The Offbeat Beat: U.S. Caramel Cards Filled With Star Power

By Doug Koztoski

Did he or didn’t he? The question lingers. Did Babe Ruth really point to the center field bleachers, “calling his shot,” and then proceed to crush a home run on the next pitch against the Cubs in Chicago during the 1932 World Series?

Some who witnessed the historic homer said Ruth did “call” it, others said no way, that maybe the Yankees’ slugger was pointing to the pitcher (Charlie Root) and/or the Cubs bench and fans, many of which razzed the outfielder that day. Ruth often remained vague about the “shot,” thus fueling the legend. Other accounts by “The Bambino” supposedly said he would not have even dared trying to predict hitting a home run, much less its general destination.

“Called” or not, Ruth’s homer in Game 3 of the ’32 Series, his last Fall Classic blast, played a key role in the Yankees nailing down another championship, as New York completed the Cubbies sweep the next day.

While “The Babe” slugged the signature hit in that Series, he also capped a card set that year, as the “last word” in the 32-piece issue for the U.S. Caramel Company’s sports offering.

Babe Ruth caps off the 1932-33 U.S. Caramel set, but the other 26 baseball players in the set aren’t too shabby either.

Babe Ruth caps off the 1932-33 U.S. Caramel set, but the other 26 baseball players in the set aren’t too shabby either.

Many books, price guides, websites and professionally graded card holder labels/flips state the U.S. Caramel set, with a reddish-orange background and white border, came out in 1932. But did it? More on that shortly.

“The set, has major, major star power,” said collector Allan Ghamar, who ranks No. 9 Current Finest for the issue on the PSA Set Registry. The collector considers the issue’s Ruth and Lou Gehrig cards “their mainstream rookie cards.”

Labeling himself “a completist,” Ghamar knows several vintage card sets quite well. “When I start something, I want to finish it.” The collector mainly gravitated toward the set for its colorful backgrounds and its superstar quotient. “And, it combines guys from the teens (1910s) with stars of the 1920s and ’30s.”

An impressive roster
Twenty-seven cards in the “Famous Athletes” issue feature baseball players,  including Ty Cobb and Jimmy (sic) Foxx, while accompanied by three boxers (Jack Dempsey, Jack Sharkey and Gene Tunney) and a pair of golfers (Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen).

BobbyJones“The Jones (#3) is a very tough card to get,” said Ghamar. It was the final one he needed to polish off the set. “It’s always a combination of finding a card and finding it at the right price.”

What was another difficult Caramel for Ghamar to locate, one on many collectors’ want lists? “The Rogers Hornsby (#11).”

Ghamar considers the 1932 U.S. Caramel issue among his favorite vintage sets. “I put it up there with my 1915 Cracker Jacks,” he said. “The look is very similar. They both have good images and good colors.”

OK, technically, Ghamar’s U.S. Caramel set is incomplete since it does not include card #16 of Charles “Lindy” Lindstrom. But the Lindstrom card was not produced or distributed to any degree, only a few examples are known, so having 31 of 32 in the set means completion for most hobbyists. When asked about trying to obtain the elusive “Lindy,” Ghamar said, “It’s a ‘Mission Impossible’ thing, it never crossed my mind.”

The Lindstrom card first surfaced within the hobby in the late 1980s/early 1990s timeframe. Up to that point, many considered the 16th slot in the set as “not issued.” The lone Lindstrom encapsulated by PSA thus far (a PSA 3) sold in 2001 for nearly $80,000. Apparently, the Lindstrom was not put in packs to any extent so kids would buy more of the product and the East Boston, Mass.-based company would not have to fulfill many card redemption requests.

GehrigThe card backs direct people to send in a complete set and receive a league baseball ($1 value) or return three sets and receive a fielder’s glove ($3 value). “Your pictures will be returned with the gifts,” noted the card back bottoms. What the company conveniently failed to tell collectors, however, was the cards came back with a hole punched in them and/or stamped “Cancelled” to prevent resubmission for prizes.

Caramel comparisons
Landing in PSA slabs 125 times thus far, including cards with qualifiers, the Ruth U.S. Caramel tops out at 13 PSA 8s and two PSA 9s. For the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings set, a more broad-based multi-sport issue, “The Sultan of Swat” appears about 3½ times more often, in general PSA Population numbers, and is more prevalent in PSA 8 (23).

Of the four different Ruths in the 1933 Goudey Baseball set, in basic figures, the hardest to find is 6½ times more available that the U.S. Caramel Ruth.

Ty CobbThe back of the “candy” Ruth noted the slugger had played 19 big league seasons, which was accurate when including the 1932 schedule; the same can be said for the Foxx pasteboard and his eight years of MLB experience; Hornsby’s made a point of his October 1932 “trade” to St. Louis. Actually, it was more like the Cardinals picked up Hornsby on waivers. Regardless, the transaction took place in late October.

So with those examples, and there are more in the issue, you have to wonder: Did the set come out in the latter part of 1932, or, as was the norm decades ago, did they hit the store shelves in the spring of 1933 to coincide with the beginning of baseball season, since it is mostly a baseball set?

All of the dozens of graded card images looked at for this article (PSA and SGC) identified them as a 1932 issue. And what are the chances that will ever change, if needed? It would be nice to nail down the set’s birth year, but that does not seem to matter to most collectors. Krause Publications’ Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards lists the set as a 1933 issue.

Either way, the set enjoys a strong stature.

Ghamar labels the issue’s popularity as solid for three reasons: “It’s not a huge set, prices are holding and the overwhelming majority of the athletes are major Hall of Famers.”

“Call” it what you will, but many characterize the early ’30s U.S. Caramel offering as a distinctive home run, much like the one Ruth ripped that day in the 1932 World Series.

The mad dash
As the 2016 race for the top spot at the White House enters its last phases, the next few months will prove to be interesting.

In 1932 (or was it 1933, or both?), the U.S. Caramel Co. also produced a set covering all the U.S. Presidents.

The “Lindstrom” of the U.S. Caramel presidential set is William McKinley. This example sold for $96,000.

The “Lindstrom” of the U.S. Caramel presidential set is William McKinley. This example sold for $96,000.

The card back bottoms say 31 Presidents are represented, and that includes all who held the office through the early-to-mid-1930s, but that may be a little confusing for some. Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th President, but he gets just one card in the issue. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), the 32nd President, elected in November 1932, rounds out the set.

As expected, the most popular in the group include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

The “Lindstrom” of the President’s issue? William McKinley, our 25th Commander in Chief. McKinley cards rarely pop up. In 2014, an SGC 60/5 McKinley realized $96,000 in a Robert Edward auction.

An interesting connection between these confection card sets of baseball and presidents? FDR, the then-Governor of New York as well as the then-Democratic presidential nominee, attended Ruth’s “Called Shot” game.

Doug Koztoski welcomes comments and questions related to this article at dkoz3000@gmail.com.

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