Blue Background Joe Tinker E90-3 American Caramel Card Not a True Variation

A blue background variation of Joe Tinker’s E90-3 American Caramel card is almost certainly a print error instead of a true variation

The E90-3 American Caramel set consists entirely of players from the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox. The cards are much tougher to come by than the company’s E90-1 set, which was distributed from 1909-11. However, it isn’t nearly as popular because of the exclusive focus on Chicago teams.

Issued in 1910, it’s still a popular target of collectors of early cards. The set is anchored by an early card of Chick Gandil. Gandil is hardly the biggest name in the set but because of his involvement in the 1919 World Series fix, his cards are highly valuable. The set also includes numerous Hall of Famers and one of those is the Cubs’ Joe Tinker.

The set contains a total of 20 cards between the two teams. But unofficially, it’s often said to contain 21 — and that’s because the Tinker card is checklisted in various sources as having both a blue and a green background card. A closer look reveals that, while technically true, the blue background is almost certainly not a true variation.

And a lot of things point to that.

The card, like many other so-called color variations in other sets, looks to be due to a lack of yellow ink. With a sufficient yellow ink level, the blue background becomes an appropriate green color — the intended one as found on the bulk of his E90-3 cards. And we know this is an ink issue because of the rest of the picture. Don’t just take my word for it — look at the two cards as pictured on this site.

The green variation shows Tinker’s face with a full color tint — the way it is intended to appear. That’s because it has the sufficient amount of yellow ink. Now compare that to the blue Tinker, which shows a much more ghostly face. The yellow is not only missing from the background, it’s missing from the entire card. If it was truly intended to be a blue background card, the yellow in Tinker’s face would be more prominent and no blue background Tinker card I’ve ever seen has the full amount of color in his face/hand.

Another small giveaway is that many green Tinker cards actually have more of a green-blue look to them. For whatever reason, ink quality in these cards was poor and you’ll find background colors on the Tinker cards all over the map. Many, though, like this one pictured here, have a hint of blue in the background. Similarly, the blue ones have slight greenish hues to them as well.

But that’s not even the most damning evidence. If you look carefully at the E90-3 set, you’ll these sorts of color variations are elsewhere, too.

For example, a similar thing is observed on some other cards, too. Harry Steinfeldt’s cards, for instance, have a gold background but it’s occasionally seen with a reddish-orange colored background, as shown here.

Similar variations are found in other E90-3 cards, too. For example, there’s currently an E90-3 of Patsy Dougherty on eBay that exhibits a purplish/gray background as opposed to the gold one. Without checking, I’m sure that other color variances can be found.

This sort of thing, of course, is not a new phenomenon. While you are more likely to see ink levels running amok in strip cards, there are plenty of issues found in tobacco and caramel issues, too. Quality control when it came to the printing of certain series was nowhere near what it is in post-war cards.

The blue background Tinker card is, at first glance, a fascinating one. But it’s not a true variation that was printed with a blue background intentionally. Like many other pre-war cards, it’s one that simply fell victim to poor ink quality control. And that doesn’t make it a truly different card that should be checklisted — it essentially makes it a print error.

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