Mike Simon, Mint 9
Mike Simon, Mint 9

There was a time, not too long ago, when "finds" used to dominate the hobby headlines. No, they were not commonplace by any stretch of the imagination but they did actually happen and they happened frequently enough to keep the industry excited for a while.

Today, the so-called find is almost non-existent due to a variety of factors. First, when the hobby started to really take off in the 1980s, the owners of this material became aware of what they had and the value in protecting their investment. In turn, dealers had a harder time of prying those gems loose from those owners and offering them to the open market. In addition, as the dealers continued to scour the country for great collections and discoveries, the pool of cards started to become depleted.

There's no question that there are some treasures yet to be unearthed but the reality is that vintage gems are becoming harder and harder to find, especially ones that have not circulated many times before. You all know what I am referring to -- the retreads. In many auctions, you will see cards that you have seen once before either at auction somewhere else or in a dealer's inventory. Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with cards that were previously owned by other collectors. A card is what it is no matter who the previous owner was.

Recently, we have seen a couple of examples where "new" cards have sold for staggering prices due to their rarity and excitement generated from their discovery. One such example would be the sale of the 1954 Wilson Franks cards featured in MastroNet's November sale. Most notably, the Ted Williams rarity sold well in excess of $100,000! This was, as you might expect, a price record for that issue.

That brings us to the most recent discovery of quality vintage cards. Not too long ago, a collection of stunning M116 baseball cards was unearthed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The set, consisting of over 300 total cards, is filled with great stars from the early part of the 20th Century. Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Cy Young and a host of other well-known Hall of Famers are included. The cards were offered to subscribers of "Sporting Life," which was a major competitor of "The Sporting News" in the arena of publications.

There's even a healthy portion of variations in here as well. The scarcer Blue Background cards tend to sell for a fairly significant premium above the Pastel Background examples. The cards were offered through the mail in 24 different series with each series containing 12 cards. The backs of the cards vary as each card features different ads for the weekly paper. There are also backs that feature either black or blue printing in the third series with the black backs tending to sell for a noticeable premium.

While it is very hard to compare this wonderful issue to the incredible T206 issue, the M116's do seem to offer a nice value, among other things. The cards themselves are very attractive. The design, much like the T206 issue, offers beautiful portraits against the blue and pastel backgrounds. The cards are, as you might imagine, very tough to locate in high-grade -- just check the latest PSA Population Report numbers.

While it may not be as monstrous as the T206 set, the set is more feasible even with the variations taken into account. Sometimes, feasibility is overlooked when collectors look to take on a set. Many collectors want a challenge but not an impossible one. Then, and most notably, the cards seem to be overlooked and that is clear when you consider the current market values of the cards included.

For a set that is nearly 100 years old, one featuring attractive cards and a nice selection of stars, the issue seems to be currently underrated. The M116's have often been simply overpowered by the T206 issue. What does this mean for collectors? Well, logically, it seems as if there is a current market opportunity to acquire these gems at a fair price considering all of the above factors but, in the end, the market will decide how valuable these cards are.

What about the story behind the Philly Find?

Just another sunny, December morning in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Suddenly it went from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

A long-time Philadelphia-based collector of antiques, ephemera, and sports memorabilia sauntered up to the Leland's booth with a photo static copy of what appeared to be some truly amazing high-grade cards from the 1911 Sporting Life M116 Baseball set. After the introduction and discussion, the collector joined Lelands.com representative Scott Alpaugh to discuss the material that the collector had available.

During an extensive conversation, the gentleman explained in detail that this collection of gems was originally part of an 80-year amassment. Aside from the incredible scans of many of the key Hall-of-Famers, the collector explained that the collection consisted of 315 cards and included all of the scarce Blue Background variations, the tougher Black Back variations, the extremely scarce Amby McConnell Chicago variation, as well as the original Series envelopes (Series 1-24, the Team Series, and the stamp numbered late Series), original unaddressed mailers with clasps, and original issues of The Sporting Life publication with the complete ads for the issue.

Wow!

Leland's and the consignor then agreed to meet at his office to view the material in its entirety to determine authenticity. Upon viewing the material, Mr. Alpaugh was most impressed by the freshness and the strikingly clean appearance of the cards and the painstaking detail that was taken to maintain the cards in such pristine condition. The overall condition of the material was astonishing!

Aside from a few cards that suffered from production flaws such as centering issues, the balance of the collection was in NM-MT condition with some of the cards bordering on GEM MINT! Truly astounding for an issue produced over 90 years ago!

Upon examining the marketplace with the intention to best maximize the consignor's return, Lelands.com chose PSA to grade and encapsulate the collection. Currently identified as the "Philly Find," registering the set with PSA's popular Set Registry, Lelands.com is certain that this will cement this historic set's place in the history of the hobby.

Look for this incredible collection to be offered in its entirety (inclusive of the Series Envelopes, Mailers, and publications) in Lelands.com's upcoming May 2003 Sports Cards and Memorabilia Auction. For further information on this item or to register for an auction catalog, please visit Lelands.com's web site at Lelands.com.

George Stallings, NM-MT 8
George Stallings, NM-MT 8
Tris Speaker, NM-MT 8
Tris Speaker, NM-MT 8

Joe Orlando has been an advanced collector of sportscards and memorabilia for over 25 years. Orlando attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California where he studied communications and was the starting catcher for the baseball team. After a brief stint in the minor leagues, Orlando obtained a Juris Doctor from Whittier Law School in Southern California in the spring of 1999. During the last fourteen years, Orlando has authored several collecting guides and dozens of articles for Collectors Universe, Inc. Orlando has also authored two books for Collectors Universe. Orlando's first book, The Top 200 Sportscards in the Hobby, was released in the summer of 2002. His second book, Collecting Sports Legends, was released in the summer of 2008. Orlando has appeared on several radio and television programs as a hobby expert including ESPN's award-winning program Outside the Lines and HBO's Real Sports, as the featured guest. Currently, Orlando is the President of PSA and PSA/DNA, the largest trading card and sports memorabilia authentication services in the hobby. He is also Editor of the company's nationally distributed Sports Market Report, which under Orlando's direction has developed into a leading resource in the market. Orlando also contributed the foreword and last chapter to The T206 Collection: The Players and Their Stories, a 2010 release, and to The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball's Prized Players, a 2013 release.