Ready to collect Cracker Jack prizes? We've compiled our "best practice" list to help you out. Even if you're already a collector, you may find some of these tips useful. Granted, most of our recommendations do apply to collecting in general.
As with most tasks, having things in place prior to starting is helpful. The same applies to a hobby. While the collecting aspect lends itself to inspiration and folly, knowing how much to spend and keeping your collection (and investment) well kept and organized is something you should plan.
Because Cracker Jack prize collecting goes back to the early 1900s, there are good resources available to learn about it. We recommend the following:
- Cracker Jack Toys: The Complete, Unofficial Guide for Collectors by Larry White. It provides a fairly complete list of Cracker Jack prizes.
- eBay as it provides the ability to search for current prices.
In starting a collection of any type, it helps if you have some level of expertise. It's not necessary to be an expert, but knowledge helps whether you're buying or selling.
Determine Your Budget
While it's possible to make some money from buying and selling Cracker Jack prizes, you're not likely going to get rich unless you have several pristine sets of the 1914 baseball cards. So before starting, it helps to know how much disposable income is available to spend. As with most collectibles, prices over time will fluctuate. Collecting Cracker Jack should be considered a hobby and not a primary investment. Set a budget and stick with it.
Understanding how much money you have to spend is especially important if you plan to use eBay auctions to fill your collection. On eBay, it's easy to bid emotionally--an auction can become a competition and winning becomes the goal, at all cost. Knowing your limit, especially in the early part of your collecting experience, can save you money. When starting your collection, buy conservatively and stay within budget. As your expertise grows, you'll get a sense of when it's okay to spend outside the budget to get that rare or "hard-to-find" item for your collection.
Necessities: Storage and Organization
Having necessary storage is important in any type of collecting. If you are going to take the time to acquire items for a collection, also take the time to ensure they are kept in good condition. Note, it does not take a huge effort or investment to store Cracker Jack prizes. One of the benefits of collecting Cracker Jack is their size--small items can be stored safely and easily.
Our top three recommendations for storing Cracker Jack prizes are:
- Plastic containers, any of them will work. We like to use ones that are see-through so we know what's in them.
- Tool cases used to store small parts likes screws, nuts and bolts. These can be purchased at any hardware store.
- 35mm print slide pages or sheets placed in a photo binder. This is the "old school" method and still works.
Besides their size, another benefit to collecting Cracker Jack is that a variety of prizes are "durable" and won't break if stored in most containers. Unlike trading cards which can be bent or damaged due to moisture, many prizes are made of hard plastic. Of course, there are also "non-durable" Cracker Jack prizes like fragile "put-togethers" or paper Cracker Jack items like books and stickers. Take into consideration your best options before storing these types of prizes.
When storing your Cracker Jack, it's good practice to group them. How they are grouped depends on what you are collecting. Items can be stored by material like plastic with plastic or paper with paper. Another method is storing by theme, e.g., astronauts and aliens or furniture. Also, when storing Cracker Jack prizes, take into consideration how the items are stored as in "durable" vs "non-durable" and try not mixing items that may damage one another.
While it's not necessary in the early stages of collecting, as your collection grows, it makes sense to inventory your items. The inventory can be a simple list on a spreadsheet or a database. Having a list helps when purchasing items for your collection. Knowing what you have in your collection helps you prioritize what you need to buy. For example, if you're trying to complete a series like the Cracker Jack Encyclopedia set, knowing which miniature books are left to collect may influence how aggressively you may bid on an eBay auction that has these items.
Having an inventory also helps in case you want to later sell some of your collection. Do you have duplicate prizes or have items that fall outside of the core areas you are collecting? Does the item not meet your current quality standard, as in it's nice, but I want or found a better one? Or, I got it in an auction and I found out it wasn't Cracker Jack.
As you begin your collection, starting out organized will be beneficial. Nothing complicated at first, just a few plastic boxes for storage and a written list of prioritized "wants" to guide your purchases should do.
Now for the fun part, buying items for your collection. While it is possible to find Cracker Jack prizes through estate or garage sales, many casual collectors will probably buy most of their Cracker Jack prizes online. Of course, the best place to find them is eBay. It's not the only online site that has Cracker Jack prizes, there is also Etsy, Times Passages Nostalgia and Ruby Lane. What eBay offers is the ability to purchase items by a lot (i.e., usually a group of multiple assorted items) or by an individual piece or a complete set.
Buying on eBay
The great thing about building your Cracker Jack collection from eBay purchases is that you can do it any time and you don't need to have your shoes on. Here are our top recommendations for buying Cracker Jack prizes on eBay:
- Try buying auction lots, it can be a cheap way to grow your collection. Auction lots usually offer multiple items at a low starting price. When bidding on auctions, keep your set budget in mind.
- Be sure to review all pictures. Keep in mind that the images are the best way to determine the condition of the items you are bidding on or purchasing. Make sure to use the eBay enlarge image feature.
- Ask questions if required. eBay provides an "Ask a question" link so you can send an inquiry to the seller. Don't be afraid to use this feature to ask the seller about condition and size or color of the items.
Quality and Condition
When buying Cracker Jack from any source, it's important to remember these two things:
- Not everything sold as Cracker Jack is Cracker Jack. There's a tendency to group any small toy item as "Cracker Jack" or "crackerjacks." This includes everything from gumball prizes to dime store toys to cereal or other premiums. Here's where research is necessary.
- Beware broken or incomplete Cracker Jack prizes. Due to the age and purpose, Cracker Jack items often come with damage as they were meant to be free premiums in a low-cost food snack.
As it grows, from time to time you should review what is in your Cracker Jack collection. Though it is not necessary at the start, once you can no longer remember what is in your collection, it's time to create a spreadsheet list or database and assess what you have.
What's Really in Your Collection
In updating your Cracker Jack list or database it's always to good to check what you have and see what it's worth:
- If you're collecting sets of items, like the ten 1950s Cracker Jack astronauts, it's good to confirm what you have vs. what is missing. Further, check for condition as the quality of pieces collected over time will vary and you may want to replace certain items. Knowing what is lacking in your collection should inform your priorities for purchasing.
- Verify what your items are worth using online sources. We prefer to review prices online as that usually provides the most up-to-date information.
Re-Prioritizing Your Priorities
Once you begin collecting, review your priorities and focus your efforts. In the early stages of collecting, it's good to get a variety of Cracker Jack prizes to initially seed your collection, especially if you are able to procure them through inexpensive eBay auctions. However, as your collection builds, you may want to narrow what you purchase in order to maximize how your collection budget is spent. Because of the number of years Cracker Jack prizes have been in existence, trying to get one of everything will probably not be possible, financially or otherwise. It's best to focus on one or several areas that serve your interests well. Here are things to consider:
- Collect what ultimately interests you most. What type of Cracker Jack collector are you?
- Try to collect the sets. Cracker Jack produced many of their prizes in series and sets, these tend to have a higher overall value.
- Rare and "hard-to-find" prizes may be easier to purchase individually, that usually comes at a higher price.
To optimize your efforts, find your focus once you start collecting and re-prioritize your "must-have" list based on that. It's okay to change your buying style. Recognizing when to update your collecting goals is important as you become a more seasoned collector.
Become a Seller
If you're going to collect Cracker Jack prizes, you might as well sell Cracker Jack prizes. This is an excellent way to earn money to keep your collection growing. Also, its a good way to share your expertise.
Be a Happy Collector
Cracker Jack prize collecting is a fun hobby. Now that Frito-Lay has replaced the physical prize in the box with a digital one, it could also be a lucrative hobby. Keep this in mind, hobbies should be fulfilling and an enjoyable past-time. If you both buy and sell Cracker Jack prizes, you could also earn money to help pay for your collection. We hope that these tips are helpful.