Punctuation Matters (Or Not): A Look at the Messy Formatting in the E90-1 American Caramel Set
One of the most famous caramel card sets has some of the worst formatting consistency
The E90-1 American Caramel set is one of the most popular caramel card issues around. While it advertised 100 cards, printed from 1909-11, the set actually includes 120 (or, 121, if you prefer) cards and is headlined by the major league rookie card of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Considering all of the believed shortprints, it’s a very difficult set to assemble.
A while back, I wrote about a strange typo on the Jackson card — an apostrophe that could be a misplaced comma. As I stated at the time, Jackson is missing the customary comma after his name that should be there before the position, so that could have been the reason for the mistake.
But while that print error is the most notable one, the set includes a litany of additional formatting and punctuation issues, even beyond the sloppy typos (looking at you, Christy Matthewson).
The E90-1 American Caramel cards have a similar layout to many other candy and tobacco sets printed around the same time. Color picture in the middle, white border around the edges, and necessary player information at the bottom. It was a pretty common and well-known format.
The exact formatting for this particular set is also easy to see. The player’s last name is to the far left, followed by a comma, followed by the player position, and then the team and league. Teams were often abbreviated.
But the variances in the set’s formatting were all over the place.
For one thing, the names weren’t entirely consistent. While most displayed only a last name, a few printed the player’s first name. The only three to get that distinction? Ty Cobb, Cy Young (on only one of his two cards), and Chief Bender, a trio of Hall of Famers. Why were those different from the others? Beats me. But it also raises an interesting question when you compare those to some other cards.
The set included a few players with the same last names. Interestingly, while American Caramel included the first names of Bender and Cobb, they didn’t on other cards where first names would have helped.
For example, the set includes Bill Sweeney and Jeff Sweeney, but both of their cards only list the name ‘Sweeney.’ Many collectors unfamiliar with the set are often forced to Google the cards to determine which player is which. A similar situation occurred for Jesse Tannehill and Lee Tannehill, as well as Fred Mitchell and Mike Mitchell.
That also is made more odd when you consider how the printer handled the cards for George Davis and Harry Davis. Those players sharing the same last name were differentiated as George’s card has the name ‘G. Davis’ on the front while Harry’s card merely calls him Davis. Why the other cards weren’t handled in, at a bare minimum, a similar fashion, is unknown.
That’s just scratching the surface when it comes to inconsistencies, though. The biggest discrepancies are seen in both the team and league abbreviations.
Another place where we’ve got some variation is in the league designations.
Most American League cards have the abbreviation, ‘Amer.’ but that’s not the only one used. As mentioned, Bender’s and Cobb’s cards included their first name/nickname so that left less room for the rest of his type. As a result, their cards have only an ‘Am.’ designation. Others running short on space had that same change.
Similarly, the National League has its share of variations, too. ‘Nat’l’ is the abbreviation of choice most of the time. But others also include only ‘Nat.’ And while space was a concern on some, interestingly, even when there was room for the full designation, it was shortened in some cases. The cards of Rube Ellis and John Butler inexplicably give the shortened National League designation even with plenty of room. That also happened with some American League cards, too.
And in terms of the identification of the league, some didn’t have it at all. Roger Bresnahan’s and Hughie Jennings’ cards, for example, leave it out entirely. Both were player/managers for their teams but their cards leave out the League designation. Finally, Mike Mitchell’s card does the same. Why those would be missing is unknown.
Sometimes, the league designations even varied on cards featuring the same player. Cy Young has two cards in the set and one has the Amer. printing while the other has only Am. Both are pictured here. The bigger variation, of course, is that only one of Young’s cards includes his first name.
And, finally, periods are an issue on some as well. Jimmy Sheckard’s card, for example, is printed with only ‘Nat’ without a period like the other shortened ones. Similarly, Jesse Tannehill’s card does the same.
The team designations varied, too.
Sometimes, that was due to the space on the card. Back to the Bender example again, with the addition of ‘Chief’ to the card, there wasn’t much room for a team – let alone the entire name of Philadelphia. So while other Philadelphia cards mostly read ‘Phila.’, his only reads ‘Ph.’
Another team variance known is for New York. To save space, most cards print only ‘N.Y.’ but some, like Mike Donlin’s card, spells out the entire city. Willie Keeler is another example of that as his horizontal card reads, ‘New York’, while his portrait issues use the abbreviated name. Additionally, Washington is spelled out on some cards while only Wash. is used in other places.
Finally, you’ll see some variation in the position part of the text with regards to the managers.
Roger Bresnahan’s card has the Mgr. designation but Hugh Duffy’s has the more complicated ‘Man’gr’. There are also some other punctuation issues with regards to periods/missing periods. Pitcher cards should read ‘p.’ but some, like Charley Hall only reads ‘p’.
So what’s the deal. Why so many variations and differences with the formatting and punctuation?
In some cases, like the Jackson card or the Hall card missing the period after his position, they’re just errors, plain and simple. In other cases, like the Bender ‘Ph.’ abbreviation, it was a matter of space. And in many cases, the specific abbreviations were merely a matter of preference.
It’s also worth pointing out that, since the set was printed over many years, it’s possible that as more cards were added, the person creating the text at the bottom didn’t think it was mandatory to match past cards. Consider the cards of Cy Young. His first card pictures him with the Boston Red Sox, his team in 1908. He was traded to Cleveland in February of 1909 so a second card for him with the Naps was created later. That could help explain the differences in formatting on his cards.
At the end of the day, none of the variations are all that important. Really, these are all pretty minor issues. But it is interesting to see so many different abbreviations and variations in such a popular set.