You think promo cards are a new thing? Think again. A new discovery has led to the one and only known complete set of 1916 M101-5 Successful Farming Magazine promo cards featuring a half dozen baseball legends. They were part of a one-month promotion 96 years ago—a quirky but ultra scarce group that will perk the interest of serious pre-War card collectors.
Most collectors, dealers and auction houses weren’t even aware of their existence.
The discovery came through a much larger group of 650 original-owner cards from roughly the same time period that were sent to Robert Edward Auctions for consignment. Included were four M101-5 Successful Farming cards. All Successful Farming cards are rare (Successful Farming is one of the rarest of all M101-4/5 advertising backs), but had no card numbers at the bottom. Finally, REA contacted card collecting scholar Todd Schultz, who along with along with fellow collector Tim Newcomb, authored the definitive article ever written about the M101-4/5 set in Issue #16 (Summer 2008) of Old Cardboard magazine.
REA sent scans of the four cards (Joe Jackson, Grover Alexander, Frank Baker, and Heinie Zimmerman) to Schultz and asked him if he was familiar with this unusual variety of M101-5 Successful Farming cards. It turns out Schultz had seen an Alexander years ago and further research eventually led him to find an advertisement in the May 1916 issue of Successful Farming magazine that offered a special promotional set of six cards to anyone who would write in and simply ask for one.
The six players in the set were listed in the ad and an example of Lajoie (designed with no number) was pictured in the ad. The REA consignor had sent in four of the six.
“We called the consignor to ask if by chance, there could possibly be any others that were not sent to us, and he told us that yes, there were two others,” wrote REA president Rob Lifson. “One he had kept as a souvenir (Johnny Evers) and the other stumped him for a moment; but then he remembered that years earlier he traded a few cards to a friend as a favor, in thanks for assistance in helping to catalog his cards.”
The consignor called his friend and found that he indeed, did, have one more card, which was indeed the Lajoie that would complete the six-card set. Fortunately, after hearing the saga of the discoveries, the consignor’s friend agreed to turn it over so the set could be complete.
“This incredible find, combined with Todd Schultz’s research and generous assistance, solves the mystery of these cards and allows the existence of the set to be confirmed,” Lifson stated.
“It is also interesting to note that our consignor obtained these cards decades ago directly from the original owner, a gentleman by the name of Mel Irving, who was an apple farmer. This is a fascinating additional note as it explains why Mr. Irving would happen to subscribe to Successful Farming and, as an avid card collector, why he responded to the ad in May of 1916.”
Each of the six cards from this unique complete set has been professionally graded by SGC (all submitted by REA): Grover Alexander (VG 40), Frank Baker (EX+ 70), Johnny Evers (NM 84), Joe Jackson (EX 60), Napoleon Lajoie (EX/MT 80), and Heinie Zimmerman (EX/NM 80).
“We know we could break the set up and maybe get more, but we do not have the heart to do it,” Lifson explained. “Our consignor is in full agreement. Finding these cards, unlocking their mystery, and reassembling the set were a thrill for us and for our consignor as well.”
The M101-5 promo set will carry a $5,000 reserve in REA’s upcoming auction, which opens April 16. See the images below.
See M101-5 cards on eBay here.