When the emails and phone calls arrive at Baseball Card Exchange in Schererville, IN, it’s often disappointment calling. Binders of late 1980s and early 90s sets. Cards that look like they’ve been run over by a truck. The unsellable hodge-podge of common autographs.
Sometimes, though, what’s being offered on the other end of the line makes the time spent on all of those other messages worthwhile. Such was the case last week when a Phoenix area family decided to look into selling a stash of more than four dozen cards they’d inherited years ago from a family friend.
BBCE Owner Steve Hart and Head Buyer Reed Kasaoka had just been in Arizona days earlier buying a 1952 Topps set. Hart was back in Indiana and Kasaoka had just left San Diego and was headed elsewhere to look at another deal. When Hart saw the photos of the cards the father and son had told him about, he executed a quick change in plans. After all, when a seller is offering 67 rare N172 Old Judge cards produced more than 125 years ago—including legends like King Kelly, Old Hoss Radbourn and Charlie Comiskey, you get there as fast as you can.
“My first reaction was that I knew they were 100% real,” Hart told Sports Collectors Daily. “No doubt in my mind from the pictures. I could still see the curl to the cards. However, since Old Judge cards commonly have back damage from being pasted into albums or from handwriting, I wasn’t sure what the backs would be like. Turns out the backs were flawless.”
In more than 20 years of buying cards, Hart and Kasaoka had never had the chance to buy ungraded Old Judge cards. After parking his rental truck in Phoenix, Kasaoka spent the evening hours of Sunday, May 22 and part of the next morning holed up in a hotel room, studying the variations and the market for the popular but elusive cards.
He met the sellers and the trio spent three hours identifying and grading them all. Old Judge is a massive and constantly growing set, with a large number of known variations and new additions sometimes being added as information is shared. Dedicated collectors would likely be willing to pay a premium for cards that might look at first glance to be common.
They’d definitely be interested in owning cards that looked like these did.
How they had been stored since they were pulled out of tobacco packages in the late 1880s isn’t known, but they had been remarkably preserved. Half the cards were in excellent condition or better, including several that would carry a raw grade of near mint. On the rare occasions when new OJs are found, they are usually in low grade. These had not only survived the dawn of two new centuries but held up exceptionally well.
Oh, and of the 67 cards, there were ten Hall of Famers worth thousands of dollars each.
Negotiations began and while the sellers weren’t sure of the value of what they had, making the deal required some back-and-forth discussion before a second offer was accepted. Hart would only say his company “paid very strong” for the lot.
“I thought that (1952 set) was going to be the acquisition of the year. This Old Judge find is now the clubhouse leader,” said Kasaoka. “From doing the research, to grading the cards, to negotiating a price, the toughest part was Steve having to wait four days – for me to drive back to the office – to finally see the cards in person.”
“We have never made any type of Old Judge find,” Hart stated. “In fact, we have rarely ever bought any Old Judge cards through collections or from other dealers. We wanted this collection pretty badly.”
It’s a stunning find for the hobby and one that will draw huge interest from collectors of one of the earliest player sets. In addition to the Hall of Famers and some scarce commons, Hart says there are also a couple of potentially unknown variations for which more research will be required.
“I would say that considering more than half of these are EX or better and more than half of them will be the highest graded examples, there should be some pretty big demand.”
It was a once-in-a-lifetime type of score for BBCE, which has been traveling the country for many years, spending millions of dollars on collections, vintage wax boxes, packs and cases, old store inventory and other items to sell through its website and eBay store.
Being in the right place at the right time likely helped.
“Yes, that might have been the deciding factor,” Hart explained. Reed just happened to be on a West Coast buying trip and was able to be there in less than 24 hours.”
For now, the cards have been sent to PSA for authentication and grading. BBCE expects to have them back next month and will have them on display and ready for sale at this summer’s National Sports Collectors Convention in Atlantic City.
See Old Judge cards on eBay here.