Huggins & Scott’s next auction includes a horde of vintage Cracker Jack baseball cards finding their way into the hobby for the first time–having survived decades in rubber bands and even a very possessive stepmother.
It was one of those phone calls that sounds as if it might make all of those about a closet full of "old" 1990s wax boxes worthwhile.
Even then, the skeptic takes over.
Cracker Jack cards? Old ones? Surely they’re the 1991 versions. Probably found ’em at a flea market. Then the person on the other end starts listing names.
Cobb. Plank. Wagner. Jackson.
These cards are a lot bigger than a postage stamp you say?
Suddenly, it sounds like this might be interesting.
For Huggins & Scott Auctions, the call came during the first week of March. On the other end of the line was a man in New Jersey. Knowing enough to believe this might actually be one of those calls that makes your hair stand on end, the company dispatched its Mid-Atlantic representative, Steve Dickler, to check out the story.
It didn’t take long to discover this was indeed a major find. The man pulled out a white binder containing a few dozen 9-pocket sheets filled with authentic 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack cards. They had been in the family for generations, believed lost for a time, but discovered on a trip to the basement during a search for old home movies.
The man who’s grandfather originally owned the cards as a child, tells the story. We’ve granted his wish to remain anonymous. We’ll just call him Bob.
The story of the Cracker Jack cards began in 1995. No one had any knowledge of them. My father died in 1991 and his second wife, my step mother, now lived alone in their Baltimore home. We had been on good terms with her but she was a very possessive, domineering and strong-willed woman.
I had long sought 8mm home movies which my father had taken starting around 1941 when I was born. He had to borrow the camera but he took extensive movies of his family up the mid 1970’s when his health slowed him down.
I had asked my step mother if I could look for the movies which I believed were located somewhere in the basement amid all the "junk" which my father, mother and step mother had collected. She initially refused to let me go into the basement not only because of her embarrassment over the piles of magazines, papers, books and broken items which never were repaired, but also because she feared we would take things. She didn’t trust us. Very little was ever thrown out. All of them were pack rats!
I finally convinced her that if I could locate the movies, I would include her in the showing as she had no way of knowing how to operate the old projector. What good were the movies if they were only collecting dust?
She stood next to me, my teenage son and daughter as we looked through old shoe boxes, drawers, behind and under stacks of old moldy clothing, but we could not find the film. It was at this time my son found a box containing my dad’s college memorabilia, including newspaper clippings from his high school soccer and college basketball heroics), a college freshman orientation beanie cap and a small brown bag which contained the Cracker Jack cards. There were two stacks of 298 total cards– held together with rubber bands.
Since my dad was born in 1906 and grew up in the Chicago area, he would have been around 8 to 10 years old at the time they were issued– just the age when young boys would be inclined to identify with the sports heroes and collect cards. There were no other cards, so It must have been a passing fad. Maybe he got tired of eating the caramel popcorn.
I have to presume that the cards remained in the bag from at least his late teen years to 1995, about 70 years, never to see the light of day. He was a Cubs fan and in later years an Baltimore Orioles fan.
My son, unknown to all of us, took the cards and when we returned to our home in New Jersey showed them to me. None of us knew anything about baseball cards or the hobby. However, being a stamp collector, I knew that old baseball cards could be valuable. I photocopied all of the cards and hoped to get some opinions from fellow workers and relatives as to their value. Most, however, had no real idea how much they were worth or how I could get better information.
I then made a colossal mistake. Feeling guilty that I had taken them on the sly from her basement and still not having any idea as to their value, I gave them to my step mother and suggested since she had loads of time and I didn’t, she should contact a local dealer and get an idea of their value.
About two weeks later she called me and told me she had an offer of $12,000 for them. I couldn’t believe it !! If a dealer offered her 12K, the cards must be worth about $80,000 to $100,000. I told her over the phone: "Do not sell the cards". I did not discuss with her what I thought because I knew she definitely would sell them. As I stated earlier, she was very possessive and frankly, greedy. What was my father’s was hers. Period !
At this point I did not know what to do about the cards but decided to say nothing in hopes she would put them away and forget about them. In the meantime I located a baseball card catalog in Barnes and Noble, looked up the 1914 & 1915 CJ’s and was utterly amazed. The Joe Jackson in good shape listed for $8,000! The least valuable were still worth around $150 !
The situation remained unchanged from about 1997 to 2005. I pined for the cards but was resigned to the fact I might never see them and that they really belonged to her. Everyone else in my household disagreed with me. But she had them and maybe– just maybe– there was a slim chance they were still in her possession. I was afraid to even ask her what she did with them thinking I could remind her of them and tip off their potential value thus prompting her to sell.
During this time she kept in touch with us by phone but she did not want us to visit her. She did drive to us for holidays. We noticed that her memory was not as sharp. We also were getting calls from her neighbors and church folk that she was failing. She suffered from dementia and in November of 2005 I assumed Power of Attorney and put her in a nursing home. My wife and I then had to clean out house to prepare it for sale.
WHERE WERE THE CARDS ? Where would she have put them? My wife and I put together 300 to 400 bags of trash but found no cards. By this time, it was hopeless to ask her as her memory was gone. We went through everything with a fine toothed comb but came up empty-handed.
A neighbor of hers had helped with her banking and gave me a spare key to her bank lock box. Eureka !! There they were! What a relief !! I got rid of the rubber bands and placed them in protective plastic sheets.
I still did not know how to handle the cards. My son wanted them and my son-in-law was wild about them. I have two older brothers. I finally came to the conclusion to consign them for auction and split the proceeds with my brothers.
Sitting in Bob’s home, Dickler couldn’t believe how many cards–now 93 and 94 year-old pieces of valuable cardboard– were staring back at him.
"My jaw began to drop when I saw, Cobb, Johnson, Mathewson, Jackson, etc, etc. About the only major card missing was a 1914 Mathewson," Dickler recalled of the Tuesday, March 4 meeting. Removing the fragile, thin cards from the plastic sheets and handling them as gently as possible, Dickler counted. There were indeed 296 subjects. A few still had the caramel stains from the original Cracker Jack packages. Most would likely grade between VG and NM.
The consignment representative made his sales pitch, promising to give the collection care and attention–and do whatever possible to maximize the value of the cards which had sat undiscovered for so long.
"Convincing Bob to put them in an auction was not difficult, but giving them to Huggins and Scott required creating trust and a bond with this potential consignor," Dickler stated. "We apparently bonded well, because he told his wife to cancel two appointments with other auction houses that were scheduled for the following day."
The company’s new find was the talk of the next big card show, held in Reading, PA later that month. The cards were graded by Sportscard Guaranty (SGC) and will now be part of Huggins & Scott’s June auction.
Included will be 1914 cards of Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson, each graded SGC 50 as well as numerous Baseball Hall of Famers from the 1915 Cracker Jack set including Cobb, Mathewson, Johnson and high grade cards of Eddie Plank, Ed Walsh, Hughie Jennings, Clark Griffith and Eddie Cicotte. Some cards will also be sold in groups when the auction begins June 22.
And yes, Bob also found those old 8mm home movies he’d been searching for.