From 1908 through the 1920s, American Caramel issued some of the most popular baseball caramel card series. The cards are, in general, rarer than their tobacco counterparts.
The first baseball sets issued by the company were first created in 1908. While the company would later move on to a more forward-thinking design with its 1909-11 cards known as E90-1, this particular series (designated today as E91A, E91B, and E91C) started in 1908 ran through 1910.
To say the company did not change the design of these cards is an understatement. Not only did the layout remain the same, American Caramel even used the same exact pictures for players. That did not change even as some of those checklisted players changed over the course of the three years. American Caramel simply swapped out team names on the generic jerseys worn in the images and slapped a different player’s name/team on the front. A total of 33 cards (each with its own different image) were issued in 1908. The same 33 images were then repeated in 1909 and 1910.
The sets must have confused some early collectors. Even famous collector Jefferson Burdick only allocated 82 cards in the series of three sets (likely due to repeated players that were used in more than one year). And perhaps no greater indictment of the set’s lack of originality also came from Burdick, who called this a ‘faked design’ set in his American Card Catalog.
Team Structure Accounted for Missing Players
The lack of design originality isn’t the only negative with this series. Even though it ran for a total of three years, the series is also missing several of the era’s big names.
The reason for that is fairly simple — each year, the set only featured three different teams.
That first set released in 1908 included only players from the Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago Cubs, and New York Giants. Those three teams were again the selection in 1909 with many of the players being included in both years (more on that in a bit). The 1910 E91C set replaced that group with players from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Senators, and Boston Red Sox. Thankfully, that led to an influx of big names that hadn’t been previously included, such as Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, and more. Still, by including only six of Major League Baseball’s 16 teams, plenty of big names were left out.
Ty Cobb is the one that comes the most to mind. His Detroit Tigers were left out of the series and Cobb appeared in practically every relevant set of the time period. Had the Tigers been included, his presence would have given the series a big boost. Hall of Fame teammate Sam Crawford, too, would have helped.
Legendary pitcher Cy Young is another player hurt by the team structure. Interestingly, he did pitch for the Red Sox, but in the years before they were included in the 1910 set. Pitching for Cleveland in 1909 and 1910 meant he could not have been included. Young is obviously another mainstay in many of the sets produced around the same time.
Speaking of those Cleveland Naps, headliner Nap Lajoie is another one left out of the series for that reason. Lajoie is one of the greatest hitters of all time and a Cleveland subset featuring he and Young would have been a nice addition.
A Swing and a Miss
Those are all big names, of course. However, the most intriguing addition would have been that of Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Jackson appears on few cards by comparison of all of those aforementioned players. But while he had a minimal role in the majors in the seasons American Caramel released these sets (appearing in a total of only 30 games), it is noteworthy that the company had the foresight to include him in its 1909-11 E90-1 set, producing his major league rookie card.
Ironically, it wasn’t team restrictions that kept Jackson out of the series. In 1908 and 1909, he played for the Philadelphia Athletics that were featured in the E91A and E91B sets. However, he appeared in a total of only ten games, showing little promise and batting only .150. While a Jackson addition would have made for a highly-desirable card these days, it was also easy to see why he wasn’t featured.
American Caramel simply missed on this one, even if his inclusion at the time may have seemed like an odd one where only 11 players were featured for each team.
Repeated Players Created Another Problem
Sure, the set is missing plenty of headliners due to the limited amount of teams that were featured. However, even beyond the biggest names, there were plenty of other quality players that weren’t included. The focal point here is the amount of repeated players used in the 1909 E91B set that also appeared in the 1908 E91A set.
As mentioned, those two sets included a total of 33 players with both sets including only players from the Athletics, Cubs, and Giants. A whopping 21 of the 33 players in 1908 returned in 1909 — despite plenty of other strong candidates for inclusion.
Starting pitcher Hooks Wiltse, for example, won 20 games with the Giants in 1909 and gave the team a strong 1-2 punch with Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. Despite that and winning 23 games in 1908, he didn’t crack either set. American Caramel also passed on the chance to include Bugs Raymond, who, despite his league-leading 25 losses in 1908, rebounded to win 18 games in 1909 and was a popular player. American Caramel does deserve credit for sneaking eventual Hall of Famer Rube Marquard into the 1909 checklist (viewed sometimes as a rookie card), which helps offset the Wiltse/Raymond omissions.
The most likely reason for the lack of Wiltse and Raymond seems to be that the Giants’ checklist already included too many intriguing options at the position. The headliner was Mathewson, who appeared in both sets. 1908 also included Hall of Famer Joe McGinnity and popular deaf player Luther ‘Dummy’ Taylor. In 1909, the only other pitcher represented was Marquard. But with Hall of Fame Manager John McGraw also appearing in both sets and the need to include other position players, including more pitchers would have been a challenge.
Consider, too, what happened with the Chicago Cubs entries in the 1908 and 1909 checklists. Those two checklists were virtually identical as nine of the 11 players in both sets were exactly the same. Behind the famous trio of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance, as well as Hall of Fame pitcher Mordecai Brown, the Cubs roster included a lot of star power. However, some of the other players could have easily been replaced. While there were not many notable names left out, it still would have been nice to replace a few more of the commons like Jimmy Sheckard or Harry Steinfeldt, who both appeared in both releases. That theme of swapping other common players out across the other teams from 1908 and 1909 would have been a nice touch, too.
As a personal fan of the E91 American Caramel sets, there are several positive features of this series. But even collectors that enjoy these cards should be able to agree that some checklisting changes could have helped.