While tobacco cards may be king of the pre-war era, early caramel and candy cards aren’t far behind. E-Cards, as they’re known to us today, included a variety of important sets from manufacturers such as the American Caramel Company. Over time, these cards evolved significantly. Here’s a brief look at that transformation.
The earliest E-Cards are often believed to be from the 1900s. However, a few early uncatalogued E-Card sets are known. Perhaps the earliest is the 1888 G&B Gum set (E223). This scarce issue, like others of the time period such as the Old Judge set, was printed using sepia imagery.
Little is known about the set, but it did produce a variety of big names, including Cap Anson and more. The cards contained the sepia pictures of players along with their name at the bottom. The G&B name is also added in the bottom border area of the cards.
That type of design was used for cards primarily in the late 1800s and it didn’t last long. Later in that decade, the utilization of color lithography became the preferred method of producing baseball cards.
E-Cards really started becoming popular in the early 1900s. After the success of the tobacco card sets, caramel and candy companies started creating cards for children. Children had already been hooked on the tobacco cards and, as sources document, that was even becoming a problem as some began smoking at early ages as they secured the cards.
The E-Cards produced in this time used color pictures. American Caramel company was one of the first ones out of the gate producing a set known today as E91-A in 1908. The set used generic pictures, which would be reused in 1909 and 1910 (E91-B and E91-C, respectively), and they also produced the popular E90 American Caramel sets in the same time period.
They were hardly the only player in the game, though. Philadelphia Caramel issued two of the most popular E-Card sets, E95 and E96. Croft Candy and other companies sponsored the E92 cards. Companies such as Mello-Mint, Williams Caramels, Nadja Caramels got in the act, too. All of these cards produced similarly-sized cards with a similar appearance to the popular tobacco cards of the same era.
All cards didn’t look alike, of course. Colgan’s Chips mints were round in shape and, as a result, the company produced round baseball cards. Some other regional sets had different looks and even American Caramel experimented with a die-cut set in 1910. But the majority of the common E-Cards from the 1908-1912 period followed a common script in terms of appearance.
Cracker Jack Breaks the Mold
With World War I in the mid to late 1910s, card issues came almost to a screeching halt. There weren’t many issues during that time period as collectors had bigger things to worry about.
But while there weren’t too many E-Cards produced during that time, we did get two of the most popular issues of all time in the E145 Cracker Jack sets. Produced in 1914 and 1915, these unique cards featured player pictures against a bright red background. The most unique aspect about the cards was their more square-like nature as opposed to the long, thin look of many other earlier sets. One could even argue that they were an early inspiration for the 1930s Goudey issues, which had the same sort of shape.
It is worth noting that American Caramel also produced a set during this era (E106), keeping their familiar thin rectangular look. But the Cracker Jack cards represented another shift just because they were so popular and widely collected.
That model didn’t last long, though. After the war, an entirely new look took over the E-Card classification.
After World War I ended, production of E-Cards picked up again. But the look of these sets was in stark contrast to others that were produced earlier. Instead of the colorful lithographic pictures, a new look featuring real black and white images became the standard.
American Caramel was again a common producer of E-Cards but they were preceded by the 1917 Collins-McCarthy set, which featured black and white pictures. American Caramel wasn’t far behind, though. Producing several sets in the 1920s (highlighted by the popular E120 and E121 issues), they again dominated the E-Card landscape. This time they did so with black and white photos. The E121 set is particularly important because numerous candy sponsors used these pictures for their own sets, including Witmor Candy, Keating Candy, Henry Johnson, Lou Gertenrich, and Shotwell Manufacturing.
Other black and white or sepia-style cards using real pictures cropped up, too.
One was the Canadian Curtis Ireland candy set produced in 1923. In 1928, the George Ruth Candy Company created a six-card set of The Babe. National Caramel, York Caramel, and Oxford Confectionery all got into the act as well, using real black and white images of ballplayers. The trend of using real pictures even caught on internationally. La Mallorquina Caramels, a Cuban company, produced a diminutive set of real-photo cards of players in 1927 and 1928.
E-Cards would ultimately give way to Jefferson Burdick’s R-Card designation for candy issues in the 1930s. But the changes of E-Cards throughout the years was apparent and the changes to their style and design make for a unique classification.