PSA Set Registry

Collecting the 1909 Dockman & Sons (E92) Baseball Card Set

An "E"-xciting Early Gum Issue

by Kevin Glew

If you're looking for not one but two Honus Wagner cards from the same era that are more affordable than his T206 single, then the 1909 Dockman & Sons Gum set (E92) might be just the set for you.

This more than century-old offering boasts a card of Wagner batting and another that presents him throwing. Some hobbyists prefer on-the-field images to portraits, so they might even find the E92 Wagner cards more aesthetically pleasing than his storied T206 single. Peter Calderon, a vintage baseball card expert and creator of www.caramel-cards.com, is not one of those collectors.

"The T206 portrait is so commanding and well done. It is an iconic portrait," said Calderon. "The E92 Wagner illustrations are far more appealing to kids, which is who the cards [as part of a gum issue] were marketed to." 

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The Wagner "throwing" card generally commands a premium, but Calderon hasn't noticed "a huge difference in availability" between the Dockman & Sons (E92) Wagner cards. Seventy of the throwing cards have been submitted to PSA and the sole PSA NM 7 is the highest graded example. There are also three PSA EX-MT 6s, one of which fetched $8,962.50 in a Heritage Auctions sale in November 2015.

Just 41 of the Wagner "batting" cards have been evaluated and a PSA MINT 9 and a PSA 6 are the highest graded examples. A PSA EX 5 garnered $3,824 on eBay in November 2015.

"I wouldn't call them [the Dockman & Sons (E92) Wagner cards] an option against the T206 card, but if you want to own a Honus Wagner card, the E92 is a great option that won't break the bank," said Calderon.

But Wagner is just one of 10 Hall of Famers highlighted in this 40-card offering that shares artwork with several "E" sets from the same era.  Four sets are listed under the American Card Catalog's E92 designation. These are categorized together because they share the same artwork and front design, but they have different advertising on their backs: Dockman & Sons, Croft's Candy, Croft's Cocoa, and Nadja Caramels. Some collectors focus solely on the fronts and build their set with varying backs, while others believe the different backs should be treated as four distinct sets.

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The Dockman & Sons Gum issue is listed separately on the PSA Set Registry. The back of these cards have their company name (John H. Dockman & Sons) highlighted at the bottom and showcase a different design than the Croft's and Nadja Caramels singles. The Dockman & Sons backs incorrectly state that each card is "one of a set of 50 Base Ball Players." The set is actually comprised of 40 cards, while the Croft's sets consist of 50 singles and the Nadja Caramels set boasts 62.

The fronts of the Dockman & Sons singles (like the Croft's and Nadja Caramels cards) exhibit an art rendering of the player against a solid color or multi-colored background. There's a mix of action images and portraits. Some of the best images can be found on catchers' cards: backstops Bill Bergen, George Gibson, and Red Kleinow are all featured in antiquated catching gear. There's also a great action picture of Detroit receiver Boss Schmidt tagging out a runner sliding into home plate on his card.

The John McGraw single offers another memorable image. Though he had a reputation as one of baseball's prickliest figures, the Hall of Fame manager's card presents a picture of him against a pinkish background, which serves as a striking contrast to his personality.

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Most of the pictures are displayed in a vertical format, but five cards - Al Bridwell, Harry Davis, Christy Mathewson, Germany Schaefer, and Johnny Seigle - boast horizontal images. The white-bordered card fronts also share the player's last name, position, team, and league at the bottom.

"I like this set and the players in it," said Ted DeNapoli, who owns the No. 2 Current Finest Dockman & Sons Gum set on the PSA Set Registry. "I really enjoy collecting the pre-war sets. These players were not like the players today; they were blue-collar people trying to make a living. I just love that era of baseball."

One Dockman & Sons card was distributed in each pack of gum. It's safe to conclude that they were not released until after July 16, 1909, because that was when Dave Shean was traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Boston Doves and his card has been updated to reflect this transaction.

Hobbyists seem to agree that the Dockman & Sons cards enjoyed the widest distribution of the E92 cards (Croft's and Nadja Caramels backs are tougher to find).

"I believe that the E92 Dockman cards are the second-most commonly encountered of the small size caramel cards, after the E90-1 American Caramel set, and they're easily the most common of the four E92 advertising backs," noted veteran collector Brian Parker.

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Calderon expresses similar thoughts, but he's uncertain how widely the Dockman & Sons cards were distributed.

"I think distribution was mainly East Coast and probably reached the Midwest," he said.

The Dockman & Sons cards are not numbered and there's no discernible pattern or sequence to the series. With seven cards, the New York Giants are the most represented team, while members of the 1908 and 1909 American League pennant-winning Detroit Tigers are highlighted on five cards. On the flip side, the St. Louis Browns and Boston Red Sox are completely snubbed and there's just one representative from each of the Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Senators, and Boston Doves.

"There are no known rarities in the set that I am aware of," shared Parker. "The checklist for the Dockman cards has stayed at 40 subjects for decades, and it is extremely doubtful that any more would be discovered now. And if they were, they would probably be in some sort of proof or scrap form."

Dockman & Sons was based in Baltimore and, as noted, their set contained 10 less cards than the series unveiled by Croft's, a Philadelphia-based company. So it's probably not a coincidence that six of the 10 players that Dockman & Sons did not include in their issue were from Philadelphia teams, one of which was Hall of Famer Eddie Collins. Cooperstowner Johnny Evers and a second Chief Bender card (with a striped cap) were also in the Croft's series but not in the Dockman & Sons issue. The most notable exclusion, however, is Ty Cobb. Hobby experts are unsure as to why Dockman & Sons would not include the "Georgia Peach" in their series.

But the lack of Cobb, Collins, and Evers cards is compensated for by the two Wagner cards and singles of immortals like Christy Mathewson and Cy Young.

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Eagle-eyed collectors will notice an extra "t" in Mathewson's last name on his card, but the horizontal action shot on it makes it one of the set's most coveted cards.

"That's a really nice card," said DeNapoli. "I have a PSA 6 and it's a gorgeous card."

Of the 38 submitted, there has been one PSA NM-MT 8, one PSA 7, and four PSA 6s. The PSA 7 sold for $17,925 in a Heritage Auctions sale in November 2015.

DeNapoli says the Cy Young single is also highly desirable. He still needs one for his set. This card presents a side profile image of the mound legend against an orangish-red background. There has been one PSA 8, two PSA 7s and one PSA 6.

Seven other Hall of Famers - Chief Bender, Frank Chance, Sam Crawford, Hugh Jennings, Nap Lajoie, John McGraw, and Joe Tinker - are also part of this set. Of these cards, the Chance is the only one that has not had an example grade higher than a PSA 6.

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It should be noted that this set also houses two cards of New York Giants second baseman Larry Doyle. Similar to Wagner, one features him batting and the other pictures him throwing. Both cards have been submitted to PSA in similar quantities (32 of the batting card and 33 of the throwing card).

Technically, there are also two cards of Tigers catcher Boss Schmidt, but one of them mistakenly lists his last name as "Smith." One card features the aforementioned action image of him tagging out a runner at home plate, while the other shows him standing in a throwing pose.

Though they're the most plentiful of the E92 backs, the Dockman & Sons singles are not easy to uncover in flawless form. Of the 1,305 submitted, there's just one PSA 9, two PSA NM-MT+ 8.5s, 18 PSA 8s, three PSA NM+ 7.5s, and 45 PSA 7s. These cards are regularly hampered by the general wear and tear that's to be expected on cards that are more than 100 years old.

DeNapoli says prices for high-grade examples of these cards have increased in recent years in part because they don't come up for sale that often. This has made it challenging for him to achieve his goal of completing his registry set in PSA 5 or better.

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"It's really hard to put this set together because you just have to wait for someone to sell," he said. "I want to complete my set, but I don't want to bring my grade down."

Nonetheless, DeNapoli is still optimistic about the future of this set.

"I don't think there will be any issue with it holding its value," he said.

Calderon offers a similar assessment. He says he can see more collectors pursuing the Dockman & Sons (E92) cards in the future.

"They are a staple in the early 'E' era and are fun to collect - unless you are a rarity junkie - and completing this set only encourages hobbyists to continue to collect this class of cards," he said.

For more information on the 1909 Dockman & Sons (E92) baseball card set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/baseball-cards/1909-dockman-sons-e92/114.


Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of December 2016.