Having bought and sold sports cards on a part-time basis for nearly 20 years, Curt Schmidgall is used to getting calls from people who hope he can put some money in their pocket. Unfortunately, most are looking to sell him their 1980s and 90s collections. Earlier this year, his phone buzzed again. An older woman from Delaware was on the other end of the line, acting as the point person for her husband who she said had collected baseball cards many years ago.
“She explains that the cards are from the 40s and 50s and there are also several tobacco cards included,” Schmidgall recalled. “Given this is a childhood collection and there was a significant range of dates I still didn’t get too excited, as even solid leads like this often result in the cards being modern reprint or commemorative cards. So I requested some pictures and an inventory list.’
A couple of days later, the owner of BBC Emporium in Longmont, CO got what he asked for—and began pondering how quickly he could get to the east coast.
“It was at this point I realized how special this collection was.”
The pictures the woman had sent showed hundreds of original cards spanning from the tobacco era to the mid-1950s.
The photos showed a wealth of T206s, a stack of Turkey Reds, Colgan’s Chips, caramel cards…and more.
Cobb. Mathewson. Lajoie. Williams. DiMaggio. Mantle. Mays. There were nearly 3,000 cards and related items in all, including over 400 T206 cards alone, many with color as sharp as the day they were removed from cigarette packs.
“At this point, my goal was getting out to the cards as fast as possible to review them and hopefully buy them,” Schmidgall stated. “However, I first put together a preliminary ‘quote range’ based off her pictures and inventory list. After negotiating back and forth a few times, we agreed to a price range and I bought a plane ticket to Philadelphia.”
Since they would be meeting in person for the first time, the woman and her husband decided to meet Schmidgall in a private room inside a public restaurant near their home. When he arrived, the couple had placed the collection on three tables while they sat at the fourth. After making their introductions, they sat down to dinner. The original owner explained that he had been an avid collector as a child in the 1940s and 50s, but by the 1960s, he had gone off to college and left the collection behind. Fortunately, they had remained safe with his mother for part of six decades. After his her death, the family went through the home where she lived and he retrieved the treasures from his youth.
“He was an avid Yankees fan and told the stories of going to games as a kid with his father, and was especially fond of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle,” Schmidgall recalled to Sports Collectors Daily. “He also spoke of the countless hours he would spend with other neighborhood kids trading cards and detailing the games they would play with their cards. The man obviously had more of a connection to the cards from the 40s-60s, as most of his stories were surrounding these cards probably due to the fact these were the cards of the players he loved as a kid.
“I don’t think he ever forgot about his cards, but I deducted that his wife has finally putting pressure on him to start clearing out ‘stuff’.”
While the 1940s and 50s cards would have been a nice find by themselves, the man was fortunate enough to expand his collection to cards issued long before his time.
“When asking about the tobacco and caramel cards, he explained he received most of these from family members for birthdays, but the most of them came from an older gentleman who sold him hundreds of tobacco cards in exchange for $15 and some fishing lures. I surmise the older gentleman was the original owner of these cards as nearly all of the tobacco cards have the Sweet Caporal backs.”
There were no complete sets but dozens of Hall of Famers in the man’s childhood collection, with a condition range that started low to mid-grade with the 1939-41 Play Ball sets and got better by the 1950s Bowman and Topps cards. There were no 1951 Bowman or ’52 Mantles but many of the important rookie cards and Hall of Famers remained, just as he’d collected them more than 60 years ago. There were even a few hundred 1951 Bowman football cards.
The true stars of the find, though, were the pre-War issues.
“The pleasant surprise was the condition of the tobacco and caramel cards,” Schmidgall said. “While the conditions varied significantly, several of them were in very nice condition and displayed great colors.
There were 50 1911 T3 Turkey Red cards and over 100 others from the E90-1, E91, E95, E96, T200, T201 and T205 sets.
“The only disappointment was the T3s and e91s. The T3s all had pinholes, which the owner assured me he didn’t do, but were purchased that way. He said he received all of the T3s for one of his birthdays, and his mother had several of them framed. The e91s were all crudely trimmed on the bottom.”
A deal was quickly consummated based on some telephone negotiating before the trip and the personal review he made at the restaurant. He packed the cards in a backpack and roller suitcase and headed to the airport. “I was stopped and questioned by TSA agents at the airport regarding the cards but after showing them a few and them getting a kick out of knowing I traveled halfway across the country for old cardboard, they let me go through with no issue.”
Soon he was back in Colorado to his full-time job as an engineer, feeling lucky he picked up the phone before someone else had constructed a deal.
“There was a small local card shop they took the collection to, but I don’t think they were a strong consideration. I wasn’t aware of any other dealers being involved. I think they felt comfortable with me as they had done their research and felt like I was being honest and up front with them.”
Schmidgall has submitted over 700 cards to PSA for grading and authentication, with some rating as high as 7. Some have yet to be graded. Among the highlights so far: a green portrait T206 Cobb PSA 4; a Cobb “bat on shoulder” which rated PSA 5; a “bat on shoulder” Cobb (PSA 4); an E95 Cobb (PSA 4.5), an E95 Wagner (PSA 4); an E90 Cobb (PSA 5) and an E90-1 Cy Young (PSA 4).
Which is his favorite?
“Tough question. I’m personally a football card collector, so I loved going through the older football cards, but clearly the tobacco and caramel cards were the jewels in this collection. So many of the cards have rich vivid coloring, since they been handled so little and haven’t been exposed to sunlight. If I had to pick the best cards in the collection, I’d give the nod to the T206 Ty Cobb Green portrait.” The green portrait Cobb was posted for sale online and Schmidgall says it sold in less than an hour.
Some of the cards from the find are in the BBC Emporium eBay store.
Schmidgall has purchased some great collections before. A few years ago, he acquired another pre-War stash of similar value but not of the same quality or quantity. This one, though, tops the list.
“While making a buck at your hobby is always good, I’m definitely driven by the thrill of the hunt.”
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