Who knew that a stash from one of the hobby’s rarest sets would be found in a Band-Aid box?
A stack of 39 cards from the 1921 Herpolsheimer issue — including nine previously unknown examples — will be part of Love of the Game’s upcoming auction, which begins next week. Between the PSA and SGC population reports, only 105 Herpolsheimer’s cards have been authenticated and graded.
“I’m fascinated by these,” Love of the Game auction director Al Crisafulli said. “Been fascinated by these for years.”
The cards were found in a Band-Aid box at an estate sale near Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2019. After four years of staying in contact with the owner of the cards, Crisafulli was able to secure the consignment. They have all been graded by PSA, and each card will be offered separately.
One of the key cards in the newly discovered cache is of Babe Ruth. The card is just the second known copy and is expected to fetch a big price.
Other Hall of Famers in the newly found cache included Tris Speaker, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rabbit Maranville, John McGraw, Red Faber and Sam Rice.
In addition to the cards discovered that were already included in the checklist, Crisafulli said the group includes previously uncatalogued cards of Dave Bancroft, Johnny Evers, Harry Hooper, Stuffy McInnis, Art Nehf, Wally Schang, George Sisler, Casey Stengel and Fred Toney. The Schang, Stengel and Toney cards had been implied in the original checklist; now it is known that real examples exist.
The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards noted that Herpolsheimer cards were “each currently known in one card each.” The original group became known through a series of eBay auctions in 2004. Those cards had a dollar sign and numeral penciled on the back.
The cards headed to Love of the Game have slightly different markings on the back, Crisafulli said. What appeared to be a card number was faintly written in pencil on the card back outside its bottom border.
“These are far more handled,” Crisafulli said. “There are erased pencil markings on the backs.”
None of the new cards grade higher than PSA 3. The Ruth came back at PSA 1.5. Some of the graded cards have an “MK” designation, which means the cards carry a stray mark of some kind.
“They flew so far under the radar until 2004,” Crisafulli said. “The fact that a card could go 80 years before being discovered is amazing to me.”
The Herpolsheimers are similar to the 80-card, E-121 American Caramel set also issued the same year but have backs that advertise the famous Grand Rapids retail store. Specifically, the card backs tout the store’s Boy’s Fashion Shop on the store’s second floor — “The Home of Boy’s Fashionable Clothing” — it reads.
While grammar experts might cringe at the poor use of the possessive, baseball card experts are amazed at the find of this new group of cards.
The idea that the Herpolsheimer’s cards were prototypes seems less likely now that a new batch has been found, but the exact method of distribution has yet to be uncovered. Were they a premium given to young customers who visited the store? Perhaps. Whatever the case, not many have survived over the past 100+ years.
While it was believed there may have been 69 or 70 cards in the Herpolsheimer set, that number now appears to have risen to 78 or 79.
“This is like a major discovery,” Crisafulli said.
Crisafulli said that he had been aware of the new group of cards since February 2019, when the owner coyly posted on the sports card forum Net54.
“How rare would a stack of 1921 Herpolsheimer’s be? Including Babe (Ruth),” the poster asked. “Just wondering.”
Like that was going to slip past the forum members, who demanded — and got —photographs.
Crisafulli was intrigued from the start.
“Because I was so fascinated I reached out to him,” he said.
Heroplsheimer is a fascinating name for a department store, too. At times nicknamed “Herps,” the store was the brainchild of William Godlove Herpolsheimer. In 1870, he co-founded Voigt, Herpolsheimer & Co., a dry goods store, with Charles G.A. Voigt. They set up shop in Michigan City, IN and Herpolsheimer opened a second store in Grand Rapids.
When he was about 60, the Herpolsheimer patriarch handed over control of the business to his son, Henry, who began working for his father in 1883 when he was a teenager.
Born in Germany, William Herpolsheimer died in April 1917 of heart disease in Grand Rapids. Henry Herpolsheimer died three years later of apoplexy.
Henry’s son, Arthur Herpolsheimer, took over the business and oversaw the merger of his company with Hahn’s Department Stores of New York City in 1928, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Arthur Herpolsheimer branched out into furniture sales — a natural business in Grand Rapids, which is nicknamed the “Furniture City.” But he died in 1930 when he “fell or jumped” from an 11th-story window at a Manhattan hotel, according to newspaper accounts at the time.
As for the original business, one of its more famous employees was Betty Bloomer, who served as the store’s fashion coordinator in 1942. She would later become first lady when her husband, Gerald R. Ford, became president of the United States in August 1974.
Despite the family tragedies, the Herpolsheimers were savvy businessmen, who likely recognized the appeal of marketing their business with photographs of baseball’s biggest stars of the era. The fact that a second group of cards had been discovered was not lost on Crisafulli.
“That tells me that they were much more likely to be distributed,” he said. “It changes everything we know about these cards.”
In an update on Net54 in early October, the seller of the cards said it “took quite some time to get to this point.”
“He planned to sell but there were estate issues,” Crisafulli said.
The poster noted that his uncle, who was a collector, was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer and died 20 days later in 2020. Now that probate is settled, the cards are available to be sold.
“He was a collector of many things and an auction-goer himself,” the consigner wrote. “He would have really loved to watch the sale of these cards.”