Erik Varon
Erik Varon, who's #5 E95 Philadelphia Caramel Set is on the PSA Set Registry, is the author of Sweet Recollections: The Story of the Philadelphia Caramel Company of Camden, New Jersey.
Camden-based factory, circa
A Philadelphia Caramel Co. advertisement depicting the Camden-based factory, circa October 1906.
As a young boy growing up in the Southern California cities of South Gate and La Mirada, Erik Varon was not just a typical sportscard collecting kid. Unlike the majority of his friends who flipped and traded cards, Erik was fascinated with the card's images. "I can recall my dad buying me a pack of Topps baseball cards in 1975," Erick said. "As a seven-year old, I was awestruck at the photos of the players depicted on the cards and, to this day, I don't think my father has ever realized what an impression those cards left with me."

A decade later and still an avid collector, Erik decided to put together an eight-card collection of the Chicago White Sox players who became known as the Black Sox after they were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series and banned from the game.

As he worked to amass that subset, Erik purchased a lithograph card of Ed Cicotte and then continued on in his quest to find the rest of those cards. As he continued the search he was constantly drawn back to the Cicotte card that he found mysterious. With its vibrant red background, the 1909 card captured the essence of early-Twentieth Century baseball for Erik.

Erik was also intrigued by the back of the card that listed the names of 25 players and the teams they played for followed by the words: "Made by the Philadelphia Caramel Co. Camden, New Jersey."

Confused as to why the card manufacturing company was called the Philadelphia Caramel Company when it was located in Camden, New Jersey, Erik pondered that question until 2007, when he began doing some serious research. That quest for understanding led to answers that led to Erik's decision to write a book about the long-defunct confectioners.

This past summer, Erik, who works as a dispatcher in Los Angeles law enforcement, released his book, Sweet Recollections: The Story of the Philadelphia Caramel Company of Camden, New Jersey. The book, separated into three parts, first details the history of the company. The middle portion of the book dwells on the company's promotions that they called "Picture Gift Cards" while the final section examines the company's commitment to the community and the era in which they operated.

Erik Varon
A "must read" for collectors who have a passion for pre-war cards.
An entertaining and informative read, the tome explains various job assignments within the company as well as the different types of candies they produced. Using actual newspaper accounts to describe various aspects of this company, Erik includes a list of notable events that took place within the factory. In page after page you will follow Philadelphia Caramel's success and expansion within the candy market and learn about their home city of Camden during the industrial age. Containing 111-pages and 10 corresponding photos, you'll view various ephemera items relating to this company and learn when and how they were forced to close their doors forever. This is a "must read" for collectors who have a passion for pre-war cards and it also serves as a vital resource in that it accurately dates the company's premium candy cards and contains a checklist of every Philadelphia Caramel card produced.

Sports Market Report caught up with Erik shortly after the release of his book. The man with the sweet recollections shared some of his insights on his life as a collector.

SMR: We know you were born and raised in Southern California. What was your childhood like?

EV: In many ways I had a traditional childhood. I was the oldest of five boys and my parents both worked. We lived in a suburban, middle-class neighborhood where I attended private school and was just an average kid. I did very well in school, did chores around the house, and played baseball with the kids in the neighborhood.

SMR: What about high school and college?

PSA 4.5 E95 Ed Cicotte card
The card that started it all, Varon's PSA 4.5 E95 Ed Cicotte card.
EV: I attended La Mirada High School and graduated in 1986. After that I went on to a community college. With little direction, I chose general studies as a major and at one point enrolled in an administration of justice class. One of our assignments in that class was to go on a ride-a-long with our local police agency and write a paper as to what we observed. It was this experience that guided me to my current career in law enforcement.

SMR: Fill us in on the path of your professional career.

EV: After going on that ride-a-long, I knew law enforcement was the field I wanted to get involved in so, shortly thereafter I applied for a position with a large Southern California police agency. I was hired four months later and attended the police academy in 1989.

SMR: Can you give us an idea of a typical day in your life?

EV: While I am considered a part of the patrol division, I no longer work the field. I am the dispatcher who sends the police officers to the calls. On an average eight-hour shift I'll dispatch close to a hundred calls for service. After my shift ends I go to the gym and work out. Depending on what type of workout I'm doing that day, I'll be at the gym for one to two-and-half hours. Then I head home, shower, eat and by that then it's time to pick the kids up from school. Together, we do homework, have dinner, watch some TV and I get the kids ready for bed.

SMR: Sounds like you are a busy guy.

Erik Varon
Ryan, Erik and Emily showing off some of Varon's E95 cards.
EV: Between my career, my family life, my hobbies and interests, I'd say I've got plenty of challenges and with it, opportunities. I've been married for 16 years and we have two kids - a son, Ryan, and a daughter, Emily. Being married and a father of two is great. That, by itself, is a full-time job. My professional field of work brings its own unique set of challenges. Each day is a little different from the next but I get great satisfaction seeing each call, or interaction with others handled to conclusion. Sometimes the people I deal with aren't exactly happy but, at the end of every shift I know I gave my best that day. I enjoy spending time with my family, including my parents, brothers and our two English Bulldogs, Hannah and Brisa. I enjoy watching baseball, especially with my son. I enjoy all activities that are mentally challenging - a couple of examples include playing chess, training and competing in triathlons. Although I find each of my hobbies relaxing, in a challenging way, I enjoy taking on long-term projects that will take some time to complete.

Erik Varon
From left, Hannah, Erik's daughter Emily, Erik, his son, Ryan, and Brisa relaxing at the Southern California home.
SMR: Which brings us to your card collection - what is it that you specifically collect?

EV: For the past year I've been collecting the E95 Philadelphia Caramel baseball set. When I began the set in April 2008 I decided to complete it in no less than a PSAVG-EX4. When I finished the set in January 2009, it was completed in a 4.1 grade. Since that time I've purchased various other Philadelphia Caramel cards and I'm currently kicking around the idea of completing the E96 Philadelphia Caramel set next.

SMR: What attracted you to the Philadelphia Caramel cards?

EV: I purchased my first Philadelphia Caramel card - the E95 Ed Cicotte - right after seeing the movie Eight Men Out in the late 1980s. I wanted to collect one vintage card of each of the Black Sox players and, after a decade of hard work I was finally able to locate the illusive Fred McMullin Zeenut card to complete my set. From the time I first purchased that Cicotte card, there was always something sort of mysterious and appealing about the Philadelphia Caramel brand that has attracted me to collect their cards.

SMR: We know you collect a lot more than the Philadelphia Caramel cards. How large is your overall collection?

Picture Gift Cards Picture Gift Cards Picture Gift Cards Picture Gift Cards
Along with athletes of the era, the Philadelphia Caramel Co. offered a wide variety of what they called "Picture Gift Cards."
Fred Chance Fred Chance
A Carl Horner studio portrait of Frank Chance and the E95 card it inspired.
EV: I really have a modest collection. Not counting my Topps sets from 1978 through 1990, I think I have 400 or 500 cards from the 1950s and before.

SMR: Besides the Philadelphia Caramels are there any other favorites in your collection?

EV: Some of my favorite cards are my T205 PSA 4 Eddie Grant, my Famous/Barr PSA 2 Jim Thorpe card, and my 1933 Goudey PSA 4 Lou Gehrig card.

SMR: Erik, as a collector, how important do you feel PSA, PSA/DNA and the Set Registry is to you and the collectibles hobby and business?

EV: Extremely important. I think that the PSA Registry takes card and autograph collecting not only to a level of higher quality, but also offers a competitive challenge that is fun to compete in.

SMR: What are you seeing as the most desirable items in this genre of sports memorabilia?

EV: All pre-War cards. Those cards have withstood the test of time and have a solid following. Cards of the Black Sox players, especially Joe Jackson, have also proven to be very desirable among vintage card collectors.

SMR: So take out your crystal ball and tell us what you think may be hot in this genre in the next three to five years?

EV: I think over the next few years there will be a greater appreciation for Philadelphia Caramel cards. Traditionally, these cards have been the little brother to tobacco cards but they have recently begun to show signs of gaining popularity. I think Philadelphia Caramel cards from the E120 series will gain momentum and are the up and coming cards to look out for.

SMR: What is your connection with the Philadelphia Caramel Company?

EV: None whatsoever. I'm just a collector who did a little research about this company and wrote a book about them because I wanted to share my interest and passion with others in the card collecting community. With the exception of my book there is very little information available about the Philadelphia Caramel Company. That is what is unique about my book. Sweet Recollections: The Story of the Philadelphia Caramel Company of Camden, New Jersey sets the stage in the early part of the Twentieth Century and describes the landscape of the confectionery trade. The book examines several aspects about the company including information about the company's owners, competitors and the use of premiums to aid with candy sales.

SMR: This is clearly a book that will have a lot of appeal to many of our readers. How can they learn more about your book and get a personally inscribed autographed copy?

EV: By visiting our Website at www.PhiladelphiaCaramel.com