1915 Cracker Jack Near-Set Survives In Family Since 1915!

Published by Robert Lifson on Tagged Uncategorized

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There are still exciting original collections that occasionally surface of VERY old classic baseball cards that have been passed down as family keepsakes.

Cracker Jacks have always been a favorite with us and with all collectors. Perhaps no other baseball card set elicits a more positive emotional reaction than the Cracker Jack Ball Players cards issued in 1914 and 1915. These are what vintage cards are supposed to look like!  And who is not familiar with the brand name of Cracker Jacks? In all the entire world of collectibles, there are few products that better epitomize classic Americana, or are naturally a focus of serious collecting interest, more than Cracker Jack. People have been collecting prizes associated with Cracker Jack since they were first introduced in the 1890s. The brand, its wholesomeness, and its association with premiums packaged one per box is part of our culture, a collective memory of a simpler time that will forever be engrained in the popular consciousness of America. Anytime we get a call with Cracker Jacks, it is exciting, but it was all the more exciting when we got a call from a gentleman with a very substantial collection (154 different cards including Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and twenty-seven additional Hall of Famers!) that had been carefully saved personally by his father.

In his own words:

My father Harry Dolton Smith, raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota, at the age of 15, bought the complete set of 1915 Cracker Jack Ball Players, in 1915 for $.25 and two box tops. I think he said the display book was extra and he couldn’t afford to buy it. He started to collect the 1914 set but it was too costly to buy each box of confection, and the cards were damaged by the candy. So he jumped at the chance to buy the whole set in 1915. 

The cards remained with his father, Jules J.V. Smith in Saint Paul, until 1962 when my grandfather brought them to my Dad on a visit to our home in Tacoma, WA. I remember my Dad showing me the cards several times and he kept them in his sock drawer in a stack. I asked why the set was no longer complete. He didn’t know because the set was complete when he left home for the west in 1934. He thought maybe my cousins, who lived with our grandfather, may have taken them out to play with them and maybe they traded them with other kids. We don’t know. 

In 1973, my Dad gave the cards to me, laughingly saying maybe someday these will pay for your kid’s college education. I have had them ever since and a number of years ago I put each card into a sleeve and have kept them in a safe deposit box. 

A side note. My father and grandfather were both particularly interested in the Comiskey card. My grandfather was a very good baseball player and actually played for the Saint Paul Saints in the 1890s when the team was owned by Comiskey. A short time later, Comiskey moved the team to Chicago as we know, and the rest is White Sox history. My grandfather told me Comiskey wanted him to go to Chicago with the team but he declined. His mother, my great grandmother, disapproved of baseball and the life style they lead, and made him promise, on her death bed, that he would not play baseball professionally. He kept the promise but regretted it. 

Stephen Smith

August 5, 2010

In 1975 Mr. Smith checked on the value of the collection, bringing them to a local card store, and found that at the time they had a value of approximately $1,300. Fortunately, he was not looking to sell them at that time (good move!) but was just curious of their value. Thirty-five years later and now retired from a very successful career in law enforcement, it is finally time to sell the family card collection. The collection will be featured in REA’s Spring 2011 auction.

Over the years, we have had other collections of Cracker Jacks, including many ultra high grade key cards that in some cases have sold for literally tens of thousands of dollars each. But there just seemed to be something special to us about this collection. Maybe it’s the fact that it was the childhood collection of our consignor’s father, and they have been so carefully stored by the same family since 1915. Maybe it’s the fact that the cards are so bright and fresh and clean, yet have wear from handling that makes their technical grades modest, and which therefore makes the cards so much more affordable than untouched Mint examples. Maybe it’s the fact that we know the provenance of the collection and we know that nothing has ever been done to improve their condition. It’s probably all of these things. Plus the fact that we are suckers for all things associated with Cracker Jack! The one thing we’re sure of is that it struck us that this true original-owner Cracker Jack collection is really what collecting is all about. We thought collectors would enjoy reading about this collection, be encouraged that there are still extraordinary original-owner collections out there yet to be discovered, and appreciate seeing a preview!


Robert Edward Auctions LLC


Note: we are getting many cards graded, and are still deciding how to group the collection. It is likely that we will keep the number of lots modest so that it is practical for the collection to be kept intact if someone wishes to buy all the lots representing the collection, while at the same time offering key cards such as Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb separately.  

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