Can 1914 Cracker Jack Cards Give Insight Into Survival Rate of Pre-War Cards?
The 1914 Cracker Jack cards (and, subsequently, the 1915 Cracker Jacks) are among the most popular pre-war cards of all time. The cards are known for their bright red backgrounds and some poses, particularly the Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb cards, are iconic images.
The cards, if you’re unfamiliar with them, were included inside of Cracker Jack products at a rate of one per package. While the company became known for inserting toys and all sorts of things inside of its snack products, baseball cards are the things that are easily the most valuable.
Interestingly enough, the 1914 cards also give a little bit of insight into just how few pre-war cards have survived over the years.
That’s a big number, right? Yep. But that’s also the number of cards that Cracker Jack said they were printing in 1914.
While tracking down production numbers for pre-war cards is often a nearly impossible task, Cracker Jack actually helped us out by throwing that number right out there for all to see.
Here’s the deal.
A total of 144 different Cracker Jack cards were printed in the 1914 set. While the 1915 cards say nothing about production, the backs of the 1914 cards are a different story. The first half or so of the 144-card set states that 10,000,000 cards were made. The second half states that 15,000,000 were made.
It is sometimes not immediately clear if that was to indicate a total of 15,000,000 cards or if it meant that 10,000,000 of cards No. 1-72 were made and 15,000,000 of 73-144 were made, but a closer look makes it clear that it’s the former. The reason for that is that both statements mention that is the number for the first issue. By first issue, they are clearly referring to the 1914 set as a whole. If the two groups (1-72 and 73-144) were considered two series’, the 15,000,000 count would obviously indicate as such and call that the second issue.
So with that out of the way, we’ve got a total production of 15,000,000 cards.
So the next question would be, is that accurate? My guess there would be yes for a couple of reasons.
First, while that sounds like a lot, it’s hardly out of the ordinary. Scot Reader in his excellent online T206 book estimates that approximately 370 million T206 cards were produced. That number is an estimate and could even be significantly off. But it’s very clear that a ton of those cards were produced and, while that set was issued over three years, 15 million would be a drop in the bucket compared to that. Is 15 million doable? For sure.
Second, consider the number change as I mentioned. Cracker Jack, for whatever reason, upped the total of cards produced from 10 million to 15 million. Why would they do that? Most likely to reflect an increase in production. It isn’t likely (at least not to me) that the number would be exaggerated and then exaggerated even more all within the same year. If the 10 million figure was exaggerated to begin with, my guess is that number would not have changed. Demand likely exceeded production and the company had to produce even more cards than they anticipated.
The next logical question is, would demand really be that high? Probably.
As I wrote in a recent caramel card article here, production of caramel and candy cards really hit a lull in the 1910s, likely due to World War I. While all sorts of caramel cards were plentiful from 1909-12, there was a major drop off after that until things picked up again after the war. Cracker Jacks were one of the few sets available and they were undoubtedly popular. That, after all, is evidenced by the large amount produced, the increased number, and the fact that Cracker Jack created an even larger set the following year.
I have little doubt that the demand warranted that many being produced.
So … What?
Assuming that number is complete, what can we get from it? Well, thankfully with the help of population reports, we now can get an idea of how many of existing cards are out there.
To date, PSA, SGC, and Beckett have graded just under 7,500 cards from the 1914 Cracker Jack set. Does that account for all of them? Not by a long shot. Many cards out there are undoubtedly raw.
However, to get some kind of benchmark, I figured I’d check eBay to see just how many raw ones were there as opposed to graded ones. The answer is not many. Only a handful of the 200+ 1914 Cracker Jack cards available were raw and ungraded. All others had been slabbed.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say that a disproportionately number of raw cards exists out there just to really cover the bases. Some old time collectors surely have a few near complete sets, after all. And large collections are occasionally found, such as this find of (171) 1914 and 1915 cards in 2016. Let’s double (slightly more than double, actually) the number of graded issues and say that there are about 15,000 total Cracker Jack cards out there.
That conveniently works out from a math standpoint for us as our original starting number was 15 million. Taking the 15,000 left, that leaves us with exactly one-tenth of one percent that have survived.
In other words, .001. Using this math, that’s roughly how many of these cards from the original production exist today.
Could that be Correct?
Obviously that’s a very small number but, that too makes sense. Consider that many cards were likely immediately discarded by non-baseball fans. Then consider that many may have been initially kept only to be soon discarded later.
Then consider the ones that were kept a little longer, but discarded as kids got older. We talk a lot about kids’ collections from the 1950s being thrown out my unsuspecting mothers but that surely happened in older times as well. And don’t forget, unlike tobacco cards, these were marketed towards kids and not adults. Adult collectors may have been a little more inclined to keep them. Kids? Not as likely.
Then consider the paper drives of World War II. Even if cards had somehow made it that far, they didn’t really possess any true value and some were probably lost there as well.
Additionally, the Cracker Jack cards were not exactly built for the long haul. The cards were thin by today’s standards, which is why many of them have been heavily damaged, creating much demand for ones that are in good condition. The cards were easily damaged and, frankly, somewhat expendable.
Finally, consider all of the other circumstances that would lead to cards being thrown away or discarded. Fires, natural disasters, spring cleaning over the course of a century, etc. Remember, we’re talking more than 100 years ago here. In short, that number makes sense to me.
This is only one set and other issues have survived at better or worse rates over the years. But the 1914 Cracker Jack set gives us an interesting look at just how few some pre-war cards have survived over time.