There are still great finds hiding in dresser drawers across America. Proof of that comes in the form of a collection of 154 different 1915 Cracker Jack baseball cards that recently emerged from a home in Colorado.
They'll bring a lot more when they are presented to bidders in Robert Edward Auctions' 2011 spring catalog auction. Somewhere along the line, 22 cards have disappeared from the original set, but 27 Hall of Famers remain including Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson. Most appear to be in the VG to EX range, handled over the years but not abused.
The Cracker Jack cards of 1914 and 1915 are immensely popular with collectors, with the '15 set more readily available thanks to the mail-in offer. Still, they are rare after the passage of 95 years.
"I remember distinctly my father telling me about buying them in 1915 with the box tops," the 66-year-old Smith recalled to Sports Collectors Daily. "He was thrilled to death he could buy the whole set."
The cards remained at the family's original home in St. Paul, Minnesota until 1962 when Smith's grandfather gave them to his father. 11 years later, Smith's father gave them to him.
"They fascinated me when I'd look at them," Smith said. "But honestly, I was raising two kids who went on to high school athletics and then on to college so I never thought about them all that much."
He did inquire about their value in the mid-1970s. Even then, a local dealer offered him around $1300...big money for baseball cards at the time. Luckily, he resisted. He put the cards in plastic sleeves and stuck them back in the drawer.
"I've gone online off and on over the last ten years and I got a catch in my throat when I saw recently that a Jackson card had sold for $18,000. I finally said 'I've got to get these into a safe deposit box'."
After researching auction houses and visiting another dealer recently, he looked over promotional material from REA.
"It took another couple of weeks for me to decide whether to send them. I thought maybe I should hang onto them for a few more years and my kids could get even more for them down the line, but I think the time is now to part with them."
REA has submitted many of the cards for grading and until they come back, placing a value on the collection may be difficult.
"I think collectors really do value this kind of provenance," said president Rob Lifson of the collection's family ownership. "They will probably look better than whatever their modest technical grades are and bring a premium. I wouldn't be surprised if the Joe Jackson brings $10,000 alone. The one thing we’re sure of is that it struck us that this true original owner Cracker Jack collection is really what collecting is all about."
Baseball runs deep in Smith's family. His grandfather was a skilled player for the St. Paul Saints in the 1890s. Owner Charles Comiskey tried to convince him to join the new Chicago White Stockings, but Smith's great-grandmother wanted her son to have nothing to do with what was then considered a sport for unsavory characters.
Ironically, Comiskey's card is in the 1915 Cracker Jack collection that Smith's father would purchase with his quarter and pair of box tops.
How rare are the cards in this set? You'll find barely over 150
1915 Cracker Jacks on eBay