Sometimes the Box WAS the Card
The majority of pre-war baseball cards were typically included inside of some kind of packaging along with another product. Some of those products were boxes of cigarettes (i.e. tobacco cards) and others were gum (gum cards). Others, still, were inside of bread and bakery products. Or other types of food and beverage products. And others were found inside of publications or as a part of games.
But while the cards were generally hidden out of view, some were printed on actual packaging themselves. We all know about the Wheaties box panels featuring oversized pictures of athletes but there are plenty of issues that are more card-like in nature.
Others certainly exist, but here’s an introduction to some of these unique cards.
Many of these types of cards were printed on the outside of candy and gum packages. That makes sense, of course, given that they could serve as an advertisement or display of sorts for children that would encounter them in shops. It was one thing to say there was a baseball card included inside of a package. But actually showing it on the outside probably created its fair share of impulse buys.
One of the more popular issues is a six-card set produced by New York-based Schapira Brothers featuring Babe Ruth on the outside of their candy boxes. Six different cards were produced but one, the headshot, is the most common because it was on every box. That’s because each box had two Ruth cards – the headshot and a miscellaneous second one. These generally sell for hundreds of dollars but are still among Ruth’s cheaper cards from his playing days.
Another popular issue was found on the boxes of Dockman and Sons’ 1910 All-Star Candy packages. Images for the set were also found in other issues, including the Turkey Red T3 set. Dockman, of course, was one of the four brands that had advertisements on the backs of the popular E92 cards. And another popular issue are the 1910 Darby Chocolates cards, which have gained steam in recent years, after being re-discovered in the 1980s.
Then, there are a pair of issues that are often confused with one another – the 1911/1912 Baseball Bats Candy cards (left) and the 1910 Orange Borders cards (right). Both have a decidedly orange theme with borders of that color. These were also cards that were printed on the exterior of candy products, as were the oddly-named 1912 J=K Cards that went uncataloged by Jefferson Burdick in the American Card Catalog.
Finally, while most of these products were on boxes (since cardboard is what cards are made of, after all), some were less traditional. One of those was the 1936 Overland Candy Wrappers set. These had pictures of players’ faces on wrappers of candy.
Today, they (like others on this list) aren’t easy to find. Collectable wrappers just doesn’t have the same ring to it as collectable cards does and you can bet that most were discarded, probably within a short period of time.
While many of these cards were printed on children’s candy and gum packaging, others are also found on different packages.
The 1937 Donut Corporation Thrilling Moments set, for example, were cards that were printed on the outside of donut boxes. These cards are rare today and the set includes Babe Ruth, Red Grange, and Knute Rockne, which often sell for hundreds of dollars.
There’s also the 1930s Post Cereal Famous North Americans set. Unlike Wheaties and Kelloggs boxes, these were actually smaller trading cards printed onto boxes. Most of the set features non-sports personalities but Christy Mathewson’s baseball card is highly desired.
Finally, less traditionally, you have the 1937 and 1938 Dixie Lids sets, which featured baseball and football players. Technically, these had pictures of players printed on the inside of ice cream lids so you couldn’t see who was there. But they are still an exterior packaging ‘card’. These were creative, of course, but when you think about it, it was really the only way to package a card inside of a smaller ice cream product.
Almost everything here is relatively rare to some degree, which makes perfect sense as most would have been discarded upon consuming the product inside. And in households where no collector was found, that would be particularly true.
Even most collectors that initially kept the cards probably got rid of them in one form or another over time. At the end of the day, most were not as high-quality as standard cards produced by candy and gum cards and ultimately, not as desirable.