The E90-1 American Caramel set is one of the most popular caramel card sets of all time. Featuring 121 cards and Joe Jackson’s major league rookie issue, it’s very popular with collectors despite the fact that completing the entire set isn’t too easy.
But while the fronts of the cards get the most attention, what’s printed on the back has been bugging collectors for years.
The backs of the E90-1 American Caramel cards have always been really underrated in my book. I’m being completely honest when I say that, part of the reasons I began collecting a set is because I love the backs. There aren’t numerous variations as are found in the T205 or T206 sets but it’s just a really clean, classic look. They look spectacular when you find them without significant damage.
The backs read ‘Base Ball Caramels’ in big, bold black lettering and the American Caramel Company name and location (Philadelphia, PA) are printed below. In addition to the words, you’ve got a crossed bats design, popular in the pre-war era, as well as a baseball and a glove holding a baseball.
The most interesting part, however, is the reference to the set including 100 subjects. That’s printed at the top as well as the words, ‘Base Ball Series.’
So what’s the problem? The biggest one is that the set has had 120 known cards for a while and a 121st was recently added in the special Dots Miller sunset variation. In short, there are well over 100 cards in the set.
So why is that advertisement so far off from what was really printed?
A Few Thoughts
First, we’ve got to discuss what 100 subjects really means. While many people are inclined to believe that refers to the number of actual cards in the set, more likely, it could refer to the number of different players instead.
That’s important because several players have more than one known variation in the set.
Players with two (or three) cards include Kitty Bransfield, Fred Clarke, George Gibson, Roy Hartzell, Harry Howell, Addie Joss, Willie Keeler, Tommy Leach, Dots Miller, George Stone, Honus Wagner, and Cy Young. Sometimes the variation was a completely different pose. Other times it was in the background color or caption. Whatever the case, if you remove those duplicates, you find yourself at 108 different players in the set. That’s closer to 100 but still not exactly on.
Another (more far-fetched) possibility would be to consider that a mistake was made with some of the names. For example, there are two players with the last name Brown – Buster Brown and Mordecai Brown. In all, there are six pairs of players sharing the same last name and if you remove them, you are at 102. That’s closer still but also over the limit.
In the end, there’s probably nothing real complex about this. The most likely scenario could have seen American Caramel start with plans for 100 players while adding a few more along the way. The cards, after all, were believed to have been printed from 1909 through 1911. 100 may have been the starting point but the company simply went past that in terms of actual players.
So why didn’t they simply change the backs? That would have meant a change in production and, likely, an additional cost/hassle. A text change wouldn’t have been too difficult but I’m guessing was not deemed to be worth the effort. One piece of evidence we have to support the fact that the 100 subjects wasn’t considered to be a major problem is actually found in the E90-2 American Caramel set.
That issue was printed in 1910 and, even though it only included 11 cards (all members of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had just won the World Series in 1909 – the Wagner is shown here for reference), those cards actually used these same exact backs mentioning there are 100 cards in the set. It’s clear that the company wasn’t particularly concerned about accuracy of what was printed on the backs and that, possibly more than anything else, helps explain why a new, updated back was never printed with the actual number.
As a brief aside, interestingly enough, a different back was printed for the E90-3 set of White Sox cards, also printed in 1910. Those backs looked mostly the same but removed the 100 subjects reference. Why those generic backs that read, ‘All the Star Players,’ wasn’t also used for the E90-2 set is a mystery as well.
This might sound like a pretty big screwup but keep in mind that this type of thing was hardly unprecedented. All sorts of uncorrected errors existed on pre-war cards and other sets advertised a particular number of cards that wasn’t entirely correct. While it might be great to have some sort of confirmed explanation, the reality here is that American Caramel probably just added a few more cards they hadn’t initially expected.