Most of the time when collectors want a taste of pre-war cards, they head to eBay or another online site, a local card shop, or perhaps a card show. But finding pre-war cards isn’t limited to those options.
Some card companies and distributors have taken to offering pre-war cards as inserts in unopened boxes. And while finding something of substance might be difficult, some recent pulls proved that making a nice find is still possible.
A product called Gems of the Game is a “repack box” that typically includes several packs of previously released trading cards along with a single graded card that serves as the hit. They’re created by MJ Holding Company, a huge distributor of trading card products for big box retail stores. It’s essentially a box of random lower end baseball packs and a single card that’s been graded.
Among the cards inserted into those boxes this year are genuine E98 caramel cards that have been graded by Beckett. The E98 set included a total of 30 cards and is believed to have been distributed in 1910.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with two collectors that have found high-grade E98s in the boxes.
Justin Quade of Minnesota is one. He spotted of the boxes in a local Wal-Mart for $19.99 and tried his luck.
The result of his purchase?
An E98 of Hall of Famer Johnny Evers. The card, even in low-grade condition, would be quite a nice score. But his pull was all the more notable because the Evers was graded an 8 by Beckett. Quade’s card is seen below. He also detailed his find on his YouTube channel.
E98s in similar condition have sold for a lot more than $19.98.
Quade was not the only collector to have luck finding pre-war cards in the boxes. In Canada, reports of very nice hits are being found. Collector Costa Kladianos got his score from a Wal-Mart in Oakville, a suburb of Toronto, Canada…or we should say his wife did. She bought it for him just to be nice.
“My wife actually picked it out for me thinking I would like it because she’s not a card person,” Kladianos said. “So I appreciated it, but knowing that these repack boxes are considered not the best product and seeing online how the graded card is usually like a modern common graded BCCG 10, I didn’t expect much.”
Suffice to say, he was plenty surprised.
Kladianos pulled an impressive Beckett graded 8 card of star player Hal Chase in his box. Chase is not a Hall of Famer but his cards often sell on par with those of Cooperstown inductees and he was one of the first true stars of the New York Yankees/Highlanders franchise. His Chase card is shown here. Seeing the age of the card and its immaculate condition, he was initially skeptical.
“After pulling it, I was in shock thinking it was a reprint or something,” Kladianos said. “I’m a vintage collector but not much high dollar items as they are out of my price range.”
Kladianos who has some T206 cards in his collection and is building a 1956 Topps set says he does open some newer Topps and Bowman products. But to date, he has never pulled anything quite like the Chase card before. Its value is likely well over $500.
Boxes have disappeared from some Walmart and Target stores but you can find a few on eBay at a little bit of a markup.
So the question many collectors will have is, how could these cards from so long ago remain in such good condition? If you’re new to the hobby or don’t remember, a large group of E98 cards were found as part of what is now known as The Black Swamp Find back in 2012. Found in the attic of an old Ohio home, they appeared virtually untouched for over 100 years, likely never distributed to youngsters or some early adult hobbyists. Their discovery upended the population report as numerous were graded 8, 9 and even 10.
I spoke briefly with Beckett’s Senior Vintage Grader Andy Broome about the cards but he could not confirm they originated with the Black Swamp Find. Collectors seeing the high grades may associate them with it, though, just because finding high-grade caramel cards like this in nearly perfect condition would be an incredible rarity. PSA graded the cards from the original find. The Evers was graded by Beckett in 2019 so whether it was crossed over or there’s another explanation isn’t known.
Cards from the Black Swamp Find, while valuable, are significantly less pricey than other caramel cards in high-grade condition that were not part of similar finds. For example, an Evers E98 Black Swamp Find card graded a PSA 8 sold in a 2017 REA auction for $1,440. If the card was another Evers caramel card that was circulated and graded that high, it would be worth much more. Because of the abundance of cards that were part of the Black Swamp Find, prices for them are considerably lower in comparison with other caramel cards.
Who knows what the future will hold in terms of additional finds from the boxes — more are out there. But Kladianos did reveal his plans in hopes of landing another big card in an unopened product.
“From now on I’m getting my wife to pick anything I want to rip.”