Imagine you’re a small auction company. In the never-ending search for material that will help you stand out from the crowd, you get quite a few calls to look at collections. A lot of them wind up being empty trips to see monster boxes of 1991 Fleer commons.
Every now and then, though, you get a call like the one Scott Russell of Birmingham Auctioneers received a couple weeks ago.
A couple from New Jersey had inherited a collection of cards in 2018 and hadn’t really thought much about them since. However, having heard stories in the media about an uptick in the interest for cards, they decided it was time to look into what they had.
“We brought a 1952 Bowman set missing the Mickey Mantle to a dealer who offered us $300 for it. That didn’t seem right, so we started to do some research,” recalled the owner of the collection, who has asked to remain anonymous. We’ll call him Dave.
The couple then turned to PSA’s website, and while they knew that their cards weren’t likely to be worth the highest prices they were seeing due to condition differences, they found it useful as a tool to determine relative value.
“If one card was listed as $1000 in a 9 and another was listed at $10,000 we at least started to get a feel for what were the better cards,” Dave stated.
They then got in touch with Chris Rogers, who runs a blog called All Vintage Cards. After learning more about the size and scope of the collection, Rogers sent them to Russell’s auction company.
“I’ve known Scott online for a while and have always been impressed by his passion and his honesty,” said Rogers. “ I couldn’t think of a better person to refer them to.”
The couple brought an assortment of cards to the Birmingham Auctioneers office in Pennsylvania. Russell immediately spotted a near set of 1952 Topps baseball–average grade EX+ and worth significantly more than $300. It was obvious that this was a worthwhile collection, so they agreed to make an appointment for Russell to come to their home and examine it in more detail.
A few days later, sitting at a dining room table fully laden with albums and boxes, Russell dug in.
He wouldn’t be disappointed.
Flipping through a box of vintage Phillies cards, something caught his eye. Mixed in with the Rip Repulskis and Richie Ashburns was a rare 1958 Pancho Herrera (“Herrer”) printing error card.
As the day wore on there were a number of other nice finds. Sandwiched between some reprint sets was an original 1948 Bowman Baseball complete set.
Finally, they started looking through boxes of autographed cards. The original collector was a former ball player himself and had known a number of athletes but was also a dedicated “through-the-mail” autograph collector. In the late 1970s and early 80s, he had accumulated thousands of them. Among the signatures were a large number of Hall of Famers and other popular players including Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Roger Maris, to name a few. There was even a handful of autographed 1933 Goudey cards.
Russell was determined to take a look at everything because there had been little rhyme or reason to how the collection what organized. In another box of odds and ends, Dave’s wife had already discovered the 1952 Bowman Mantle card that at first appeared to be missing from the set Russell had seen earlier.
Another box held a Ryne Sandberg rookie card and some late 1970s commons. Then Russell did a double take. Also buried in the same box was the holy grail of vintage hoops–with a twist: a 1948 Bowman George Mikan rookie card—autographed by the late Hall of Fame center decades earlier.
“I honestly didn’t believe it at first,” Russell said. “The glasses are what jumped out at me. Then I actually pulled the card out of the box and saw it was autographed and my jaw hit the floor.”
Russell told the couple about the importance of Mikan in NBA history and the value of his rookie card, even in a lower grade like the one they had inherited. However, the fact that it carried Big George’s signature—one of only a few known signed Mikan rookie cards in the hobby– made it even more special.
“I was blown away,” said Dave. “Ecstatic.”
The signed card has now been authenticated by PSA. It’s one of only six signed Mikan rookie cards on the company’s population report.
Later in the same box Russell also found what now stands as the only autographed 1948 Bowman Buddy Jeannette basketball card on PSA’s pop report as well as a signed 1951 Berk Ross Bob Cousy, a card that pre-dates his rookie issue of 1957.
The couple agreed to consign it all–sets, near sets and autographs–to Russell’s auction which was set to open Wednesday night and close November 8.
It’ll be a nice windfall for the New Jersey couple who were glad they didn’t make a hasty decision.
“We’re excited but trying not to think about it too much until we’ve actually sold them,” said Dave.
Russell is glad to have the collection on consignment, but also happy for the couple who have a new appreciation for what their deceased family member had accumulated.
“The cards had been sitting untouched for two years in their possession, and they’re not sure how long before that, and now they’re finding out that they might be making a little bit of hobby history,” Russell said. “So it’s been a fun ride for us all.”
The couple plans to be practical and use any money from the sale of the cards to help with their daughter’s college expenses, but Dave’s wife also says her husband has her eye on something for himself, too.
“He wants a new truck!”
If the auction goes as well as expected, that shouldn’t be a problem.