The Felix Mendelsohn M101-4 and M101-5 baseball card sets are two of the more interesting pre-war issues. The sets are often called the ‘Sporting News’ sets but in reality, they belong to a host of different companies and businesses that used them for marketing purposes.
Felix Mendelsohn was the maker of the M101-4 and M101-5 cards produced in 1916. A few years removed from many of the popular tobacco and caramel issues, the sets were unique in that they offered real black and white images of players. Many cards up to that point instead featured color lithographs. The cards allowed collectors the chance to see real, up close pictures of their favorites on the diamond.
There are two distinct sets, but checklists between the two remain largely the same. Many players have the same card number in each set but a few variations exist. In all, there are 200 cards in each set. The key card, without question, is the Babe Ruth card, which is considered by many collectors to be his rookie card. Others, such as Joe Jackson and Jim Thorpe, are heavily desired, too. The checklist is deep enough that it provides a pretty solid cardboard chronicle of the era–a sort of ‘who’s who in baseball’ from a century ago.
The cards were similar in size to many tobacco and caramel cards, but measured slightly bigger at 1 5/8″ x 3″ tall. Fronts of the cards displayed a black and white picture of a player along with his name, position, team, and card number at the bottom in the white border area. Backs of the cards … well, let’s talk about that.
Backs of the Mendelsohn M101-4 and M101-5 cards are what drive the interest for most collectors of these unique cards. That’s because Mendelsohn’s cards were used, seemingly, by every Tom, Dick, and Harry out there. In all 18 different companies are known to have their advertising on the backs in addition to blank-backed cards. It is worth nothing that cards with a few other advertisers have been found. But those have not been found individually yet – only in the form of an uncut sheet.
The advertisers that used Mendelsohn’s cards came from an assortment of industries. Some were publications while others were clothing stores or food/beverage products. One was even a movie theater. Here are the known advertisers to date (aside from the few companies that were found on the backs of uncut sheets):
- Altoona Tribune
- Block and Kuhl
- Famous and Barr Company
- The Globe
- Holmes to Homes Bread
- Indianapolis Brewing
- Mall Theatre
- Morehouse Baking Company
- The Sporting News
- Standard Biscuit Company
- Successful Farming
- Ware’s Basement
- Weil Baking Company
It is important to note that not all of these companies used both Mendelsohn M101-4 and M101-5 cards. Most used only one or the other, or in some cases, a mix of both.
While most of the advertisers had only one type of back printing, a couple have slight variations.
Gimbels, a popular department store, has several different types of backs. The advertising print (Everything for Boys of Every Age, Popular Prices, Gimbels) remained the same. But some very slight font variations are found among them. The same goes for Everybody’s, another department store. Everybody’s has various backs (using the same printing of, “Everybody’s Boys’ Clothing Department, Fourth Floor”) with slight font variations as well.
While many of the advertiser backs were relatively basic, a few offered special promotions surrounding the cards. Indianapolis Brewing, for example, offered a complete set for only 25 cents on the back of their cards. Successful Farming offered a complete if a user purchased $1.00 in subscriptions to their publication – a total of seven years’ worth. In other words, the cards were not expensive.
Another company took a more creative approach. Morehouse Baking advised collectors that cards were included inside of the ten-cent loves of Sunlight Bread. When someone collected 50 of them with no duplicates, they could be shown at the company’s offices for a free baseball and bat, or if preferred, a jump rope. Collectors would keep their cards as part of that promotion.
M101-4 and M101-5 Prices
As you might suspect, prices for M101-4 and M101-5 cards are all over the board due to the varying backs. The most common backs are blank, Sporting News, and Famous and Barr. The most difficult ones are probably the Mall Theatre since they only gave a single card to a person attending a movie. Many of those could have even been left behind in the theater and discarded quickly. A Dave Bancroft SGC 40 Mall Theatre card sold for nearly $1,200 at auction.
The least expensive mid-grade cards can be found in the $30-$40 range. The more difficult backs, however, can sell for hundreds of dollars for even common players and the price is even higher for Hall of Famers, like these Jacksons now on eBay. Ruth, however, is king when it comes to the Mendelsohn cards. A PSA 7 sold last year for $717,000.