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M101-6 Felix Mendelsohn Soars to Ruthian Heights

While many collectors are familiar with the M101-4 and M101-5 cards issued by publisher Felix Mendelsohn with an assortment of advertising backs, until the past several years the larger M101-6 premiums remained nothing more than a companion piece enjoyed by advanced collectors.

1917-20 M101-6 Babe Ruth (New York) PSA 5.5The M101-6 set is still something of a mystery with many unknown factors, but research conducted by Todd Schultz indicates the premiums could be first ordered as early as 1917, while the issuance of a Babe Ruth changed to reflect his purchase by the New York Yankees indicates the set was still available as late as 1920. Measuring 4.5 by 6.5 inches with a blank back, the cards can also feature the F.M. copyright mark and a white border as pointed out by hobbyist Jeff Drum, "recently I picked up a Sam Rice and a Doug Baird which had a full border all the way around and were larger than those borderless typically found.  These are the first bordered ones that I had ever seen and I am not sure whether all the players have both versions or not."

The checklist is something of a debate, as period advertisements indicated it was a 100 card set, but more than 100 examples are believed to be known. Among the most debated card on the checklist is Honus Wagner, whom no collector willing to discuss the set had ever come across. When the issue was put to Bob Lemke, former editor of the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards, he said "while it's certainly possible that while Wagner was advertised, he was never printed or distributed, but given his star status, that seems unlikely."

1917-20 M101-6 Babe Ruth (Boston) PSA 2In the March 2001 MastroNet auction, a raw Babe Ruth (NY) described as being in EX condition sold for $1,321. However, once PSA and SGC developed a holder large enough to accommodate the set, prices truly begin to soar. In REA's 2007 auction a Ruth (NY) graded SGC 50 sold for $5,287.50 while that same year in MastroNet's December auction one graded SGC 40 sold for $3,876.

In 2008, a Ruth (NY) graded SGC 30 sold for $2,880 in Legendary's February auction. In Legendary's August 2010 auction, a Ruth (Boston) version graded 2 by PSA sold for $22,215.

Despite the fact collectors had several years to order the Red Sox version of Ruth, during which time he was a popular player and world champion, it is considered scarce when compared to the Yankees incarnation.

Over the past two years the card has truly left the ballpark like one of Ruth's monstrous homers. In May 2012 the Mile High Card Co. auctioned a Ruth (NY) graded PSA 5.5 for an incredible $44,265.25,  followed by the SGC 40 sold in Legendary's August auction for $16,730. That last sale represented an increase of almost $13,000 in just five years. Just last month Goodwin & Co. auctioned a Ruth (NY) in poor condition, with prominent pinhole, for $16,558.85.

1917-20 M101-6 Ty Cobb SGC 10Pete Ullman, a Minnesota-based collector who includes several early Ruth items in his collection was fortunate enough to acquire one of the increasingly popular pieces. On his decision, Ullman stated, "I chose this Ruth because I like cards that depict him in a Red Sox uniform. I like the unique pose, despite its similarity to E121/E122. And the fact that it is presumed to be a the Babe's first card depicting him as a Yankee."

With the rise in Ruth other Hall of Famers have followed suit. In October 2012 Goodwin & Co. auctioned a Ty Cobb graded 2.5 PSA that sold for $19,893, and in REA's 2013 auction one sold graded SGC 10 sold for a respectable $5,925, despite the prominent pinhole. In Goodwin & Co.'s November 2012 auction, featured a pair of Hall of Fame players graded 2.5 by PSA; Tris Speaker closed at $2,249.10 and Eddie Collins slightly better at $2,474.01.

1917-20 M101-6 Walter JohnsonThe real surprise has been the common players, who longtime collector Tim Newcomb lamented at this past National Sports Collectors Convention could once be had for below $100. Recent sales have exceeded $300, even in fair condition, and no auction house has seemed to have benefited more than Dave Schrader's Baggers Auctions, which has auctioned several common and semi-star players over the past year.

Some believe that the increase in prices is a market adjustment based on the price of the Babe Ruth, however Pete Ullman has a different opinion, "I would tend to think that it is more an example of a thread (or multiple threads) discussing the unique poses by those who have been collecting them. And people see them having not known about them prior and now they start to seek them out, which drives the prices up."

1917-20 M101-6 Rogers HornsbyJeff Drum has been collecting M101-6 for a decade and has noted the increase in prices and popularity.

"With the growing popularity of postcards and other non-card size types of collectibles these have enjoyed a crossover appeal," he said.  "Also I think the fact that most of the photos used for these are not duplicates of photos used in other issues makes them sort of unique on a level of their own.  I think of poses like the Faber, Collins, Schalk and the like - simply stunning photography."

Concerning prices, Drum was quick to point out, that "I have been paying between $200-$300 for nice commons and sometimes even ones with a pinhole or two."

Chris Bland has been actively collecting the set for the past five years, but during that time believes he has only seen 'about' 30 for sale outside of a large group lot. Although he owns seventeen, including six Hall of Fame players, the change in pricing has affected the way he collects, "I am still collecting the cards as actively as ever, but the higher prices just limits the number I can get. At this point, the scarcity of the cards is still the overriding factor in acquiring examples from this set. I am such a fan of the set that I will continue to collect them regardless of price."

Regarding the increase in popularity of the Mendelsohn pieces, Bland's thoughts echoed the sentiments of his fellow M101-6 collectors.  "I believe the set has become more popular with collectors the past couple of years. A couple of higher-grade examples of the Babe Ruth card were sold at auction and brought very high prices, and I think that opened collectors' eyes to the set. Since those auctions, there has been more attention paid to the set and with that comes the realization amongst collectors that these cards are very scarce and desirable. Not only that, but the cards are beautiful - most of them use poses that are not captured in any other baseball card issue."

The recent interest in the M101-6 issue has caused even veteran collectors to reevaluate their significance in the hobby. Michael Peich, perhaps best known for his research and collecting of T209 and related Southern League sets, recently decided to add a type to his collection. Regarding this decision, he stated “I am attracted to baseball photographs on cards, and the Mendelsohn photos are stunning. His images of players, for example Veach, represent some of the finest examples of Modernist photographic touches in baseball cards.”

Regarding their favorite photographs in the set Peter Ullman naturally favored Babe Ruth, while Jeff Drum was partial to Rogers Hornsby, and Chris Bland most enjoyed Ty Cobb. However, the one card most would like to see is that of Shoeless Joe Jackson, captured at the heart of his Black Sox fame as expressed by Bland. "The one card that I would like to see is the Joe Jackson. I have never even seen a picture of the card. It is apparently confirmed to exist, as I have read that one was present in the collection of a dealer/collector."

Gone are days such as February 2004 when Matt Sears sought information on a M101-6 example of iconic Black Sox player Buck Weaver he described as being in VG/EX condition, and was advised it was valued between $75 and $100. This issue is clearly one of the hottest sets of the past year.

While Mendelsohns rarely show up on eBay, you can see over 200 M101-4 and M101-5 cards on eBay here.

About Chris Levy

Sports Collectors Daily contributing writer Chris Levy has been collecting sports cards for more than 20 years. Growing up in the suburbs of New York City provided him an early love for the legendary teams and athletes who dominated the headlines for most of the past century. His current focus is on the 1905 World Champion New York Giants. He can be reached at [email protected].

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