Baseball and … Farming? Outside of, say, Field of Dreams, that isn’t a combination you’d expect to hear much. But in 1916, the pair were indeed linked by two sets distributed by an agricultural publication called Successful Farming.
The basis for the cards came from the M101-5 set that is often referred to as the Sporting News issue. But while Sporting News did use the cards to advertise their own publication, the M101-5 cards (and M101-4, for that matter) were used for many other companies. One such company was Successful Farming.
In all, there are actually two different Successful Farming sets.
Successful Farming preceded their main set with a set of promotional cards. The set included only six cards but it was, putting it mildly, a star-studded issue. The set was highlighted by a Joe Jackson card and others included Hall of Famers Nap Lajoie, Grover Alexander, Johnny Evers, and Home Run Baker.
The final card featured Heinie Zimmerman, who was a star in his own right, leading the league in hits, home runs, batting average, and, three times, runs batted in.
These cards are incredibly scarce and, as of 2012, there was only one known complete set. Each card was the same as those found in the main M101-5 issue with two main differences. They did not have card numbers as regular M101-5 cards did and they also had unique backs advertising a larger set.
While the first six-card promotional set was free, their intentions were clear once collectors looked at the backs of the cards.
Backs of the six promo cards displayed a long advertisement explaining how consumers could get hold of a full or partial M101-5 set. These cards, again, were the regular M101-5s but, unlike the promo issues, were numbered. The backs had the same advertisement as the promo cards mentioning the full set.
Successful Farming was trying to increase its publication base, though, so this wasn’t just about merely selling the cards. Instead, the company packaged them with subscriptions to its publication.
Consumers would receive 50 cards with the purchase of a one-year subscription to Successful Farming. 100 cards would be given with the purchase of two one-year subscriptions or a single three-year subscription. 150 cards were given for a five-year subscription or a combination of smaller subscriptions. All 200 cards were given if a consumer spent a total of $1.00 (about $24 today) for a seven-year subscription. It stands to reason not many hard-working farmers dug in for the five or seven-year commitment.
Rarity and Pricing
On the surface, the promotion doesn’t appear as if it was likely too, pardon the pun, successful. Despite the low price, you rarely see the cards with the Successful Farming advertising backs.
The cards are rare and as a result, expensive. Prices vary greatly because of the infrequency with which they are auctioned. But for cards in decent shape, you can expect to pay several hundred dollars. A Miller Huggins in poor condition was sold for nearly $400 at an auction in 2014.
The promo cards are even more desirable. That complete aforementioned set sold for more than $26,000 at auction in 2012 and could fetch even more if sold today.
Even cards from the standard 200-card set are rarely found today. Every so often, one will pop up on eBay but you typically don’t see them there.