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Since 1912, Cracker Jack has promised a “surprise” in every box of the caramel-coated snacks.

From the very beginning, one of the most popular “prizes” were the Cracker Jack baseball cards first issued in 1914. The cards, among the most beautiful and recognizable baseball cards ever made, are now among the most rare and valuable, with the Society for American Baseball Research once calling them “the most impressive baseball cards issued during the Deadball Era,” topping even the famous 1909-11 T206 tobacco cards.

With a bright red background and twice as large as the famous tobacco cards, the Cracker Jack cards featured beautiful portraits and bios of such baseball legends as Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and even Honus Wager, the most famous star of the aforementioned tobacco cards.

1914 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb card.

1914 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb card.

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John McMurray, chairman of SABR’s Deadball Committee, says the detailed artwork and action poses make the Cracker Jack cards one of the most popular sets ever among collectors.

“In some sense, these are baseball cards doubling as art,” he wrote.

1914 Cracker Jack Shoeless Joe Jackson card.

1914 Cracker Jack Shoeless Joe Jackson card.

Heritage Auction is offering a 144-card complete set of the 1914 Cracker Jack Collection in its Jan. 27-28 Winter Sports Card Catalog Auction. Belonging to a single consignor, the set includes 14 cards that are the best-known examples in existence, while 31 have only one example graded higher.

The set currently ranks at the third best 1914 Cracker Jack collection on the PSA Set Registry with a combined grade of EX 5.

1914 Cracker Jack Walter Johnson card.

1914 Cracker Jack Walter Johnson card.

“This is easily one of the most handsome and historic sets of cards we have offered in recent memory,” says Heritage Sports co-founder and president Chris Ivy. “The 1914 Cracker Jack cards are far rarer than the set that followed in 1915, and the fact these cards survived this long and in this condition is just staggering, considering that most were often stained even before they were pulled from boxes by kids with fingers made sticky by the caramel coating.”

The unnamed consignor spent several years assembling the collection and searching for the finest examples of the most rare cards.

“To offer these gems 108 years after production is, itself, something of a historic event for the hobby,” Ivy said.

Among the top cards in the set are a Ty Cobb No. 30 graded PSA NM-MT 8; a Christy Mathewson No. 88 graded PSA EX 5; a Joe Jackson No. 103 graded PSA EX 5; a Walter Johnson #57 graded PSA EX 5; and a Honus Wager #68 graded PSA VG 3.

1914 Cracker Jack Honus Wagner card.

1914 Cracker Jack Honus Wagner card.

Other stars from the Deadball Era in the set include: Smokey Joe Wood, Chick Gandil, Ray Keating, Frank Owens, Wally Schang and such legendary managers and historical figures as Charles Comiskey, Connie Mack, John McGraw and Branch Rickey.

“To own something that most people know mainly from history books or museum exhibitions isn’t an opportunity that happens too often,” Ivy says. “To offer these Cracker Jack cards as a complete collection is nothing short of a privilege and an absolute pleasure.”

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