critical point-of-purchase enticement. How it originally came to rest in the barn is a story that will likely remain lost to history. Perhaps a gift from a local store owner to a baseball fan? Maybe a family member worked at a store where Cracker Jacks were sold and brought it home after the promotion. Whatever the case, it’ll attract plenty of attention when the auction opens.
The last 1915 Cracker Jack poster, a much higher grade example, sold for $152,750 in 2009 through Robert Edward Auctions.
“There are some other great ones but I think the Cracker Jack poster is one of the finest—if not the finest—ad pieces in the hobby,” Drent said. “Unlike some others, the subject is actually a set of baseball cards.”
Entering a Hot Market
The cards themselves aren’t as scarce as the 1914 issue, but still quite rare. There are several dozen graded examples on eBay now.
Mile High officials believe that with the current market for high-grade singles of Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb and others, that high-grade poster would likely sell for at least $300,000 in today’s market. The poster to be sold at Mile High shows the wear of the century that’s passed, but could well bring a six-figure price. Drent says the opening bid will be $15,000.
From Humble Home to Star Attraction
Drent says seeing the poster for the first time made him feel a little like a baseball archaeologist. When he met the owner, the poster still carried the layers of dirt accumulated during its long residence in the barn.
“In the hotel room, I took cotton balls and wiped away some of it.”
From there, it traveled with him back to the company’s Denver area headquarters but the decision was made to sell it in its natural state. The poster is being offered as-is and is somewhat fragile but the winning bidder could have the piece professionally cleaned or completely restored, an acceptable practice when it comes to paper display pieces. Drent says he’s contacted several restoration services who have told him the poster is “an ideal candidate for either.”
The poster isn’t done traveling, however. Mile High will be in Strongsville, OH this weekend for the Ohio Sports Collectors Show where Drent will have the poster on display at the company’s booth.
The auction, which will include hundreds of other lots of vintage sports cards and memorabilia, is slated to run from April 18 to May 5.
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