Breaking into Pre-War Collecting: Early Caramel/Candy Cards

Continuing on with the series of various types of cards, in this article I’m going to take a look at E-Cards.

These cards are defined as early caramel and candy cards. They generally range from the early 1900s through the 1920s with a few exceptions. Here’s a brief history and rundown on these cards.

The Be’gum’ning

y95-carutherse223-069-greerOkay, I’ll see myself out for that title.

While most collectors believe that E-Cards didn’t start until the early 1900s, they actually began earlier than that with a couple of gum sets.

Possibly the earliest issue is a set that was previously categorized as a tobacco issue – the 1887 H.D.S. Scrapps Die-Cuts. These, however, turned out to be early gum cards, as documented in this 2014 discovery.

A little-known issue was then produced in 1888 – the G&B (Green and Blackwell) Gum set. The cards don’t look anything like your typical caramel/candy cards and that’s because of the era. Most cards from that time period utilized sepia images and that’s what was done for these.

In 1903, we got another early set in the E107 Breisch-Williams cards. Produced in 1903-04, this set is extremely rare and features black and white cards. They set is sort of a hybrid of E-Cards as it used black and white images of the cards similar to the 1920s sets but on a smaller, traditional E-Card as those found around 1910.

While we often think of E-Cards as caramel cards or cards for other types of candy, gum cards were actually the origins of the classification.

The Boom

e90-2-10-wagnere90-3-08-gandilWhen most collectors think of E-Cards, they tend to think of the 1910s or 1920s issues. The heyday, so to speak, for the E-Cards started around 1909. Tobacco cards had previously been popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and now candy companies wanted in on the action.

Probably the biggest reason that candy companies started producing cards was because the tobacco cards were extremely popular with children. This led to a major problem as children began annoying adults for the cards that came with the cigarettes and, worse yet, some started smoking themselves.

1909 was really the year when we start to see things take off. That year we saw a number of substantial issues, including the popular E90-1 American Caramel set, the anonymous E101 and E102 sets, the E97 C.A. Briggs set, the four (Croft Candy, Croft Cocoa, Dockman, Nadja) E92 issues, and the E95 Philadelphia Caramel set. The round Colgan’s Chips cards also began in 1909.

That was a big year for cards but it was outdone in 1910.

Things didn’t slow down then as we saw all sorts of interesting cards. American Caramel not only continued its E90 series with the E90-2 and E90-3 cards but also finished a three-year series it started in 1908, the E91 set. We saw another mysteriously anonymous set, E98. Mello-Mint (E105) and Nadja (E104) also had sets. There was also the continuation of the Philadelphia Caramel sets with E96 as well as the introduction of two new caramel company issues, Standard Caramel (E93) and Williams Caramel (E104).

Early Oddities

1910 All Star Baseball Boxese125-hartzellAs more and more E-Cards started entering the market, companies started getting more and more creative. Instead of basic issues, a slew of different types of cards came onto the scene.

First, we began to see companies printing cards directly onto packages. This was a smart idea because it not only allowed children to see the collectible but they also saved the cost of printing an additional card and stuffing it into packages.

A 1910 product named All Star Base-Ball Candy got the ball rolling in this regard. They printed baseball cards onto the exterior of candy boxes, even going so far as to reuse images that were used in other sets. That same year, Darby Chocolates did the same thing and Burdick cataloged that set as E271 as did an orange-bordered set – the 1910 George Davis Orange Borders cards. Two more releases followed shortly after in the 1911/1912 Baseball Bats cards and the 1912 J=K cards. The box card phase would die out rather quickly but would be seen again in the 1920s with the 1921 Babe Ruth Schapira cards.

But boxes weren’t the only things being used. There were a few other odd-looking cards as well. One of the more prominent ones were the E286 Ju-Ju Drums. Like the Colgan’s Chips cards, the product these came with was in a round container so these cards were round. While collectors can sometimes confuse these two sets, these are two completely different sets with the Ju-Ju cards being much rarer.

American Caramel, which had been producing regular-looking cards for a couple of years, also stepped out of its comfort zone. In 1910, they produced a unique die-cut set of cards now known as E125.

Minor League Explosion

e100-1-11-lerchen-yellowZeenutWhile most of these were major league sets, it didn’t take long for minor leagues to get involved. Because minor league E-Cards were generally regional, they’re rarer than most and, as a result, often more expensive despite the fact that they don’t offer a ton of well-known players.

A company named Bishop & Company was the most aggressive in this regard, producing numerous sets for Pacific Coast League players. Their E99 and E100 sets featured individual players in 1910 and 1911, respectively. And in 1910, they also produced a unique team foldout cataloged as E221. An obscure set for the Virginia League produced by A.W.H. Caramels (E222) was also made in 1910. Another company, Big Eater (based in California), joined Bishop & Company in its Pacific Coast League ventures, creating a 1911 set for Big Eater Candy focusing on the Sacramento Solons of the League.

Without a doubt, however, the most popular minor league issues of the E-Card series are the Zee-Nut cards. Produced from 1911 through 1938, this is a massive issue consisting of what is believed to be more than 3,000 total cards. These black and white cards changed design several times and are collected quite a bit. Zee-Nuts are similar to the N172 Old Judge cards in that, while it isn’t particularly hard to find a Zee-Nut in general, finding specific ones can be a daunting challenge.


Collins E145 Cracker JackWith World War I occurring from 1914-18, the production of baseball cards came to a screeching halt. All issues, not just candy cards, slowed drastically.

A few issues came out, though – none bigger than the 1914 Cracker Jack and 1915 Cracker Jack cards. These cards undoubtedly stood out even more at the time as there were few competing issues.

Cracker Jack did see some competition, however, in a familiar company – American Caramel. American Caramel produced one set after exiting the market for a few years in their 1915 E106 issue. A few other sets (notably, the regional 1914 Texas Tommy (E224) regional set (and the 1917 Collins-McCarthy set) released cards. But the Cracker Jacks are the biggest cards from that era.

The Cracker Jack cards are distinctly different from other E-Cards. They are thinner and distinctive by the bold red background. More importantly, they actually resembled the 1930s gum cards, which typically utilized a shape much closer to a square.

But while this was a down period for caramel/candy cards they returned with a bang in the 1920s.


E120 American CaramelE-Cards came back with a bang once the 1920s hit. Most importantly, the cards had a brand new look. While the earlier E-Cards mostly used color lithographs, the later ones often had real black and white images.

Leading the way, as they had earlier, was American Caramel.

After their 1915 release, American Caramel returned in 1921 and 1922 with the E120 (shown here), E121, and E122 sets. These cards featured larger cards that were primarily black and white issues. E120 and E121, in particular, are some of the most popular E-Card sets. That is also seen in that the images were reused for a variety of other issues. E120 cards were printed with blank backs (known as W573 cards) and also for various other companies. E121s were even more popular. You can find cards with those designs on more than a dozen other sets.

The early 1920s also saw a few other issues. Two of the more prominent ones are National Caramel’s 1921-23 E220 set as well as the 1921 Oxford Confectionery set and a few others sprang up as well.

Winding Down

e285 Rittenhousee210-19-bancroftAs Jefferson Burdick loosely defined (more on that in a bit) E-Cards as ending around 1930, we’re now at the end of the categorization. But there were some late 1920s issues that still fit here.

The late 1920s cards were actually pretty interesting since it was a bit of a transition period. The way candy/gum cards looked was about to change and it looks like manufacturers really didn’t know what cards should look like at this time.

American Caramel was holding true to their ‘new’ design with black and white pictures in their final issue, the 1927 E126 set. Babe Ruth had a candy company, the George Ruth Candy Company, and they produced a set in 1928 that used real pictures of the slugger but had an odd, shape resembling something of a bookmark.

A company called Leader Novelty Candy used real pictures as well in their 1929 issue, but had a variety of single-color tints added to them. And an international set jumped into the act, too, as the 1927-28 La Mallorquina Caramels cards were about an inch tall. The 1928 and 1929 Star Player Candy sets featured sepia cards. Interestingly, as football was an emerging sport, Star Player Candy also produced some football cards, too. Those were some of the few E-Cards produced in any of the other three major sports.

There were more differences still. The 1927-28 York Caramel cards combined the smaller size of earlier cards with black and white images. Finally, the 1933 Rittenhouse Candy set categorized as E285 had a playing card design with letters printed on the backs as part of a contest.

There have always been some variances between card designs/shapes but card types were really all over the place at the end of the E-Card era.

Dating Issues

Burdick declared that E-Cards went until the ‘early 1930s’. This ambiguous dating has caused some confusion for uncataloged sets as gum/candy cards after that were to be called R-Cards.

So what is a 1932 card? Or a 1933 card? Well, Burdick clears this up a little with his R-Card designation, which he says is for cards from 1930 and on. But there’s still confusion here when you look at things like the 1933 Rittenhouse set, designated as E285. Now, to be fair to Burdick, he was unsure of the date of this issue and only says it is from ‘around’ 1930. But even that aside, his early 1930s categorization for early E-Cards is a little fuzzy since R-Cards are more roundly defined as beginning in 1930. If nothing else, it would seem that a 1930 issue could be either an E-Card or an R-Card.

The easiest way to classify uncataloged issues is probably to consider pre-1930 candy/gum cards as E-Cards and cards from 1930 and later as R-Cards.

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