The M101-4 and M101-5 cards (often referred to as The Sporting News cards) haven’t traditionally been as popular as some of the tobacco or candy issues from the early part of the 20th century. Given the checklist, that’s always been a little surprising. Released in 1916, the sets are quietly celebrating their 100th birthday.
The cards have seen an uptick in popularity over the last couple of years, especially what’s widely considered the rookie card of Babe Ruth and a late career example of Shoeless Joe Jackson with the White Sox.
The M101-4 and M-101-5 sets were released only a few years after the famed tobacco card sets produced by the American Tobacco Company. Like those releases, these are smaller sized cards (but slightly taller) at 1 5/8″ wide x 3″ tall. What differs from the early tobacco and candy cards, however, is that the M101-4 and M101-5 sets actually featured photographs of players instead of lithographic art. The black and white images of players filled up most of the space on the fronts. At the bottom, the player’s name, position, team, and checklist number was included. The backs included a wide range of advertising from companies who signed on to distribute them.
While both the M101-4 and M101-5 sets include many of the same players, the checklists do vary. Thirty players are in both sets and have the same numbers in each, but most are different.
Both the M101-4 and M101-5 cards have the same style of fronts, but because of the two different checklists, in many cases it can be easy to determine which set a particular card is in. However, for the 30 players with the same card number, it is often impossible to know the set in which they belong.
The backs of these black and white cards varied greatly. They were created for distribution through a variety of advertisers such as The Sporting News, Altoona Tribune, Gimbel’s Department Stores, Standard Biscuit, Weil Baking Company, and other smaller companies. As is the case with many pre-World War I card issues, some backs bring an added premium as opposed to others. Some backs are also believed to be affiliated with certain sets. Along with the card numbering, that can help collectors distinguish between the two releases.
In addition to the various advertising backs mentioned above, these cards are often found with blank backs as well.
If you’re looking for Hall of Famers and stars, the M101-4 and M101-5 sets just might be for you. Both include a host of talent highlighted by the famous Babe Ruth ‘rookie’ card. Not all collectors designate the Ruth card as his true rookie as he was featured two years earlier in the 1914 Baltimore News set, a regional minor league issue. However, rookie card or not, Ruth’s M101-4 and M101-5 cards are among the most heralded in the pre-War card era.
In addition to the Bambino, the set includes numerous other key players. Close to 40 Hall of Famers in the sets are present, such as Grover Alexander, Home Run Baker, Dave Bancroft, Chief Bender, Roger Bresnahan, Mordecai Brown, Max Carey, Frank Chance, Eddie Collins, Charles Comiskey, Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, Johnny Evers, Red Faber, Clark Griffith, Harry Hooper, Miller Huggins, Hughie Jennings, Walter Johnson, Nap Lajoie, Connie Mack, Rabbit Maranville, Rube Marquard, John McGraw, Eppa Rixey, Wilbert Robinson, Ed Roush, Ray Schalk, George Sisler, Casey Stengel, Joe Tinker, Honus Wagner, Bobby Wallace, Ed Walsh, and Zach Wheat.
If that’s not enough, the set also includes several of the members of the infamous 1919 Chicago Black Sox team, which were part of the fix to throw the World Series. None of these cards is more desirable than the legendary Joe Jackson. Jackson might not be a Hall of Famer, but his cards generate massive amounts of interest from collectors. In the entire set, he takes a back seat only to Ruth in terms of value.
Other Black Sox included in this set are Eddie Cicotte, Chick Gandil, Buck Weaver, and Happy Felsch. The only three of the eight members tossed from baseball that are not in the set are Claude Williams, Swede Risberg, and Fred McMullin.
M101-4 and M101-5 Value
The M101-4 and M101-5 sets are a bit of a rarity and not the easiest to find. Because of that, these are not the best options for the budget-conscious or the set collector. Commons in reasonable condition aren’t too pricey and can usually be had for under $50 in lower-mid grade condition. However, the stars are a different situation entirely.
Mid-grade stars can easily be in the $500 or $1,000 range, depending upon the player. Some cards, such as the Jackson and Ruth, are in another class all to themselves. Earlier this year, a PSA 5 blank back Ruth sold for $191,200. In 2015, a PSA 6 Ruth brought $204,000. The second rated M101-4 set on PSA’s Set Registry sold in 2015 for $118,500 with a GPA just above 5.00.
You can see cards from both sets available on eBay by clicking here.