In thinking of what represents true Americana, the things that come to mind include – Baseball, Apple Pie, and yep Cracker Jack.
In the 1896 song “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, Cracker Jack was given its official stamp of American approval in the line “Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack“.
While the Cracker Jack brand first got notice at the World’s Fair in 1893, it was its association with baseball which brought it to the forefront of American culture.
Many kids are most certainly familiar with the small toys included in boxes of Cracker Jack, yet it was two years (1914 to 1915) that Cracker Jack showed its true allegiance to baseball by including cards with its caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts.
The Cracker Jack baseball cards are today one of the most revered sets in the history of the hobby. In this piece, we take a look at the history of Cracker Jack and examine the details of the two card sets.
A History Of The Cracker Jack Company
German immigrant F.W. Rueckheim invented Cracker Jack - a snack consisting of molasses flavored caramel coated popcorn and peanuts. Rueckheim came to Chicago in 1872 and worked selling popcorn. With his brother Louis, they
developed the Cracker Jack brand and sold it at Chicago's World Fair in 1893.
It was initially just called 'Candied Popcorn and Peanuts' but the early read from customers was that they loved the snack, yet didn't love the stickiness. In 1896, they gave one of their sales members some a new non-sticky formula, which was not like their initial invention. Legend has it that the salesperson shouted 'That's a a crackerjack!' with the word 'crackerjack' slang at the time for meaning something really good.
The 'Cracker Jack' name was registered in 1896 yet it wasn't until 1908 when Cracker Jack really started to take off. That's when the song 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame", which featured the words 'Cracker Jack' in its lyrics, was released.
Take Me Out To The Ball Game
Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.
In 1899 the Ruekeheim brothers started selling Cracker Jack in boxes after teaming up with Henry Eckstein. Eckstein invented a wax covered box which kept the snacks fresher for longer. As a way to improve sales, they offered kids a mail in offer to redeem prizes, yet in 1912 they started including small toys in each box. It wasn't until 1914, when Cracker Jack started including baseball cards in its boxes.
Did You Know?
Not only did Cracker Jack get it's start at Chicago's World Fair in 1893 but so did many other notable products and traditions. Some of the notables include Juicy Fruit gum, Cream of Wheat, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Aunt Jemima pancake mix, the Ferris Wheel, the Pledge of Allegiance and a device for making Braille.
A Closer Look At Cracker Jack Baseball Cards
Cracker Jack cards have such a classic look and it's no surprise that the two sets are among the most popular in the hobby. The nostalgia of the 'Cracker Jack' name and its association with baseball make this a highly sought after issue for all collectors.
While the T206 White Borders set tends to capture the intrigue and interest of all newer vintage collectors, it's the Cracker Jack sets which are now at the forefront of any more experienced (and deep pocketed) collectors.
Cracker Jack cards (designated as E-145 in the American Card Catalog) were issued in boxes of Cracker Jack, replacing the normal toy prizes that had begun in 1912. Given that they were inserted in boxes next to caramel coated popcorn and peanuts, condition issues are quite common, notably staining from the caramel.
In 1915, Cracker Jack included cards inside each box, yet also offered customers the option to mail in for a full set of baseball cards (and to also avoid collecting candy stained cards). Collectors could mail in coupons for the full set along with the option to also obtain a custom album for the cards. Thus, condition issues are much more of a nuisance with the 1914 issue.
The fronts of the cards feature the Cracker Jack logo on a red border, flanked by beautiful illustrations of some of the best players from the 'dead-ball' era. The cards are also much larger than the popular tobacco issues of the era, measuring 2 1/4" x 3".
The 1914 set consists of 144 cards, while the 1915 issue contains 176 cards. The backs of the 1914 and 1915 cards are identical, with the minor difference being that the backs of the 1915 issue are upside down.
As shown of the back of the Napoleon Lajoie issue from the 1914 set, the card number is placed at the top of the card, with a short biography for the player.
There is also a short blurb at the bottom noting that the set 'has 144 pictures of stars in the American, National and Federal Leagues'. They also note that their 'first issue is 10,000,000 pictures'.
Based on some of my research, I discovered some commentary from the Net54 Forums which shows that the first half of the 1914 set was printed with '10,000,000 pictures' notation, while the second half upped the number to '15,000,000 pictures'.
I'm not sure if Cracker Jack printed 10 Million cards or 15 Million cards but I think it's safe to say that these cards were printed in the millions. However, at the time, most of these cards were either tossed or as one user at the Net54 forums surmises, 'went to paper drives for war efforts'.
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The first 144 cards in the 1915 set contain the same 144 players and illustrations from the 1914 issue, with one minor exception being the Christy Mathewson card. The 1915 set includes an additional 30 cards (#145-#176) that are not a part of the 1914 set.
What Are The Differences Between 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack Sets?
As previously noted, the 1915 backs are flipped upside down whereas the 1914 backs which are not flipped, presumably to help tell the difference between the fronts of the two sets.
Here's a look at the 1915 Cracker back of our previously examined Napoleon Lajoie card (note I flipped this card image upside down so we could read it). If you compare this card to the 1914 Cracker Jack Lajoie from the previous section, you'll notice some minor differences.
First there are some small additions to Lajoie's biography, most importantly the fact that he was 'sold to Philadelphia Americans in 1915'. The only other significant difference is the difference in wording at the bottom advertising section.
This includes the facts that collectors can send in 100 Cracker Jack coupons or 1 coupon and 25 cents for a complete 176 card set. An additional 50 coupons and 10 cents would have also landed you a full album to hold the cards. Wish I could score that deal now!
As also noted previously the fronts of the cards are identical except for one exception. Christy Mathewson (card #88) has two different illustrations used for the two sets; his 1914 card shows Mathewson in a throwing pose, whereas his 1915 card (also #88) shows a portrait illustration of Mathewson.
Lastly, the 1915 set has an additional 30 cards, numbered 145-176. These 30 cards don't carry major star power although it does include Hall of Famers Clark Griffith and Edd Rousch.
Cracker Jack Card Resources
How Rare Are Cracker Jack Cards?
From a scarcity standpoint, the 1914 Cracker Jack set is scarcer than the 1915 Cracker Jack set. PSA has graded ~4900 cards from the 1914 set and 13,000+ cards from the 1915 set. Thus, this means on average there are 34 PSA graded copies for each player in the 1914 set and an average of 74 PSA graded cards per player for the 1915 set.
I've also examined the SGC population for the Cracker Jack sets and to be honest it was a lot higher than I expected. SGC has graded ~3000 cards from the 1914 Cracker Jack set and another ~7000 cards from the 1915 Cracker Jack set.
Beckett Vintage Grading populations are quite low; only about 200 graded cards per set.
Thus in total, for the 1914 Cracker Jack set, there are ~8100 graded cards, or about 56 graded cards for each player in the set on average.
For the 1915 Cracker Jack set, there are a total of around 20,000 graded cards, meaning that there are roughly 114 graded cards on average.
Thus, even when considering all of the grading companies, the 1914 set is still about twice as scarce as the 1915 set.
How Much Are Cracker Jack Cards Worth?
Due to the nostalgia factor with the Cracker Jack brand, the beauty of the cards themselves, and the massive star power found throughout the set, the Cracker Jack cards are one of the most sought after pre-war vintage baseball sets in the hobby. This sense of high demand should also provide some clue that the Cracker Jack cards themselves are quite expensive, especially for some of the star players such as Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.
Common cards from the 1914 Cracker Jack sell for roughly $125 to $150 in Poor to Good condition. Commons from the 1915 Cracker Jack set are probably closer to the $100 to $125 range.
Here Are The Five Most Valuable Cards In The Cracker Jack Sets
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson #103
1914 Cracker Jack Value (PSA 2): $60,000+
1915 Cracker Jack Value (PSA 2): $11,000+
Christy Mathewson #88
1914 Cracker Jack Value (PSA 2): $40,000+
1915 Cracker Jack Value (PSA 2): $5,000+
Ty Cobb #30
1914 Cracker Jack Value (PSA 2): $17,000+
1915 Cracker Jack Value (PSA 2): $10,000+
Honus Wagner #68
1914 Cracker Jack Value (PSA 2): $7,000+
1915 Cracker Jack Value (PSA 2): $4,000+
Walter Johnson #30
1914 Cracker Jack Value (PSA 2): $4,000+
1915 Cracker Jack Value (PSA 2): $3,000+
How To Identify A Counterfeit Cracker Jack Card
There are a few key ways to help identify an authentic Cracker Jack card from an original. First, we have to remember that Cracker Jack cards were printed on a thin paper and not cardboard. Most counterfeit Cracker Jack cards will be printed on a much thicker cardboard stock. It might be tough to pinpoint if just examining photos, but after a while you should be able to tell the difference.
Here's a fake Cobb Cracker Jack card. If you compare it to the authentic version just below it, it's clear that there some things that are quite noticeable just from examining the photos. First the fake card looks thicker just by looking at the corners of the card. Secondly, the card is just too white. And note especially for the 1914 set, if the card has no stains, I would be very suspicious, especially if not graded.
Here's another key fact I discovered via the Net54 forums and collector Frank Ward:
Another characteristic of all real Cracker Jack cards, is there is no white ink on the cards. The white or light parts of the uniform is the natural paper color. Most fakes have a white ink for the white parts of uniform, that doesn;t match the white border of the card. Real cards will have the uniform blend perfectly into the white border where they meet.
Ward's expertise is super helpful, especially with examination of the Cobb cards above. You can see right above the Cobb text where the uniform is quite distinct from the border on the fake card, and not so much on the authentic copy.
Of course, the best way to ensure that you have an authentic card and not a copy is to utilize the black-light test, which we explain in our resource guide on counterfeit cards.
What's The Investment Potential Of Cracker Jack Cards?
Out of all the pre-war sets, I would say that the Cracker Jack cards are probably the ones with the most investment potential, even given their meteoric rise over the past decade. Of course, building a complete set will set a collector back into the six figures, but given the importance of this set to the hobby, I only think that price increases will be a norm for Cracker Jack over the ensuing years.
Note a good way to find Cracker Jack cards on eBay is via our sister site at All Vintage Search.
Cracker Jack Card Checklists
The Cracker Jack sets are chock full of star players of the day and hold one of the best collections of Hall of Famers and stars out of all pre-war baseball card sets.
1914 Cracker Jack Set Checklist
1915 Cracker Jack Set Checklist