They had been sitting in a box for decades. A small fortune in baseball cards, some collected over 100 years ago by a young Midwestern man who clearly loved baseball and the men who played it. He lived only 57 years and has been gone for 60, but the box remained as a sort of curious heirloom, appreciated by a family of sports lovers but tucked out of sight.
The humble cardboard home was filled with pre-War hardball royalty: Cobb, Wagner, Jackson, Lajoie, Johnson, Gehrig.
A bunch of Babes including one that’s really, really rare issue that’s about to enter the hobby for the first time.
The owner of the cards spoke with SC Daily but asked to remain anonymous. We’ll call her Sally. She says the cards were originally found during a basement clean out following their grandmother’s death in the 1980s. It’s also possible the collection could have originated with her or even been a husband-wife project, Sally says, because both of her grandparents were baseball fans during the first half of the 20th century. Her grandfather died ten years before she was born.
Realizing they likely had some value, Sally and her brother recently decided to do some internet sleuthing.
The box held stacks of T205 and T206s, caramel cards, Fatima Team Cards, a stack of 1933 Goudeys including all four Ruth cards (along with an extra–the double print of #144) and even a small group of original Old Judge cards from the 19th century that Sally’s grandfather or grandmother had apparently picked up along the way.
The big prize was lurking there, too, but Sally and her brother didn’t know it at the time.
“We’d talked about doing something with them but never really sat down and seriously looked into it,” she said. “We thought some of them were valuable and we knew we’d have to go with a bigger, reputable company as opposed to just taking to a local baseball card store. We just thought ‘why are these just sitting here in a box not doing anything?’ We’re sports fans, but we didn’t collect them they’re not doing anything for us.”
She wasn’t as sure about the collection of black and white cards with ads from a St. Louis department store on the back.
“We just thought, ‘oh, these are Famous & Barr cards, who would want these?'”
The tall, thin cards were part of a promotional giveaway aimed at young boys in the spring of 1916 and it was likely one of Sally’s grandparents or a family member had taken advantage of the deal. Similar promotions were held at clothing stores such as Everybody’s and Gimbel’s.
She decided to go through the group her grandfather had collected and do some additional online research into the group of cards we know today by its catalog designation of M101-5.
“It talked about how the Babe Ruth card was the most valuable. I thought for sure when we went through the set that we probably didn’t have it so I was shocked that we did.”
After creating a list of the cards in the collection, she picked up her cell phone and spoke with Derek Grady of Heritage Auctions. He asked for pictures.
“Once I got the box out of the basement and I started sending Derek more pictures, he got a little more excited. Within about three or four days of sending him the Babe Ruth pictures he was on a plane.”
Only six Ruth rookie cards with the Famous & Barr branding on the back have ever been graded and authenticated. Heritage had sold a low-grade example in 2017 for over $90,000. The one owned by Sally and her brother was in much better condition. Submitted to PSA, it came back an EX/MT 6 and will be in the August Heritage Platinum Night Auction, where it’s expected to bring $300,000 or more.
“The Ruth is a special card,” Grady said. “It is the highest grade Famous and Barr that PSA has graded in their history. It is strictly graded and appears even nicer than a 6. I think it is a great investment opportunity for the winning bidder.”
“We had no idea we had one that was worth possibly that much,” Sally said. “When we first started going through them, everyone said ‘Do you have the Honus Wagner card?’ I said, ‘we have a lot of Honus Wagner cards, but I don’t have the Honus Wagner card.
There was no T206 Wagner, but the collection did include a complete set of 200 Famous & Barr cards that held a nice example of The Flying Dutchman along with contemporaries like Joe Jackson, Nap Lajoie, Walter Johnson, Jim Thorpe and others in addition to the Ruth.
Dozens of other cards, including the ’33 Goudey Ruths and Gehrigs, will also be graded, then sold in various Heritage auctions over the next six months or so. Some of the tobacco and caramel cards are in rough shape, but as a whole, it’s a remarkable discovery.
“It is always exciting to find a ‘fresh to the hobby’ collection,” stated Grady, who spends a good chunk of his year traveling to secure trading card consignments for his company. “It never gets old for me. I was impressed with the overall condition of the Famous and Barrs and the star content of all the candy and tobacco cards.”
The unexpectedly large windfall will be nice but it’s appropriate that Sally’s grandparents’ collection will soon be spread among avid collectors who love those old players just as they did.
“We’re pretty excited to see what happens.”