Is the M116 Sporting Life Set a Sleeping Giant?

Could this set be poised for an increase in value?

M116 047 Cobb Blue

The 1910-12 M116 Sporting Life set is one of the larger pre-war issues. It includes a total of 288 cards in a basic set and somewhere around 400 in the master set with variations. With that many cards, it has significantly more cards than almost all other pre-war issues.

The cards are pretty nice, really. They have a pastel look with backs mostly showing off blues, greens, and yellows. Issued by Sporting Life, this massive set includes all sorts of tough variations and big names.

But here’s the thing. The cards weren’t given away with a product. Instead, collectors had to send away from them. The cost was relatively low (four cents along with a coupon) but if there’s anything we’ve learned from mail-order issues, it’s that they often have low populations due to low numbers being sent for. And the M116 set certainly follows that trend.

Now, the cards aren’t scarce. But with fewer than 12,000 graded across PSA, SGC, and Beckett, there aren’t loads of them to go around. Using that 400-card number, that gives us fewer than 30 of each card on average.

So how does that rank with some other popular sets? Well, as I’ve covered here, it’s far less plentiful than the T206 set, which has more than 300,000 cards graded. It’s also much lower than the rarer T205 issue, which has about 70,000 cards graded. As a point of comparison, it’s similar to the rare T207 set, which has around 9,000 cards graded.

M116 162 Mathewson PastelIn other words, the cards are relatively tough to come by.

But what does it mean? After all, we already know that rarity is only one piece of the puzzle in determining a card’s value.

In terms of current prices, these cards usually start around $15 in low-grade condition. At that price point for the rarity, they would seem to be a bargain. And I’d suggest that there’s plenty of room for growth here.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t some kind of financial advice or a nudge to get you to start buying these cards up. I couldn’t care less and, with exactly one in my collection, have no dog in the fight here. But I do personally think this particular set is the kind of one that could see an increase in value in the future. I say that for a few reasons.

First, as discussed, the cards are rare. Rarity isn’t everything but it certainly is one part of a card’s value and this set has that going for it (which is nice). It’s one reason why early candy/caramel cards are so pursued by those in the know — they’re usually much harder to find than tobacco cards.

Second, one important thing here are the aesthetics. The cards not only look nice but it’s a set of portrait images. And if you pay attention to which T206 cards are most popular, generally, it’s the portraits. That, I think bodes well for this issue. Portrait cards are heavily desired by a lot of collectors.

Finally, it’s a nice set with excellent player selection. Ty Cobb? Check. Christy Mathewson? Check. Walter Johnson and Cy Young? Check and check. This set avoids some pitfalls seen in other sets from the time period (i.e. T207) that have stars missing. Missing stars often leads to a lack of interest from collectors and when you have a set that checks all of the boxes for the most popular players, you’ve got a winner.

I can’t speak to why values for this set have remained so low over time. The M-Card label as a publications issue likely has something to do with it as collectors have been more enamored with candy and tobacco cards. A lot of collectors only dabbling in pre-war will stick to tobacco and candy/gum cards, forsaking the rest. Heck, a lot of collectors probably couldn’t even tell you what an M-Card is.

But once you look past the classification, it’s clear to see that this is a very desirable set that is probably on the undervalued end.

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