It had been only about 40 years since Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and other characters were among its most famous residents. Yet by 1914, just as any city kid in the east could do, a youngster could stop at a confectionery in South Dakota and buy a box of Cracker Jack. One such baseball loving boy named Oliver did just that, buying enough boxes and perhaps getting some from friendly relatives and friends to accumulate a stash of over 170 of the baseball cards that were inserted in each box.
In the century since, those old Cracker Jack cards have become some of the most valuable and sought after sports collectibles in the world. Oliver’s stash, handed down through generations but largely forgotten over time, is about to be sold at auction.
Love of the Game Auctions will offer the collection in individual lots beginning this week. Included in the collection are ultra-valuable cards of Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. The total value of the collection is well into six figures.
There will be 104 of the scarce 1914 issue and 67 1915 cards in the auction, with a few more, including a Honus Wagner, set to be sold early next year.
“A find like this is a rare occurrence,” explained Auction Director Al Crisafulli. “They were tremendously popular when they were issued, but they’re very scarce today, especially the 1914 cards. Some collectors speculate that fewer than a dozen complete 1914 sets exist in the entire hobby. The Christy Mathewson alone is a $20,000 card.”
History of the Find
That South Dakota boy named Oliver, like many of us, eventually outgrew his baseball cards, but his mother didn’t throw them away. The cards were packed in a box of his personal memorabilia, which included old report cards, Playbills, and letters. Along with other heirlooms, the box was passed down through Oliver’s family over the years, eventually landing in the sleepy town of Stockton, New Jersey with his descendants in 2002 – where it remained unopened until this past summer when the family began to research the cards.
“The family had done their homework,” explained Crisafulli. “There isn’t much historical precedent with collections like this when it comes to establishing value. They took the time to understand what they had, how to properly assess their condition, and the best way to sell them. They took great care to make the right decision when it came to selling the cards.”
Sweet Confection; Sweet Consignment
The consignment is a big one for Crisafulli’s auction company.
“Beyond its significant value, this is the kind of collection that makes baseball fans of all ages feel like kids again,” he said. “Everyone knows Cracker Jack – it’s one of the oldest and most respected American brands. Everyone knows players like Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson – they bring us back to a more innocent time. It’s a truly fantastic and rare find.”
The cards, all of which have been professionally authenticated and graded by PSA, have withstood the generations remarkably well thanks to very limited handling.
“The cards are unbelievably clean,” stated Crisafulli. “They’ve got some normal wear, because young Oliver clearly loved them and played with them as a boy – but once they were packed away, they didn’t see the light of day for the better part of a century. Almost all the important cards are included – it’s the largest ‘original owner’ collection of Cracker Jacks we’ve ever seen.”
LOTG’s auction will open on Wednesday and run through November 19.