Reviewing a recent find of blank-backed caramel cards

A recent find uncovered some rare pre-war blank backs

I’m constantly on the lookout for oddities and every now and then, you get lucky.

Recently, I came across three rare blank-backed pre-war caramel cards. The interesting thing is that the seller actually listed these as blank-backed cards and the hammer price was still a modest one for the rarity of such cards. I essentially got the cards for, I don’t know, what you might pay for them if they were regular caramel cards in crummy shape.

So what gives?

Well, I think there were a few things at play. First, the seller was not a seller of many baseball cards. The listing was from an estate sale business and that’s often a red flag. Second, the cards were actually misidentified as they were listed as E90-1s — I’ll get to that in a minute. But third, blank-backed cards are often difficult to authenticate over a computer. Savvy collectors will wonder if the cards are merely skinned — skinned cards are those where the back has merely been peeled away. My suspicion is that, despite the seller saying they were of standard thickness, that still scared some folks.

I did not place an exorbitant bid for that reason. Essentially, I bid enough so that I wouldn’t be too disappointed if they were indeed just skinned. I figured I had a little too lose but a lot to gain if they were legitimate.

Turns out they are indeed authentic.

It’s usually somewhat easy to to tell a skinned card from a real blank back if you have others you can compare them to. And it’s clear that these are blank-backed cards and not simply cards missing the back. The back is smooth and, as stated by the seller, the cards are just as thick as your standard caramel issues.

The players in question are Bill Bergen, Larry McLean, and Larry Doyle. Doyle, the 1912 Most Valuable Player and winner of a batting title, was the star of the bunch.

So if these are not E90-1 American Caramel cards, what are they?

Well, that’s sort of the problem with blank-backed caramel cards. Many of the pictures were reused in various sets. In fact, the entire fronts of the cards were exactly the same in several sets. The only way to tell them apart was by the backs. No back, and you’re sort of out of luck.

Now, technically, that McLean image was used in the E90-1 set so that one could technically be an E90-1 card. But the other two images were not and given the three were all together, my guess is that they are all from the same set. Blank backs are very rare and to find these together from different sets would be a bit of a coincidence.

All three of these pictures are found in the 1909 E92 sets (in all four, including Nadja, Croft Cocoa, Croft Candy, and Dockman) and the E101 set (fittingly identified as the ‘Anonymous’ set, since the distributor was unknown). It is likely that these three cards are from one of those two sets.

How rare are blank backs? Well, you certainly see them from time to time but they are very rare. While it would not surprise me, I am not even sure more than one example is known for any one card from a particular set. Blank-backed tobacco cards are more common because, well, tobacco cards are more common. But caramel cards are typically much rarer and you rarely come across them. Aside from sets, which are known to have been printed with them intentionally, I’ve seen, I don’t know, a few dozen. More than that surely exist but the point is they are quite hard to find. Often, you will not see any listed on eBay.

The set might not be known but one thing is clear — these are still great cards.

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