It began as a toy story for Rob Du Brey but ended as a card collector’s dream.
Du Brey lives in Bellingham, Washington. He likes to buy collections, and he has done a good deal of selling through eBay.
“You never know when you look at a collection whether anything is good in there,” the 37-year-old said. “Ninety percent of it is usually junk.”
Not this time. Du Brey concedes there is “not a big sports card” presence in Bellingham, which is nestled in the northwest corner of the state, “about 15 minutes from Canada.” So, when Du Brey went to view a collection of toys that a local resident kept in a 10-by-15 shed last month, he was stunned by the volume — the man had eight storage containers, each measuring 20 feet long by 8 feet wide and standing 8 feet high.
“It was wall-to-wall toys,” Du Brey said. “Unbelievable.”
Du Brey paid the man $1,500 and promised to give him 40 percent of the profits after he doubled his investment. He wondered if the collector — “hoarder is more like it,” Du Brey said — had sports cards.
“I figured I could move sports cards better than toys, so I figured I’d take a look,” Du Brey said.
The two men went through the shed, navigating “like a 2-foot wide path between comic books and toys.”
And there they were, in the back. Sports cards. Lots of them. Boxes of them. Stacks of them.
“There were sports cards in brown boxes stacked 4 feet high and 18 feet long,” said Du Brey, who offered the man, whom he identifies only as “G,” $1,500 from what he could see and what the markings on the boxes led him to believe.
Of course, buying thousands of cards sight unseen is a gamble. After all, it could have been the mother lode of late 1980s Donruss baseball, for example.
“The first thing I open is a box of 1990 Donruss,” Du Brey said. “Then there was some 1990-91 Fleer basketball.”
Then he found a box labeled “1990 Donruss singles.” Inside was a clear, unopened bag of 1985 Jumbo Star Court Kings, with Michael Jordan on the front.
“I opened the box and there was the Jumbo Star set with Jordan, it’s sitting on top of 1990 Donruss,” Du Brey said of the set worth several hundred dollars.
The fun was just beginning.
Du Brey found some 1986-87 Fleer basketball, including cards of Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, Isaiah Thomas — and Jordan’s rookie card.
“First I find a Jordan sticker. And then there it is, the Jordan,” he said. “I am shaking, it is clean and I am looking at (PSA) 7 or 8.”
The whole set was there, along with the stickers. Cha-ching.
The treasure hunt continued as Du Brey continued to plow through the cards. There were three boxes of 1984 Topps football packs “all taped up” and a “box and a half” of 1985 football, all with prices from many years ago written on them.
He found 13 loose rookie cards of John Elway, ripe for grading. “I’m sending in 12 of them, the 13th is off-center,” he said. There was also a Dan Marino rookie.
Still, the find was just beginning to reveal itself.
One box had “1988” written on it, and thankfully it wasn’t baseball or football, but a 1988-89 Fleer basketball case of unopened boxes that’s worth five figures.
“It’s in mint condition,” Du Brey said. “The cardboard is there, the spacers in the case box are there.”
Later on, at the bottom of one of the boxes were more Star Company Jordans and a complete set of 1987-88 Fleer basketball.
One box contained 1981 Topps football. At the top of the box were four Joe Montana rookie cards in top loaders. In 30-pound potato boxes there were vending cases of 1989-90 OPC hockey, with 22 boxes to a case.
There were binders, too. One contained 1971 Topps baseball Supers. Another box had “a bunch of binders,” including one with a complete1969 Topps football set that Du Brey found under loose packs of 1990 Score hockey. And these cards were well cared for. “Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas — they’re clean,” he said. “Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, too.”
Another binder contained 1976-1977 Topps basketball, with a mound of Hall of Famers.
Minor-league baseball was represented, too. There were 240 complete, untouched sets of the 2000 Multi-Ad Midwest League Top Prospect sets, Du Brey said, and 362 cards of a 20-year-old prospect named Albert Pujols.
At the bottom of another box were loose packs of 1951 Topps red back baseball and single cards. The seals on the packs had come open, but still…
It gets sweeter. One box contained a complete set of 1956 Topps football, with every card protected in top loaders.
“I’m debating whether to send the whole set in for grading,” said Du Brey, who sent the Jordan rookie to PSA for grading at the end of March.
There were Leaf football cards from the late 1940s, too.
Du Brey already has sent 116 cards to PSA for grading, including rookie cards of Elway, Ken Griffey Jr. (10 from 1989 Upper Deck) and the four Montana rookies. The cost for grading could rise into the low thousands, but Du Brey figures he can recoup that rather easily. Already, by “blowing out” junk wax packs and boxes from the late 1980s and early 90s, he is close to recovering what he spent on the “shed full of mystery.”
Du Brey began posting his finds on the forums at Blowout Cards, and the comments from posters were mostly positive: “This is an absurd gold mine you’ve stumbled onto,” one person wrote. “I wouldn’t have left that storage unit for days,” another added.
The best one might have been the poster who asked, “Did you find any Honus Wagners? Keep looking, check under the cement.”
It’s not out of the realm of probability.
“I keep going out there,” he said. “There’s still 20 30-pound potato cases out there,” but he pulled out “all the major loose boxes.”
How many cards are there?
“There’s probably a couple million cards total, Du Brey said.
Du Brey grew up in Oregon and “always collected baseball” as a youth. He liked Griffey, Frank Thomas, and the Braves’ pitching trio of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.
He met “G” a few years ago. The man is in his 60s, Du Brey said, and is “a simple dude.”
“He takes care of his mom. He and his brother bought all this stuff years ago. He has a safety deposit box with all of his good cards,” Du Brey said. “No telling what might be there.”
And before anyone gets the idea of raiding “G’s” shed, Du Brey has a warning.
“He’s a nice dude, but he’s a country boy,” Du Brey said. “You’d probably get shot.”
The man merely wanted to clear his shed when he contacted Du Brey.
“He told me, ‘I just want you to buy all the toys,’ so I bought them,” he said.
I told him ‘If I find something amazing I will cut you in.’
“I made a $3,000 investment. Everything I make over $6,000, I am going to give him 40 percent of it.”
Du Brey continues to go through the cards, although he concedes he has probably found the most valuable ones already. He will easily make back his investment back, but not enough to quit his job as a manager at Lowe’s in Bellingham.
“I’m not gonna retire off it,” Du Brey said. “But it’s been a really interesting thing.
“It can’t get any crazier.”
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