Early Caramel Cards Appear to be Underappreciated … and Undervalued

Early caramel cards (known as E-Cards) are certainly collected but tobacco cards still remain king of the popularity contest when it comes to pre-war issues. T205 and T206 are among the most widely collected sets and while things like the early caramel cards are desirable, they aren’t nearly on the radar of as many people.

One of the biggest reasons for that is almost certainly rarity. Several tobacco issues, of course, are difficult to find. But others such as T205 and T206 are almost always available by comparison. These days, it seems like it’s difficult to get collectors to realize how truly rare these cards are.

To get an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s take a look at some of the population reports for common tobacco and caramel sets.

Caramel vs. Tobacco Rarity Comparisons

T205 BallE90 BellPSA and SGC have graded well over 300,000 T206 cards, making it one of the most (if not the most) populous pre-war sets. T205 is far less common but with around 70,000 cards graded, still relatively abundant.

Meanwhile, population reports show a much different story on some of the populous early caramel sets. E90-1 American Caramel, one of the more popular issues, has only about 10,000 graded examples. American Caramel’s 3-year E91 set is extremely difficult to build as it is even rarer with around 3,000 graded cards. Some might point out that those sets are smaller with around 100 cards in each set. But even the larger issues, such as the 1920s E120 and E121 American Caramel sets were produced later and still have significantly under 10,000 graded cards apiece. And keep in mind that E90-1, E120, and E121, in particular, are some of the more abundant sets.

This isn’t just about taking the most common sets and looking at them in a vacuum, either. Even expanding our analysis to compare those caramel issues with other popular tobacco sets still shows the caramel cards as being significantly rarer. T201 Mecca Double Folders cards, for example, are further down the pecking order but still have nearly 20,000 graded examples. T202 Hassan Triple Folders? More than 15,000. Both are much rarer than T205 and T206 but far more available than the caramel sets we discussed.

To find popular tobacco sets on a similar rarity level, you have to go down to things like the T204 Ramly issue where there are about 5,000 graded examples. And even then, cards like the E91, are still more scarce. The Ramly set, actually, is a good place to change gears. Let’s compare those with caramel cards on a price level.

Pricing Comparisons with, say, T204 Ramly

t204-carriganIn reviewing all of those numbers, probably the one that stuck out to me the most as the number for the T204 Ramly cards.

T204 Ramly cards are not easy to find and generally considered a tough tobacco issue. What surprised me a little is just how they measured up to even the more common caramel cards. The T204 cards are significantly rarer than the E90-1 set as well as the 1920s American Caramel sets, but let’s compare it to some other populous ones.

I chose the Ramly set because, as stated, the cards are generally considered to be a rare issue. The comparison seemed even more appropriate because the relative rarity was in the ballpark of several of the sets I’ve mentioned so far in this article. It does have more cards (121) than the caramel sets I’m about to mention but the amount of them in existence is still an eye opener with something like the E91 American Caramel set, which has a fair amount of cards with 99.

As a point of illustration, here’s a table showing the approximate numbers from the population reports of Ramly cards vs. the popular caramel sets.

Set Total Estimated Graded Population
T204 Ramly 4,700
E91 American Caramel 2,900
E92 4,300
E95 Philadelphia Caramel 4,300
E96 Philadelphia Caramel 2,000

Funny thing is that while all of these caramel sets appear to be rarer (in some cases, significantly), the Ramly has them all beat in terms of pricing for the most part. In fact, for some cards, the pricing blows them away.

Values, of course, depend on condition and player. But low-grade commons for those caramel sets are generally around $20-$25. Meanwhile, good luck nabbing a Ramly at that price. If you do, it’s liable to be half of a card or something ridiculous. I purchased a low-grade one for $40 a while back and considered that to be a bargain. You rarely see them for much less than $50.

It isn’t just commons, either. Prices for Ramly stars are considerably higher than their counterparts in these sets, too. The most out of whack example of this is seen, perhaps, in the Ramly Walter Johnson card.

E91C Walter JohnsonT204 Walter JohnsonPSA and SGC have graded approximately 60 of Johnson’s 1909 T204 Ramly card. Compare that to his slightly more populous 1910 E91C American Caramel card, which shows about 75 graded copies. A low-grade E91C American Caramel Johnson will start around $150-$200. Meanwhile, a low-grade Ramly Johnson card will run a few thousand dollars. Now, some of that can be attributed to the rookie card craze as that Ramly card is often touted as Johnson’s rookie issue. But should the American Caramel card, similar in scarcity and produced a mere one year later be that much lower in value? Probably not.

And comparing the prices of these issues to even overly abundant cards like T205 and T206 also provides a somewhat surprising result. Low-Grade T205 and T206 cards generally start around $15 range. Even though the caramel cards are about 100 times rarer (consider that for a minute) than those two tobacco sets, the caramel commons are only slightly more expensive.

Consider the case of Ty Cobb cards, too. Low-grade E90-1 American Caramel Cobb cards, like his others, have been on the rise. Today, it is difficult to get one in any reasonable shape for under $1,000. But they are roughly the same (perhaps slightly higher) than his T206 cards. And while there are roughly 5,000 Cobb T206 cards graded by PSA to date, there are fewer than 200 E90-1 American Caramel cards. That suggests that the caramel cards would be much more valuable but it isn’t the case.

This trend of ‘under-valuation’, shall we say, doesn’t exist entirely across the board in caramel cards, obviously, as collectors have recently paid handsomely for some of the choice cards in the group. The E90-1 Joe Jackson card, for example, is on a tremendous rise and one of the hottest pre-war cards right now. Some of the rarities in the E90-1 set also fetch $1,000 or more, even in low-grade condition. But for the most part, the prices for caramel cards don’t seem to be commensurate with those of tobacco cards based purely on the rarity.

So why are the caramel cards seemingly underpriced right now? While not a flashy response, the most thoughtful answer is simply that interest on specific sets and types comes and goes among collectors. The market is just pretty soft on them right now and that happens with many sets as they fluctuate in value.

Everything is supply and demand and tobacco cards are all the craze right now.

I expect that caramel cards will, at some point, become a little big stronger. For now, however, prices are not as strong as they probably should be.

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