On August 9, 1910, right handed pitcher Frank Smith was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Boston Red Sox. In parts of two seasons with the Red Sox, Smith appeared in five games and posted a 1-2 record with a 5.64 ERA. Smith barely lasted a year in Boston before being purchased by the Cincinnati Reds on May 11, 1911 for the sum of $5,000.
Few would take note of Smith’s brief stint in Boston, but Sporting Life, always keen on accuracy, issued an updated version of his trading card in the set that would ultimately be known as M116. The only thing more obscure than Smith’s career was the card itself, which had gone uncatalogued for more than a century. This cardboard rarity would be passed around for decades, unnoticed, until arriving in the mailbox of veteran collector Brian Parker several months ago. Parker has been collecting pre-war baseball cards for more than three decades and is working on a variety of sets, adding to a sizable type card collection, and picking up items that simply seemed like a ‘good deal’ at the time.
Because Parker’s involvement in the hobby predates the advent of third party grading, he does not hesitate to buy raw. If not for this distinction, it is very unlikely that the unique Frank Smith card would have found its way into his collection, “the Frank Smith Red Sox variation card was in a small lot of lower condition M116’s listed on eBay. The M116 set is one I have dabbled in over the years, with most of the cards I have being in fairly low grade, and the ones in the eBay lot all had the ‘300 Subjects’ back, which are tougher to come by, and what attracted my interest to the lot in the first place. However, it was the other cards that were included, not the Frank Smith, that ultimately made me pursue it, as ‘Frank Smith’ was already in my collection.”
When the lot of collector grade M116s found its way to Parker, there was no mythical white light illuminating the card to signify its significance. In fact, the card very nearly went unnoticed and could have easily spent several decades more undiscovered, “it was during a busy time for me as it was about six-eight weeks after receiving the cards that I had a chance to sort them out and integrate them into my collection. I was comparing the new Frank Smith card I had received with the Frank Smith in my collection to see if it was a possible upgrade, when I discovered that the team names were different. ‘Cool,’ I thought, ‘I actually need this one.’ I then proceeded to check the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards and discovered that only one Frank Smith card was listed, with no team designation indicated, which really got me wondering if I had somehow come across something special. I then checked the Old Cardboard website, as I knew in their reference section they had a comprehensive listing of the Sporting Life set compiled by Tim Newcomb. And when the Smith Red Sox variation wasn’t listed there either, I was almost sure it was a previously unknown card for the M116 set, on the level of the Bates and Seymour variations that Newcomb had designated with the highest scarcity rating. But just in case I also checked the internet, with no luck, and then finally presented it to the Net54 forum to verify what I believed, which was that I somehow had stumbled across an extreme M116 rarity.”
The collector whose knowledge Parker relied upon to validate his discovery was Tim Newcomb, who has studied the M116 set extensively, and is the author of 1910-12 M116 Sporting Life: A (Mostly) Pastel Treasure, which appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Old Cardboard magazine. Newcomb had this to share concerning the Smith, Boston discovery, “I was very pleased, but not entirely surprised. My research while doing the article revealed that there are several potential variations — team changes listed in the Sporting Life ads for the cards — that were not yet documented as existing. Ironically Frank Smith was not one of those I had noticed, but his Red Sox variation does appear in Sporting Life ads.”
Since Brian Parker went public with his discovery on Net54 in the first week of July, collectors have spent countless hours pouring through their M116s just to make sure they were not sitting on any other potential rarities. In fact, at this past National, diving through stacks of M116s by astute collectors was a frequent sight. And, if Newcomb is right, the digging just may pay off, “We can anticipate more discoveries of this kind. The Smith was found in a low-grade lot of common players on eBay. This type of discovery is part of what makes the hobby so much fun, even with all its problems.”
The M116 Frank Smith, Boston, will not find itself in ‘the Parker collection’ very long, however, as it has found itself consigned to the inaugural fall offering of Robert Edward Auctions. “I decided to go with REA because I like their integrity, and they immediately came to my mind as the auction house that does the best job in promoting rare and unique vintage cards,” Parker stated, explaining his decision in choosing the venue for the unique card.
Brian Dwyer, REA’s Consignment Director, has seen just about everything walk through his door at some point, but is still impressed by new discoveries. “Getting the card in the mail was pretty special,” he said. “It’s not every day that you get a call about a new discovery that is as significant as the M116 Smith/Boston. We’re often contacted by people with items that sound fantastic but then don’t turn out as well as we had hoped or turn out not to be real at all. We’d seen the card on Net54 and were pretty comfortable that it was as advertised, but getting it in hand and having it authenticated by SGC was an important step to confirming everything and getting it ready for auction.”
Although the Frank Smith received an ‘Authentic’ grade from SGC due to the reattached lower left corner, expectations are still high for this card as no M116 master set will be complete without it, as Dwyer explained, “we know this card will generate a lot of excitement among collectors. New discoveries are always special for us to document and offer at auction. We have no idea what the card will bring, but we know it’s a very significant discovery that will be exciting to watch.”
The fall auction will open for bidding on October 1 and close Saturday, October 19 at www.RobertEdwardAuctions.com.
Despite the hype surrounding the card, Brian Parker remains modest about his find.
“Just about any collector could have ended up with this card,” he admitted. ” The lot had no indication of its specialness, nor even the team designation which might have tipped off observant collectors. Obviously no one else spotted this variation, and even I was fortunate because I already owned the Frank Smith, White Sox card, as otherwise I am positive I would have just added it to my M116 collection, probably for many years to come, without realizing its significance.”