‘Cancelled’ 1923 Curtis Ireland Candy Cards Remain an Unsolved Mystery
‘Expired’ caramel cards from a 1920s contest are supposed to exist — but where are they?
The 1923 Curtis Ireland Candy cards, classified as E123, are among the tougher early candy card issues. There are supposed to be 180 cards that comprise the entire set but I have yet to hear of anyone 100% verifying that.
The cards mirror the more populous 1923 V100 Willards Chocolates set and it’s possible that the Curtis Ireland checklist is more assumed than it is verified. Why do I say that? As stated, I have never heard of an instance of a complete set. More importantly, 180 different cards have not even been graded among PSA, SGC, and Beckett.
The full checklist may indeed include 180 cards but finding hard evidence of that seems difficult. The cards were issued by the St. Louis-based Curtis Ireland Candy Corporation and, if they were purely a regional issue limited to that area, that may help explain to lack of cards available these days.
A Strange Promotion and Missing Cards
Curtis Ireland created an interesting promotion surrounding the cards. While many companies offered a prize for completing an entire set, Curtis Ireland went in another direction.
Apparently knowing a full set would be difficult to achieve, they came up with a different idea. The ten collectors with the most total cards in any given month would receive a National League baseball. In addition, the ten collectors with the most of any one card in a given month would also receive a baseball. The company promised to give away 20 baseballs each month starting in April of 1923 and ending in October of 1923.
Most of the time when companies created these sorts of promotions, they ensured that collectors could not redeem the same cards. Curtis Ireland was supposed to do the same. Some companies punched a hole through a card or made some other alteration. Curtis Ireland explicitly stated that cards that were already redeemed would be returned to collectors ‘marked cancelled.’
Seems harmless enough. Only one problem. Not only have I never actually seen a cancelled E123 card, I’ve never even heard of one existing. And in a post dating back to 2011, others on the popular Net54 site had not, either.
Evidence of Winners?
Curtis Ireland must have wanted to avoid controversy surrounding its promotion. Because on the backs of its cards, they stated that a list of winners would be published each month in the local St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper. They even let collectors know when that would occur. Sort of. According to the cards, the list of winners would appear ‘about the 5th of each month‘ in the sports section of the paper.
The great news is that, while it ceased publication in 1986, like most newspapers, there are archives of it. Unfortunately, while I have a Newspapers.com subscription, no mention of the contest came up in the search function.
Other Curtis Ireland advertisements did exist and show up. For example, the company had several listings for open positions, including candy wrappers. But no mention of the contest was found in the sports section, or otherwise, in the paper in all of 1923, according to the search results.
I then widened my search, thinking it may be possible that a deal with the Globe-Democrat fell through. Perhaps the results would be posted in another St. Louis newspaper. I struck out there, too, however. Not a single list of winners popped up in my searches.
So what does this mean? Where are all the canceled cards?
The first thing that comes to mind for me is the incredible rarity of the cards. As stated, few have ever even been graded and, at any given time, you won’t usually see more than a handful on eBay. The cards as they are are just extremely rare. Perhaps the canceled cards do in fact exist and are just very difficult to find.
It’s also possible that the response to Curtis Ireland’s promotion was so underwhelming that they didn’t even bother defacing the cards, simply to encourage collectors to send them in again to get more participation going. That also could be a reason the names of winners do not appear to have been published in the paper. After all, if collectors sought them out, expecting to see a list of 20 names and only saw 1-2, that would be a bad look.
Some may point to the language on the back and use that as an explanation. See, backs of the cards said that collectors that wanted their cards back would need to provide a two-cent stamp. Maybe the collectors simply didn’t request their cards to be returned. While that may have deterred some, I have to imagine that most collectors would have taken advantage of that.
Another possibility? The cards are in our midst and are indeed marked. Perhaps, though, another sort of marking appears on them that has gone unnoticed instead of an actual ‘canceled’ word. Now, if this was true, you might expect that it would have been determined by collectors. But again, due to the extreme rarity of these cards, I suppose it’s possible.
The reality is that, like so many mysteries surrounding pre-war cards, this one simply remains unsolved. Hopefully some evidence of canceled cards comes to light from this and we see some that actually exist. Until then, though, we’re just left to wonder.
I should add that one problematic thing could be out there. Because these cards have not been seen (at least to many in the hobby), what would prevent a collector using a vintage stamp and simply marking a Curtis Ireland card him/herself? A legitimate canceled card would probably command a good bit of money. But forgeries of these cards could also be created quite easily and, without evidence of others existing, even go somewhat unchecked.
My guess is that knowledgeable collectors would be wary of that and unwilling to shell out big money without some sort of evidence. But as we’ve seen with things like the Henry Johnson stamped W575 cards (some of which have been faked), that idea shouldn’t be beyond us.
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