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1915 Cracker Jack Baseball Cards

As so often occurs after a card release has a successful debut, the producer of the sets conclude there is enough of an interest to produce a second set - with even more production and more cards. While that has occurred quite a bit in the more modern card era, with such as examples as more 1994 Finest being issued than the 1993 debut set, or 1997-98 Topps Chrome Baseball coming out in the marketplace as compared to the inaugural 1996-97 product release, there are examples of that logic going back a full century now.

There is little doubt, that in the secondary market there are far more 1915 Cracker Jack cards than 1914 cards, and also the set itself added more than 30 new subjects. In addition, there are even more reasons why there are far more 1915 Cracker Jacks, and many of those are in much better condition than their 1914 counterparts as well.

First off, as mentioned the 1915 set size increased from 144 cards to 176 cards. There is also a belief the final 32 cards were issued later than the first 144 cards and thus are more difficult to obtain. The belief would make sense as part of the idea of an increased production and more player selections.

However, most of the second year additions did not end up as Hall of Famers, as only 32 of the 176 cards, or slightly more than 20 percent, are now enshrined in Cooperstown. There are, of course, many other non-HOF star players in this set. The most notable non- Hall of Famer is Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose career came to an abrupt end when the 1919 "Black Sox" Scandal broke. Jackson, much like Pete Rose today, may actually be more popular among collectors because of him not being in the Hall of Fame.

Among the Hall of Famers, one of the key cards is Christy Mathewson. In 1914, the Mathewson card is an attractive horizontal design, while the 1915 issue is a vertical portrait photo. The Mathewson design change is one of the key cards of the 1915 set. Seeing the card design switch from the horizontal design to a vertical design makes one wonder if Cracker Jack actually received any complaints about the horizontal cards, and thus elected to create more vertical cards in 1915. Another important difference between the 1914 and 1915 set is the backs are "upside down" compared to 1914. At least this is another way of making the differences between the two sets fairly easy to navigate.

In addition, just as in 1914, many players from the "third" major league, the Federal League, were again featured in the Cracker Jack set. 50 of the 176 cards, or nearly 30 percent of the product, featured these Federal League players. As 1915 would be the penultimate season for the Federal League, baseball historians need to be thankful that so many images of these players on these teams still exist and are in fairly wide circulation.

As mentioned, there is a belief there are more Cracker Jack cards produced in 1915, compared to 1914. However, one fact that is for certain is more of these cards still extant than the 1914 issues. A key reason for this is the back offer was updated from 1914. The 1914 issue discussed how many total cards were issues while the 1915 issue mentions on the back if you send in either 100 coupons, or just one coupon and 25 cents, you will receive a complete set of the 176 cards. There is also an offer of an album for just 50 coupons, or 10 cents plus just the one coupon. One must wonder if any enterprising entrepreneurs bought these Cracker Jacks, opened up the container and just put them on the counter for their clients to snack on. Today, if such an offer came out, there would be more Cracker Jacks available for free than still on the shelves at supermarkets.

We've talked about how much easier these cards are than their 1914 counterparts, and the PSA pop report is further proof about the relative ease of 1915 versus 1914. There are more than 10,000 total 1915 Cracker Jack cards listed in the PSA Pop Report with nearly 4,200 of those cards garnering the PSA 7 (near mint) or better grade without qualifiers. Having a group of cards with such as high survival rate in high condition proves how much easier the 1915 set is. There are even three cards given a PSA 10 (Gem Mint) grade.

For whatever reason, there are only two cards with fewer than 40 total cards graded on the PSA Pop Report and one is Jack Barry, who is considered to be one of the scarcest cards in the set, while no card in this set has yet to reach triple digits in cards graded. The closest one as of this article is Joe Jackson with slightly more than 90 cards graded. And, as discussed, that makes sense as this is a rare opportunity to find a Joe Jackson card issued during his playing career.

However, one player did not have a 1915 Cracker Jack card issued till nearly a century later. George Herman "Babe" Ruth was just beginning to make his name as a young Boston Red Sox left-handed pitcher who also could play the outfield on occasion. Although many of the 32 cards added featured some of the young stars of the era, Ruth was not included in this set. However, to coincide with the release of a picture book about the Cracker Jack sets written by Tom and Ellen Zappala, issued a "Card that never was" of the Sultan of Swat as a special release. This really cool card was limited to a release of 500 card and is actively sought after by collectors.

Of course, after these two great sets of 1914 and 1915, we as collectors are left to wonder why the production concluded after these two sets. Without access to what are probably long-gone Cracker Jack internal notes, we can only speculate about the reason these very popular cards stopped after 1915. Was it because Cracker Jack got too many requests for these cards or did they feel as if they were not making any extra money by including them in these packages? Or, were they afraid the growing European conflagration would render baseball moot for the 1916 season? Although America was still protected by the Atlantic Ocean, 1915 did provide perhaps the most important turning point in how the average person felt about the conflict. When the RMS Lusitania was sunk in May, 1915, American sentiment turned against Germany and many people felt the conflict was not avoidable from that date forward.

Whether it was the uncertainly of the war situation or just a desire for other promotions, ending the Cracker Jack releases after just two years left collectors wanting more of their favorite players to be on cards. And looking back over 100 years, wouldn't it be nice if these sets had continued and we'd have had early mainstream issues of players such as the Babe, or of players such as Frankie Frisch who would be in the majors by the end of the decade. However, we need to be thankful that such a great grouping of players, and those in the third major league, were created for our historical purposes and that so many of them still exist in high grade to this very day.

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