World War I is generally cited as lasting from 1914 through 1918. While the United States didn’t become heavily involved until the last two years of the conflict, the war’s impact was felt here, too.
Unlike World War II, when virtually no mainstream sets were produced, there were some key baseball card sets issued during the time frame of “The Great War.” Here’s a look at five of them:
1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack
The most iconic sets produced during the World War I time could be the 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack sets. Certainly, they are among the most distinctive with their bright red backgrounds.
The sets include a slew of stars including Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, and Christy Mathewson, among many others. The 1914 and 1915 years were somewhat unfortunate as they came just after the end of the career of players like Cy Young and just before the emergence of Babe Ruth. Still, plenty of big names are found in the sets and the cards have remained wildly popular with collectors. The two sets were similar but there are some players found in one that are not found in the other.
The cards are printed on thinner stock and are often heavily damaged with creases or even tears. Values for the cards have risen sharply in recent years and even commons in decent shape easily sell for more than $100.
1916 Mendelsohn/Sporting News Sets
Cataloged as M101-4 and M101-5, these World War I sets are often called the Sporting News sets. However, as we’ve written before, they were actually used by numerous entities. Cards with Sporting News advertisements on the back are among the more common but plenty of other advertisements are found on these cards, too. Additionally, some have blank backs.
The cards featured black and white pictures of players and the two sets are nearly identical with the exception of some numbering and checklisting differences.
The sets include some big names but these are most known for producing the major league rookie card of Babe Ruth. The Ruth rookie card has become one of the most expensive ones in the hobby, often selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
1914 Polo Grounds Set
The 1914 Polo Grounds set was actually one of many produced as a game of playing cards. One side included an image of Polo Grounds stadium while the other pictured a player and a game action.
Found in the set are numerous Hall of Famers and stars, despite the fact that the set includes only 30 cards. Collectors will find cards of Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Nap Lajoie, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Eddie Plank, Smoky Joe Wood, and many more.
As a game issue, the cards are generally quite affordable. Commons can be found for as little as $15-$20 and even stars and the lesser Hall of Famers are often under $100. Even the biggest stars in the best condition are affordable by comparison. A perfectly-graded PSA 10 Honus Wagner card recently sold on eBay for $2,270 but most examples from this set–even Hall of Famers–can be found for much less.
1915 E106 American Caramel Set
Collectors seeing these World War I era cards for the first time may recognize many of the images. That’s because they were used in several other sets.
The E106 American Caramel set includes only 48 cards but is not an easy one to assemble. These cards are rarer than American Caramel’s more popular E90-1 set. They feature a color image of a player on the front as well as an advertisement for American Caramel on the back, identifying the card as one of 48 in the set. Also as stated on the back, the cards were distributed by the company with every piece of the Baseball Caramel. A few dozen are usually on eBay.
Also noteworthy here are the World War I era D303 General Baking and Mothers’ Bread sets. Those sets featured the same card fronts as those found in the E106 American Caramel set but have different backs. They are also believed to have been printed in 1915. The fronts of these cards were also used in the rare 1916 Tango Eggs set.
1914 Piedmont Art Stamps Set
The 1914 Piedmont Art Stamps set was a redux of sorts of the popular American Tobacco Company T205 issue from a few years earlier.
These white-bordered stamps didn’t have the gold borders found in that set. However, they did use the same pictures of players from that set on the fronts, which also included the Piedmont Art Stamps name. Backs included an advertisement for Piedmont cigarettes, which was also a brand that had their advertisements on the aforementioned T205 cards.
Stamps included a mention that there were 100 baseball stamps in the series. But in actuality, more than that were printed. Piedmont also offered a special collector album in exchange for Piedmont 25 coupons. The offer for the album extended to 1915 so it is possible that these were also printed in that year as well.
Many collectors have heard of these stamps but they are not easy to find in quantity. Further, they are classified as T330-2 in the American Card Catalog. There are many other stamps in the T330 series, including stamps for birds, animals, fish, flags, soldiers, and nations. A few Hall of Famers are on eBay and prices are somewhat reasonable.
1917 Collins-McCarthy (E135)
These cards have the player’s name, position, team, and a card number at the bottom. They were issued by San Francisco-based Collins-McCarthy, a candy company. Like the M101-4 and M101-5 sets, this set also had 200 cards. With a total of 200 in the set, each card states that 199 others are available on the reverse. Issued in 1917, this is one of the few sets distributed in the year that the U.S. became an active participant in the war. They’re challenging but several dozen can are on eBay.
The Collins-McCarthy name will be familiar to some collectors. Before this set, they produced the Home Run Kisses set, attributed to 1912.
Like some others here, it’s important to note that the same pictures and players were also used elsewhere. More specifically, collectors will find these pictures in the H801-8 The Boston Store, D350-2 Standard Biscuit, D328 Weil Baking, and the unclassified Merchants Bakery releases.