Rare E121 American Caramel Cuts a Mystery

Unique E121 American Caramel Cards Remain an Unknown

Printed in 1921-22, the E121 American Caramel set is arguably one of the most confusing pre-war issues. For starters, there are actually two sets – a Set of 80 and a Set of 120. For another thing, each of those sets actually contain more than the advertised number of cards.

On top of that, the same pictures/players were used in other sets. Many were printed with blank backs, and most of those cards are commonly referred to as W575 cards. But others were printed with various advertisers names on the backs. In other words, there are a lot of these cards floating around out there.

But yet another type surfaced recently.

A New Type of E121/W575 Cards

Last year, an eBay seller brought a few dozen of these cards to the public. They have the same pictures as regular E121 cards, but are certainly different.

I had hoped with more time to learn more about these cards. But a full year later, they remain just as big a mystery to me as they did then.

The most notable distinction to these cards was that they were all hand cut. Often, hand cut cards mean issues that were not distributed. They are sometimes called scraps that weren’t printed quite right and were subsequently hand cut for whatever reason. But hand cuts can also occur elsewhere, too. For one thing, strip cards were hand cut. For another, there are album cuts. For example, Allen & Ginter produced picture albums of their popular N28 and N29 cards. Some collectors that received these albums cut out the pictures of the cards.

In addition to the hand-cutting, one notable thing that stood out was that some included large black areas of ink. While this might simply look like random ink, when you study a few of the cards, it is clear that these are actually letters. Here are the four cards the seller offered that had letters on them.

I managed to win two of these cards shown here – the one featuring Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, which has parts of two letters on it, and the one of Ivy Wingo, which looks to have part of an ‘F’ or possibly an ‘E’.

These cards are really key. That is because, without any cards showing parts of letters, these cards could have all simply been mistaken for regular W575 cards that were just badly trimmed by someone. However, the cards with the presence of lettering makes it likely that these were cut from advertising posters of some sort. I say that for two reasons.

First, and most importantly, the seller actually indicated to me that he had seen an uncut poster before. While I have not been able to locate a copy of this poster myself to verify that, my guess is that the seller did indeed see it. Second, advertising posters with this sort of overprint were seen in other issues. For example, this is seen with some N284 Buchner Gold Coin cards, as detailed here. These cards have a very similar overprint lettering.

I have little doubt that these are from an advertising poster. So what could the poster have said?

That’s too tough to tell without more evidence. But I believe the phrase could have been something like ‘The Base Ball Stars of the American and National Leagues,’ or some iteration of that. Why that? Well, that was the phrase printed on the backs of the E121 American Caramel cards. The letters even seem to match up to that.

  • The Joe Judge has what is almost certainly a ‘T’ and with no letters to the left of it, could be the start of a line of text, such as ‘The’.
  • The Amos Strunk could have an ‘A’ followed by an ‘S’ – as in ‘Base’.
  • The Ivy Wingo has either an ‘E’ or an ‘F’ – either fits here as there are no letters after that and that could be part of the word ‘The’ or ‘Of’.
  • Finally, the Eddie Collins could have an ‘E’ followed by a ‘B’ or an ‘E’ followed by an ‘S’. If the former, it could be part of the word ‘Baseball.’ If the latter, it could be part of the word ‘Leagues.’

Admittedly, this is mostly just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. I’m simply trying to come up with the most plausible phrases that could be used. While possible, there’s nothing to confirm that. What is really needed is to find more cards with more letters on them. But the point isn’t so much the phrase as it is that these were almost certainly part of a poster with a phrase on it.

Regardless, this is another unique twist for one of the most interesting and widely collected pre-war sets around.

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