He’s a former Army master sergeant who retired two years ago this week. But a North Carolina man will be adding a supplement to his standard military pension.
The 47-year-old, who served more than 26½ years in the military (after years of being in special operations, “Bernie G” prefers to remain semi-anonymous), uncovered a childhood stash of eight unopened 1974 Topps football wax boxes–and the original case they came in– on the block at Collect Auctions and they are already generating some buzz.
“I had no idea they had any value at all,” Bernie said. “I didn’t have a clue.”
With the eight boxes spread across five different auctions, nearly $15,000 has been bid so far, and with the auction continuing until August 11, the lots are certain to draw more bids. Steve Bloedow, Collect Auction’s director of auctions, said at least $2,000 to $2,500 per box is likely by the time the auction closes.
With more than a week left in the bidding, that figure already is reachable.
This is a classic case of finding valuable cards in a relative’s attic, except this story has a twist — Bernie has known the cards were there all along. He just never had the opportunity to fetch them.
Here’s the back story. Bernie was born in the New England area. His father died when he was an infant, but his uncles lived nearby and watched over him, occasionally giving him gifts. One uncle dropped a massive gift on Bernie when he was 5 years old: A case of 1974 Topps football wax boxes–15 cents a pack retail at the time.
Approximately eight months ago, Bernie was visiting his mother and stepfather in New England.
“I was doing home repairs in the attic,” he said. “I was looking at some of the old junk up there.”
Some of it was Bernie’s. Old toys and his childhood card collection. Baseball, football, hockey, Star Wars — even Battlestar Galactica cards.
“Most of them were not in great shape because they’d been handled.”
But Bernie always remembered the unopened boxes of 1974 Topps football, so when he found them in the attic, he reclaimed them and took them home to North Carolina. “That’s when I started snooping on the Internet to see what they might be worth.”
He was stunned by what he found.
“It was a big surprise to me how valuable they were,” Bernie said. “They were unopened, untampered with. A no-brainer. I knew they’d be worth something.
Before settling on Collect Auctions, Bernie tried a few shops in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.
“One guy — I don’t think he was the shop owner — was telling me that they really weren’t that valuable,” he said.
Bernie knew better, so he shopped around until he found Bloedow and Collect Auctions.
“It’s really, really unusual,” Bloedow said from Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he was preparing for this week’s National Sports Collectors Convention. “I’ve been running auctions for 7½ years and I’ve only had three of those kinds of boxes sold.
“To find eight of them literally untouched is amazing.”
1974 Topps Football: The Set
1974 isn’t a terrific year for iconic rookie cards but it’s the scarcity of vintage unopened material that drives prices and there is definitely some good stuff inside. Among the more valuable cards in the set are the O.J. Simpson Record Breaker (No. 1) or All-Pro (No. 130) cards, a Ray Guy rookie card (No. 219) and cards of Hall of Fame quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw (No. 470) and Roger Staubach (No. 500). Key rookie cards include Harold Carmichael, Joe DeLamielleure, Chuck Foreman, John Hannah, Bert Jones, Ed Marinaro, John Matuszak and Ahmad Rashad. New HOFer Ken Stabler’s second year card is a tough one to find in high grade.
“The rookies and the Hall of Famers are definitely the appeal of the 1974 set,” Bloedow said. “Just to find any kind of unopened product from the late 1960s and 1970s — most of that stuff is difficult to find.
“When he sent me images of those boxes, I was like, ‘wow.’”
Football and Family
Bernie’s had a decent collection as a child and he was a sports fan. Football was his favorite sport, but he never played the game. He did play youth hockey as a defenseman.
“I was just mediocre,’ he said. “The only thing I could do well was skate backward.”
He was a rabid Patriots fan growing up and remains one today. “They were terrible when I was a kid,” he said.
Bernie said he has been involved in every U.S. conflict since 1988. He said has served in both Gulf wars and in Afghanistan, Iraq, Panama and Bosnia.
He prefers to remain anonymous (“I don’t even have a Facebook page,” he said), because he is wary of “link analysis.”
“That was the way we used to track down the bad guys,” he said.
The five auctions vary in size. The first one (Lot 27) is for one box; Lot 28 also contains one wax box. Lot 29 has three wax boxes, an empty display box, an empty wax case and seven packs of cards. Lot 30 is one full unopened wax box, while Lot 31 is a two-box lot. “The first unopened (1974) box I had in an auction awhile back came close to $3,000,” Bloedow said. “These should fall into the $2,000-$2,500 range.”
Bernie said he would use his share of the proceeds to move back to New England.
“I’m going to take this money and relocate,” he said. “Get closer to my family.”
Bernie is a passionate Patriots fan and attends at least one game each year in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Even when he was overseas, football was never far away.
“Football was always my connection to home. No matter where I was in the world, if we were free on the weekends then I could listen to the games on the Armed Forces Network,” he said. “It was my attachment to home.”
It’s only appropriate that football — and specifically, football cards — will bring Bernie closer to home.
“I love that part about running auctions where you have such great stories out there,” Bloedow said. “And you’re making some bidders and buyers very happy.”
Not to mention one former military man who stands to make a tidy profit on consignment.