"Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back..."
(Take Me Out to the Ball Game by Jack Norworth, 1908)
It may be difficult to believe, but Cracker Jack has been around for more than 100 years. Introduced at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, the candy-coated concoction received its trademark name in 1896. In 1912, maker F.W. Rueckheim & Bro began inserting a "prize in every box."
By the time Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo became mascots in 1918, the company had already issued its most valuable prizes: 144 baseball cards featuring the likes of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, and Christy Mathewson. In 2004, a complete set in near mint condition sold at auction for a record $800,000! For the original AP news story and for more details about the cards themselves go to CBS SportsLine (http://cbs.sportsline.com/mlb/story/7946720) and Sportscard Guaranty, LLC (http://www.sgc1914crackerjack.com/find.html).
Of course, the odds of stumbling upon mint-condition cards from 1914 are almost as astronomical as their prices. Still, there are many collectors of Cracker Jack prizes willing to plunk down a dollar or two, on up to several thousand dollars, for prizes ranging from 1930's "Made in Japan" lithographed tin whistles and 1950's polyethylene spacemen to 1970's coin holders and 1990's metallic stickers.
In fact, Cracker Jack is considered the world's largest purveyor of toys, having distributed an estimated 17 billion since 1912. Thus, collectors like "The Alphabet King" (see below) are able to specialize according to era, topic, materials, etc.
HINT: Many Cracker Jack collectors use non-PVC baseball-card pages to store and exhibit their collections. Each pocket easily accommodates a single item, which can then be viewed from both sides, and the pages themselves are then inserted in stiff binders for added protection.
As if there weren't enough prizes from which to choose, more than a few collectors add mail-in premiums, magazine ads, displays, and even the prize wrappers themselves to their collections. The scope of any collection, therefore, is bounded only by interest, storage and display space, and financial resources.
As with any potentially valuable collectible, one must learn to recognize reproductions and fakes. Luckily for the collector, there's a wealth of information about Cracker Jack collectibles available both in books and on the Internet.
"Cracker Jack Collectibles: With Price Guide,"by Ravi Pina
"Cracker Jack Prizes," by Alex Jaramillo
"Cracker Jack Toys: The Complete, Unofficial Guide for Collectors (2000)," by Larry White
"Cracker Jack: The Unauthorized Guide to Advertising Collectibles (1999)," by Larry White
Jeffrey Maxwell, "The Alphabet King", tells you everything you could possible want to know about "alphabet-related" Cracker Jack prizes. Check out his "Dictionary of Collecting Terms."
Official website by Frito-Lay, Inc.
The Cracker Jack Box
Archives, links, info on non-prize items, more.
About collecting prize wrappers
Cracker Jack Collectors Association
History, tips for collectors, links, members' newsletter (The Prize Insider), more!
"Cracker Jack Strikes Out"
PromoMagazine.com article by Rod Taylor on mini-baseball card marketing flub by Borden.
Trading Card Central
Major resource for collectors of trading cards