Pre-war baseball cards aren’t always inexpensive. In fact, more times than not, their prices will put a severe damper on collector budgets. One of the more affordable mainstream issues, however, are the American Caramel E91 series.
The cards are standard tobacco/caramel card size, measuring approximately 1 1/2″ wide x 2 3/4″ tall. Like other issues, these card have a white border with the player depicted in the middle. Along the bottoms are the player’s name, position, and team. The backgrounds feature a variety of color mixtures.
The backs state “Base Ball Caramels” at the top and include a player checklist. The bottoms of the cards read “Manufactured only by the American Caramel Co.”
The artwork on the cards isn’t outstanding and this is one of several issues that used some generic artwork. Some of the illustrations don’t provide a great resemblance of the player in question and that can be a bit of a turnoff for collectors.
A total of three subsets make up the E91 series produced by the American Caramel Company. Each subset contains 33 cards for a grand total of 99. The cards are designated in the American Card Catalog as E91-A, E91-B, and E91-C to separate the three groups of cards. E91-A cards were created in 1908, E91-B in 1909, and E91-C in 1910.
Each subset looks virtually the same and there are no card numbers. The player artwork is in the same manner across the three subsets and the layout is the same as well. So how can collectors differentiate between three? For one thing, while some players are duplicated, there is a mixture of players in the three subsets. And fortunately, the three checklists are all displayed on the back in their entirety.
Finally, collectors can sometimes differentiate between the three sets based on the players’ teams. While E91-A and E91-B both feature the same teams (Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago), E91-C is different in that it includes only players from Pittsburgh, Washington, and Boston. Looking for a player such as former Pirates great Honus Wagner, for example? Know that you’ll find him in E91-C.
In terms of overall rarity, none of the three subsets are known to be significantly more difficult to find than the other.
While each of the three subsets includes several lesser players, there is a nice roster here. Each subset has its share of stars and Hall of Famers.
In E91-A, collectors will find players such as Hall of Famers Chief Bender, Roger Bresnahan, Mordecai Brown, Frank Chance, Jimmy Collins, John Evers, Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, John McGraw, Eddie Plank, and Joe Tinker. Many of the same players are found in E91-B. Also there are Hall of Famers Home Run Baker and Rube Marquard.
Since the teams are different in the E91-C set, that one includes a significantly different roster. That issue includes Wagner, Fred Clarke, Harry Hooper, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, Vic Willis, and Smokey Joe Wood.
There’s a star-studded lineup included among the three subsets, but there are also some notable players missing because of the teams included. The biggest? Easily Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Cy Young. Also missing in action were several other big name players such as Hal Chase, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, to name a few.
Still, despite those omissions and a limited checklist, there are enough Hall of Famers to keep collectors happy.
One of the great aspects of the E91 cards is their affordability compared to other issues. Low-grade commons can be found on eBay for $20 or less and even ungraded mid-grade cards can be added to your collection for around $50-$75.
Stars, of course, are significantly more expensive. The biggest of the bunch are Wagner, Mathewson, and Johnson. Mathewson and Johnson in raw mid-grade condition generally will start around $500 on up, depending on condition. Wagner is a little more pricey and it’s hard to find even a better lower-grade card at under $750.
You can see what’s currently listed here.
Complete sets are extremely rare, but do occasionally come up for sale. One in low-mid grade condition sold back in 2014 for nearly $8,000.