History & Background
When the clock struck midnight on New Year's Day in 1914, no one was quite sure what the year would bring. No one anticipated the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June. No one was sure why things unfolded the way they did. But by midsummer, Europe was drawn into the Great War.
Here in America, we were several thousand miles away, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, and not paying a ton of attention. For the baseball fans of the time, another season was already in progress. For the first time in more than a decade, there was a new league, as the Federal League was beginning their operation as a major league.
Although the Federal League would ultimately only last two seasons, they introduced some young players to the majors and gave some old veterans a final chance to stay in a high level of baseball. Most notable among those veterans were three pitchers later inducted into the Hall of Fame: Chief Bender, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, and Eddie Plank. Thanks to research from SABR, we now know that approximately 70 percent of players in the Federal League also played in either the American or National Leagues.
Fortunately, one prominent card set of baseball cards features members of that short-lived league: the 1914 Cracker Jack set. This set, which numbered 144 cards, featured 42 players from the Federal League.
The idea of a Cracker Jack set made great sense. Less than a decade earlier, Jack Norworth and Albert Von Titzer wrote a baseball song that mentioned their product. Oddly enough, neither Norworth or Von Titzer had ever seen a baseball game when they wrote "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Within a few years of hearing those song lyrics, the Cracker Jack company got the message and created an iconic baseball card set for inclusion into their product.
The cards were issued as part of the product and printed on very thin paper. That combination makes modern survival in near mint condition very difficult. Of the 4,600 1914 Cracker Jacks graded by PSA, only about 200 were graded PSA 7 (Near Mint) or better with no qualifiers.
Design, Scarcity, and Hall-of-Famers
The design of the cards is reasonably simple, with a color player photo set against a red background. The player's last name and team is printed at the bottom of the card. The backs feature an informative biographical blurb as well as some production information. A note at the bottom of the cards states that "our first issue is 10,000,000 pictures." If we presume that each player was released in equal quantities, that means approximately 70,000 cards of each player were printed. The total survival rate is probably much lower due to the thin paper, moms throwing them away, and various paper drives for World War I and World War II.
Of the 144 players in this set, more than one in five of them would eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown.
If a player also appeared in the 1915 Cracker Jack set, their pose on the card remained the same except for two particular players: Hall-of-Famer Christy Mathewson, and Del Pratt.
Above all the other stars included, one card stands out as the real key to this set: "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. The 1914 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson is probably the most available of his cards during his playing career. Today, Jackson may be more famous than ever even though he was barred from baseball and never played another game after 1920. That was due to his role in the infamous 1919 "Black Sox Scandal."
There is one Hall of Famer who made his major league debut in 1914 who is not included in this set. The debut of a young skinny pitcher for the Boston Red Sox did not make enough of an impression for Cracker Jack to include him. That's right, there is no Babe Ruth card in 1914 Cracker Jack and we can only wonder just how expensive a Babe Ruth card would be from this set. However, in 2013 PSA did issue a 1915 Cracker Jack Babe Ruth card that never was. Could you imagine if a 1914 Cracker Jack Ruth ever surfaced just how much money that would bring on the secondary market?
Here's the fantasy-piece Babe Ruth card that never was.
With 1914 Cracker Jack, we have a major set that:
Clearly, it deserves its popularity. Rumor has it that at the 2013 National Sports Collector's Convention, every single 1914 Cracker Jack card that was brought to the show was sold and no more were available after the first day. There is very little doubt that the market can survive more of these cards hitting the secondary market for future sales.
We're confident the the 1914 Cracker Jack set will be a fan-favorite for at least another hundred years to come.
1914 Cracker Jack Collection on Antiques Roadshow
A Great Book on Cracker Jack Cards
The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball's Prized Players by Tom Zappala and Ellen Zappala
Cracker Jack collections we've purchased
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