Who hasn’t enjoyed tearing open a box of Cracker Jack and tasting the sweet caramel coated popcorn and peanuts AND been excited to see what prize was inside the box?
The inner child in all of us still feels the reward of something sweet and something fun. That pretty well sums up a box of Cracker Jack.
After several variations in the late 1800’s, the Rueckheim brothers in Chicago came up with a version similar to what you and I enjoy today.
For 19 years the Cracker Jack Collectors Association has been meeting annually where members buy, sell, and trade what, for most of us, are memories of youth.
In 1912, the firm came up with the idea of adding an inexpensive prize in each box. Those prizes live on today and are highly sought after collectibles. The prizes have been made of metal, plastic, and paper over the years. Some, such as the 1914 and 1915 baseball cards inserted in each package, are extremely valuable. Think of buying a box of Cracker Jack in 1914 and getting a baseball card of super star Christy Mathewson, one of the few college educated players of the day and noted as a fine gentleman. Well, in showing that nice guys sometimes finish first, you would be rewarded for holding that one card with a collectible value of over $100,000 for a near mint condition version. Even a ratty copy with pieces missing from the card recently brought $5,700. Now, how’s that for a free prize in every box? Some of the reasons the 1914 cards are so valuable is that they were printed on flimsy paper and they were inserted directly in the box of caramel confection, thus leading to sticky staining which harmed the card’s condition. And, most importantly, who knew to keep these little treasures?
Here is what that famous Christy Mathewson card from 1914 looks like.
In 1915, Cracker Jack issued another similar set of baseball cards and this time the company had a mail-in offer to receive the whole set of cards. Can you imagine the excitement a baseball fan had receiving this set of 176 cards in the mail? Well, these cards that never had to suffer the indignity of being in a caramel coated container are found in much better condition than the 1914 set. In fact, some complete sets as received from the factory are still showing up in closets and attics. Even though the 1915 set is vastly more common and typically found in much better condition, the complete set still easily brings over $30,000. A near mint set from the 1915 issue brought $157,000 in 2008 at auction.
While the baseball cards are quite valuable, many other prizes are extremely affordable–even those from the 1920’s. When we visited the convention, we were thrilled by the color and fun the toys represented. Though only a few baseball cards were present, a large variety of other older and historic items were on display.
Many of the prizes, even from many years ago, are worth $1 or less. So there are plenty of memories to collect for all budgets. And it is not uncommon to root around in a drawer and find some old prizes which you kept, subliminally not wanting to part with the connection to childhood no doubt.
Frito Lay now owns the Cracker Jack product line. Frito Lay recognized 2013 as the 120th anniversary of the Cracker Jack product.
Collectors of the prizes inside the box and other Cracker Jack memorabilia hold an annual meeting of fun-minded people.
The hobby also has its own newsletter and price guide.
The 2014 National convention was held in Philadelphia. For details about joining the club and the next annual convention, contact the helpful people at the Cracker Jack Collectors Association or CJCA for short. The club has a really great site and you can see some of the myriad of prizes from the past.
Collecting fun toys from our past just goes to prove that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood!