Dots Miller E90-1 American Caramel ‘Sunset’ Variation Remains a Tough Find
A rare variation has technically added a card to the set’s master checklist
The E90-1 American Caramel set is one of the most popular early candy card issues ever produced. Printed from 1909-11, it includes plenty of rarities and also the major league rookie card of Shoeless Joe Jackson — generally a five-figure card, even in lesser condition.
The numerous shortprints and the Jackson make it a very difficult venture for most collectors. And a rare error variation adds to that headache for collectors wanting a master set.
Most cards of Dots Miller are generally considered as commons. Barring a shortprint or really obscure card, collectors generally won’t have to pay much of a premium for his stuff. Miller’s E90-1 cards typically sell for a little more than other commons in the set but his famed ‘Sunset version’ is significantly steeper.
If you’re unfamiliar with the card, here’s the brief rundown. Almost all of Miller’s E90-1 cards do not have a sunset in the background, as pictured here on the left. However, a few of them do, like the one shown here on the right. The discovery was made back in 2012 on the Net54 site.
As you can see, the two are otherwise the same. Same green playing field. Same yellow sky. Same uniform, etc. The lone difference is that some of the cards have a splattering of red in the background and others do not.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Many early candy and caramel cards reused artwork and it isn’t uncommon to see the same images recycled in other E-Card sets. Miller’s is one of those and on his cards in those sets, all of his other cards are found with the same reddish background, symbolizing a sunset.
For example, his fielding card in the E92 set has the sunset marking. Same on his E101, E102, E105, and E106 cards. It’s also that way on his T216 tobacco cards. The amount of ink in the sunsets can vary quite a bit but it’s undeniably present on each. However, it’s not printed on most E90-1 cards, for some reason.
Was that a mistake? It might seem that way given that the sunset appears everywhere else. But a few things on that front.
First, the Miller cards across the sets aren’t mirror parallels of each other. On the left here is the same E90-1 Miller Sunset card pictured above and on the right is Miller’s card from the E92 set.
The E90-1 card, for example, doesn’t have a shadow on the ground, whereas the other Miller cards do. Miller’s shoes are also a dark color on most of (if not all of) the other cards as opposed to being white/gray on the E90-1 cards. Also, the E92 card has a lot more detail than the E90-1 version. If American Caramel was going for an exact copy of his other cards, they also missed some other things.
Second, it’s interesting that this is an American Caramel card because, while several of the others are anonymous, Miller’s E106 card is also an American Caramel issue and that one has the sunset. If the two sets had different creators, it would be easier to understand. But American Caramel printing both sets but missing the sunset on most of Miller’s E90-1 cards is a head-scratcher.
Finally, let’s say the card was printed in error. We can surmise that American Caramel must have caught the mistake very late in the process because so few of the E90-1 sunset cards exist. There are all sorts of reasons why some cards can exist in higher quantities but, all things considered equal, the rarity of the E90-1 American Caramel sunset card seems to indicate not many were printed at all.
So what’s the deal with the sunset cards? Well, it’s tough to say how rare they are in comparison to the non-sunset versions for a couple of reasons.
They are undoubtedly tougher to find but because many collectors don’t even know of this variation, you can bet that some are hidden away in virtual obscurity. Also, grading companies (at least SGC has) have only just started recognizing the error in recent years, so the population reports don’t really help us out much.
Still, the sunset cards are certainly much tougher to find and as a result, they are much more expensive. A low-grade Miller no-sunset version from the E90-1 set will typically start around $40-$50. But a low-grade sunset card is far more expensive. This one was only an SGC 30 and still sold for just over $500.
Often a true indicator of rarity is how many of the cards are seen years after a particular card has been discovered. This card sells for big money and, given that, if it wasn’t so rare, you would expect to see many more popping up on eBay and in auction houses. But the rarity of this card is certainly continuing to show as, even with it selling for large amounts, not many are coming to the forefront.
I’m not convinced the Miller sunset variation should really be considered as a necessity for set completion. I view it as more likely an error (or, depending on how you look at it, a correction) than a legitimate variation that was supposed to be printed. My general thought is that the non-sunset cards were printed in error and later corrected to match other versions. Still, however you personally view it, it is no doubt a distinctively different card and in a very popular set, it draws quite a bit of warranted attention.