While pre-war cards are associated with World War II, issues from the World War I era always fascinate me. Production of tobacco and caramel cards was at an all-time high around 1910 but, as you might expect, production of baseball cards heavily dipped during World War I.
Even if you only count the massive T206 set as one release, there were still about 100 baseball card sets printed from 1909 through 1913. From 1914 through 1918? Similar to T206, if we count the M101-4 and M101-5 sets as one set (they had many sponsor advertising backs), there were only about 1/3 as many printed.
Many of those sets, too, were of the smaller or regional variety. Only a few major sets were printed during that time and here’s a look at most of them.
1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack (E145)
These were among the most significant sets to come out of the World War I era. About the only thing more important may be the M101-4 and M101-5 sets, which boast Babe Ruth’s professional rookie card. The Cracker Jack sets were much different than other cards of that time period, which were mostly printed on narrow, vertical cards.
These had more of a square shape, similar to what we would see with the 1930s gum cards before they would evolve into the standard 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ cards we know today. The 1914 set, by its own admission, was printed in large quantities with 15 million cards said to have been produced.
While we don’t know how many cards were printed in the 1915 set, we know it had a larger checklist. 144 cards were included in the 1914 release while 1915 had 176. Most of the cards in the 1915 set were practically the same ones from 1914 but there were several new additions.
Both are widely collected today but the 1914 set is much rarer than the 1915 release.
1914 Baltimore News
The 1914 Baltimore News issue was a regional set and, ordinarily, I wouldn’t have included it here in a list of major issues. But it’s known for one thing and that is the inclusion of a Babe Ruth minor league rookie card.
Ruth’s card features him as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, a minor league team in the International League. It’s a supremely rare card and, despite the fact that it was a small, regional set, deserves recognition just for the Ruth card alone.
The Ruth card, as you might expect, is quite desirable. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive cards in the hobby today. It hasn’t quite reached Honus Wagner T206 levels yet but sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars in virtually any condition.
They rarely hit the auction block but one graded a PSA 1 (Poor) sold for nearly $500,000 back in 2013.
1914 Coupon (T213 Type 2)
The T213 Coupon Cigarettes cards were printed in the 1910s, likely in three separate batches. Today, we identify the set by those printings with Type 1 cards being printed first, Type 2 being printed from around 1914-16, and Type 3 coming in 1919.
The cards are similar to the famous T206 set, using the same pictures and layout. That’s particularly true for the Type 1 cards, which are believed to have been printed in 1910. They are virtually identical to T206 cards and should probably be considered part of that set, as I’ve written before.
The Coupon cards we’re particularly interested in here for the purposes of this article are the Type 2 cards. Those were produced in the middle of the war and differed slightly from the Type 1 cards.
The back advertisements were different and the font on the front was changed from a dark brown to a lighter blue color. The style of font was also different as well. And produced several years after the Type 1 cards, these are definitively not T206 cards.
1915 American Caramel (E106) … and associated sets
American Caramel had produced several sets prior to this one and would return after the war to print more. But they also printed one in 1915, known today as E106.
The cards looked like American Caramel’s standard issues that had preceded it – color lithographs and limited type at the bottom with white borders. The backs indicated there was a total of 48 cards in the entire set.
For American Caramel, the cards also represented a changing of the guard of sorts. This was the final set of cards with that design as the post-war issues were black and white releases that used real pictures of players.
Pre-war collectors will note that the pictures were used in quite a few sets. It should be noted that the D303 General Baking set, the D303 Mother’s Bread set, and the 1916 Tango Eggs set were all also printed at or about the same time and used most of the same pictures as found in this issue.
The primary difference between the American Caramel cards and these sets is that the back advertisements were different.
1916 M101-4 and M101-5
These were among the larger sets in the pre-war era. The 1916 M101-4 and M101-5 sets were produced by Felix Mendelsohn and have similar, but slightly, different checklists. At 200 cards in each one, completing a set isn’t particularly easy.
The cards are often called the Sporting News sets as many of them are found with Sporting News advertisements on the back. But Sporting News was just one of the companies using the cards. Mendelsohn is said to have taken these cards to many different companies to distribute with them printing their own advertisements on the backs. As a result, there are about 20 different backs that can be found on the cards.
The set is loaded with big name players but is famous for cards featuring Babe Ruth and Joe Jackson. The Ruth in particular is desirable because it is seen as his professional rookie card.
1917 Collins-McCarthy (E135)
Do these cards look similar to the ones above? They should!
These cards have a similar design/layout to the M101-4 and M101-5 cards but used different pictures for players. While they look similar to those from a design standpoint, the difference would be quite clear if you held the cards in front of you. The E135 cards were significantly wider and at 2″ x 3″, in fact, even resembled today’s style of cards.
The cards have the player’s name, position, team, and a card number at the bottom. The backs had advertisements for Collins-McCarthy, a candy company based in San Francisco, CA. Like the M101-4 and M101-5 sets, this release also had 200 cards.
Collins-McCarthy wasn’t the only one to use these cards. The same pictures and players were also used in the H801-8 The Boston Store, D350-2 Standard Biscuit, D328 Weil Baking, and the unclassified Merchants Bakery issue.
Like the E106 American Caramel issue and the other sets using those pictures/players, the difference between the Collins-McCarthy set and the others is that they all had different back advertisements for their particular products.