An artist from Florida found a masterpiece. And like any great work of art, it will be heading to auction, where it is certain to fetch a nice price.
“Sue” did not realize what she had until she showed a sports-loving friend a baggie filled with 176 cards from the 1916 M101-4 Sporting News set. The pile included plenty of Hall of Famers, including a Babe Ruth rookie card.
They will be featured in Heritage Auctions’ Fall Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction that runs from Dec. 10-13. The Ruth card will be a featured lot and is graded a 4 (VG-EX) by SGC. The other key card is a Shoeless Joe Jackson card that grades a 5 (EX) by SGC.
Those two lots will be sold by themselves. The remaining cards will be auctioned off as one lot, according to Heritage Auctions Vice President Derek Grady. They will include Hall of Famers such as Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Napoleon Lajoie, George Sisler, Johnny Evers, John McGraw, Joe Tinker, Ed Walsh, Eddie Collins and Casey Stengel.
Sue, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a mixed media artist who likes to collect “old stuff.” She said she had the cards, part of a 200-card set that featured black-and-white photographs on the front and Sporting News advertising on the back, for more than a decade.
“I had them in a baggie with all the junk I collect,” she said. “That turned out to be a good thing. It’s a blessing.”
Sue said she was helping a family member sort through some old items, and the relative gave her a box of old children’s paper dolls, books and toys. Included in the box were the 1916 M101-4 Sporting News cards.
She confessed she knows nothing about sports.
“Not at all,” she said. “I thought they were old advertising cards. I would have never thought they were old baseball cards.”
Two weeks ago, she decided to show the cards to a friend “who’s a sports nut.”
“I told him, ‘I thought you’d get a kick out of looking at these,’” Sue said.
More than that. Sue’s friend’s eyes “got big” when he saw the cards.
“He couldn’t believe it,” Sue said. “He got online immediately.”
After determining the rarity of the cards, Sue contacted Heritage Auctions, and vintage card expert Grady immediately flew to Florida to take a look.
“Whenever I get a call about a Ruth rookie, I’m on a plane,” he told SC Daily.
When he heard the cards had been kept in a baggie, Grady said he was skeptical. He was pleasantly surprised when he visited Sue and saw the cards laid out on a table.
“The main thing I noticed was the cards’ condition,” Grady said. “I was thrilled with it. Half of the set graded EX to EX-mint.”’
The Ruth rookie exceeded expectations.
“I was waiting to see a crease on the Ruth,” Grady said. “The Ruth rookie is a very nice 4 but it would not be out of place in a 5 holder.”
Twenty-six of the cards Sue had have since been graded by SGC, with 24 of the slabs contained in the large auction lot. The cards numbered 1 to 40 have blank backs, while the remainder have Sporting News advertising on the backs. Two of the cards — Frank “Home Run” Baker (No. 9) and Zack Wheat (No. 188) — earned grades of 7 (near-mint) from SGC. Three others — Grover Cleveland Alexander (No. 4), Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown (No.17) and Charles Comiskey (No. 36) — were assigned grades of 5 (EX-mint).
“Compared to the T-206 set, this is an undervalued issue,” Grady said. “It has not gotten the appreciation of sets like the T-206. It’s loaded with Hall of Famers.”
Sue almost did not appreciate the value of the cards and even considered using them as part of her artwork, similar to what her favorite mixed artist, Christy Kinard likes to do.
“I love her kind of work,” Sue said of Kinard, who creates floral patterns and impressions of life and culture of the American South.
Sue is happy she balked at the idea of incorporating the cards into her art.
“Honestly, I am so glad I didn’t use them,” Sue said. “I was going to glue them on a painting.
“They could be sitting on a painting right now.”
Grady is thankful, too.
“Oh, God. I don’t know what I would have said if I’d seen (the Ruth rookie) shellacked in a painting,” he said.
Bidding will be taken through the Heritage Auctions website or by telephone and will begin around Nov. 19. Normal bids will be honored until 10 p.m. CST the night the auction closes. Beginning at 10 p.m., on a lot-by-lot basis, any person who has been on an item previously will have a chance to continue to bid until there are no more bids for 30 minutes.
Grady believes the cards will garner plenty of interest. Bidding for the Ruth rookie will open at $200,000. It will likely sell for more. But what a find.
“That’s what gets me excited,” Grady said. “We’re in 2020 and we’re finding all these cool cards.
“I guess people were literally bored out of their minds because of the pandemic and were cleaning out their garages and basements,” he said.
Sue, who rediscovered the cards, has been an artist for more than 40 years and is eager to find out what the cards will bring.
“Hopefully, I am ending it (2020) on a high note,” Sue said.