The M101-4 and M101-5 baseball cards are often referred to as the Sporting News sets. Created by Felix Mendelsohn in 1916, these two similar black and white sets included some iconic cards, including what is generally recognized as Babe Ruth’s major league rookie card. The sets have mostly the same checklists but include some variants in terms of who is included in each one and what card number is used for their cards.
While The Sporting News was one of the more common sponsors using the cards, numerous other companies did as well (many of the cards are also blank-backed, too). The mix of types of businesses using the cards varied quite a bit. However, some of the more interesting businesses with their advertisements printed on the backs were actually department stores.
About the Department Store Cards
Department stores were one of the more numerous types of M101-4 and M101-5 cards with many of those businesses getting into the mix. Specifically, the ones that printed their advertisements on these unique cards included:
- Block and Kuhl Company
- Burgess Nash Company
- Famous and Barr
- The Globe
- Ware’s Basement
The cards are rectangular shaped and look a bit like other tobacco and early candy/caramel issues. But at 1 5/8″ x 3″ tall, they are unmistakably bigger than most of those. They are also different from many of those tobacco/early candy sets in that they use real black and white images as opposed to color lithographic art. Distributed in 1916, they were printed during World War I when there weren’t many sets being created. They came right after the American tobacco card boom and before the gum card era.
The department store cards may seem like an odd fit at first. After all, the two primary items cards had been packed with to that time were cigarettes and candy.
However, if you think about it, the use of these cards by those types of stores made a lot of sense. While children weren’t necessarily out buying clothes and household items at these stores, their parents certainly would have been. And if children could get these baseball cards from certain stores, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that they would have wanted their parents to shop for their clothes at those stores. And maybe while they’re there, the parents would be lured into other purchases, too.
You may not have heard of too many of these companies. But some of them lasted long beyond the distribution of these cards. Famous and Barr, for example, kept their name until 2006 and was later acquired by Macy’s.
A Popular Theme
The stores must have felt that the use of these cards could make for a winning strategy and we know that from the backs. In particular, they were geared towards promoting one specific thing — boys’ clothing. While most of them obviously sold a great many other items, a popular theme advertised on these card backs were boys’ clothing and, to a lesser degree, sporting goods.
Block and Kuhl, for example, was your typical department store that offered all sorts of items. Only one type of product, however, is even mentioned on the backs of their M101 cards as the phrase, “The store for live boys.” is found. Other companies’ cards paint a similar picture. Burgess Nash was a department store in Omaha offering all sorts of items. Their cards mention only one thing, though — boys’ clothing.
Famous and Barr even took things a step further, painting a picture of being solely a boys’ clothing store. But nothing could be further from the truth as the company was a combination of a clothing store and a dry goods store, and was created through a merger. You wouldn’t know how diverse their business was by the backs of their cards, though. Their cards call the store, ‘The Boys’ Clothing Store of St. Louis’ and also ‘St. Louis’ Foremost Boys’ Clothing Store.’
Green-Joyce and Ware’s Basement cards advertised sporting goods/athletic items, but the others all mentioned boys’ clothing.
One particular note worth mentioning is that Gimbels actually has three similar but different back advertisements printed on their cards. The phrase ‘Everything for Boys of Every Age’ is found on all three types, but the font used in the Gimbels name is different on each one. Other similar variances could exist in other department store cards, too.
Rarity and Values
One of the more common types are the Famous and Barr cards. Those commons can be found in decent condition, starting around $40-$50. Not all of the department store cards are that easy to find, however. And typically, the rarer the type, the more money they will cost.
And when you combine one of the rarer backs with one of the more popular players, you’re talking quite a bit of money. This Babe Ruth Ware’s Basement M101 card, for example, sold in 2013 for $130,000. Today it would likely cost even more.