If you list it, they will come.
The lure of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson baseball cards remains strong a century after his heyday. And a 26-year-old North Carolina resident owns one of the toughest Jackson cards around. It will be part of a Heritage Auctions sale in two months and is sure to draw some interest.
Ben Foster, of Raleigh, North Carolina, has a T210 Old Mill card of Jackson — the gem of an otherwise less than star-studded set of 640 minor league players from the South released by Old Mill Cigarettes in eight series of red-bordered cards.
“It’s been in the family since it came out of the cigarette pack,” Foster said.
This extremely hard-to-find card will be included in Heritage Auctions’ Spring Sports Catalog, which runs for two days beginning May 7.
Baseball cards of Jackson are rare, but the story behind Foster’s card would make a good movie script. The T210 card set boasts the largest checklist of pre-war tobacco era offerings. Jackson, along with Casey Stengel, are the two biggest names in the set.
The Jackson card is extremely rare. Only nine have been graded by PSA, with the highest grade a qualifier that comes in at 5. The next highest card comes in at 3. Eight have been graded by SGC, with the highest grade a 4.5. Foster had his card authenticated, and it earned a grade of 3.5.
Jackson is featured in the set as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, a team in the Southern Association he played for between his major league debut with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908 and the Cleveland Naps (now Indians) in late 1910. Jackson played 136 games for the Hornets in 1910 and batted .354. That foreshadowed his 1911 season with the Naps when he hit .408 but finished second in the batting race to Ty Cobb’s .419 effort.
The Jackson card was part of the 114-card, eighth series in the T210 set, which focused on Southern Association players. It belonged to Foster’s great-great uncle, Millard Berlin Camp. Born in 1899, Camp grew up in Newnan, Georgia, and got the card from one of the adults (probably his father, William Walker Camp), who smoked cigarettes.
Years later, Foster’s father, Hayes Foster, was a youngster collecting Topps cards from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Camp, seeing the boy’s interest in collecting, gave him his entire collection — 585 T206 cards and 86 T210 Old Mill cards. That, combined with about 800 Topps cards, made for a nice collection.
Hayes Foster put the cards away in a “lunch pail” type of container and forgot about them.
“Growing up, my dad always talked about these baseball cards he wished he still had,” Ben Foster said.
In 2009, Hayes Foster, a lawyer, retired due to medical reasons. While the family cleaned out Hayes’ office, Ben found the box, which had a couple of Topps stickers on it.
“I found this metal box, and sure enough, his collection was there,” Ben said. “I recognized the Topps cards; he had a 1961 Mantle and some Clementes.”
Ben put the box away. “I always bookmarked in my mind to do a more thorough appraisal of what he had,” he said.
That opportunity arose last Christmas.
“I took the box out, and alongside the Topps cards I found stacks of T206 cards,” Ben said. “I saw Ty Cobb and Cy Young.”
Of the 585 T206s he found, Foster said there were “500 unique ones,” including eight of New York Giants manager John J. McGraw.
“They were all there except for the really rare cards,” Foster said. “There was no Wagner, Plank, Magee or Doyle. Of the 74 Hall of Famers in the set, I’ve got 70 of them.”
Foster took the T206s and lined them up on a table, covering it in pre-war cards.
Foster also saw the T210 cards and asked his girlfriend to look up the value of the red-bordered cards. Foster said she told him the cards were a minor league from the same era as the T206s.
“She said, ‘None of them are particularly valuable unless you have a Joe Jackson,'” Foster said.
Foster found one card that said, “Jackson, New Orleans,” and asked his father if it was Shoeless Joe. His father said no, saying New Orleans would not have had a team in 1910.
Foster put the card back in the stack and continued to take inventory of the T206s. Later that night, after going to sleep, Foster woke up.
“About 2 a.m. I was flipping through my phone and came across a site that listed the 10 most valuable cards,” Foster said. “I saw that the Jackson was ranked No. 10.
“I jumped out of bed and put it in a hard case,” he said. “I said a few expletives. I was just shocked; I couldn’t believe it.”
Foster said he knew very little about Jackson.
“I never saw ‘Field of Dreams’ or ‘Eight Men Out,’” he said. “But now, I’ve learned just about everything about Joe Jackson.”
Foster was a history (American and ancient) and computer science major at the University of North Carolina and now works as a software developer for a small digital market agency in Raleigh.
Before contacting Heritage Auctions, Foster took a few “middle of the road” T210s to a baseball card show in Raleigh.
“I showed them to a few dealers, who all confirmed they were 100% authentic,” Foster said. “But I didn’t tell them about the Joe Jackson.
“I thought about it more that afternoon and decided that if I wanted to get real advice on what to do with them, I would need to take a chance.
“I had to tell someone I had (the Jackson),” Foster said. “The dealer told me, ‘You need to take that card to Heritage.”
Foster showed the card to Derek Grady at Heritage Auctions.
“He was definitely pretty blown away,” Foster said. “He said, ‘You just don’t hear about people finding this many tobacco cards in a new find.”
Foster had the card graded and consigned it to Heritage. The card came back two weeks ago, and while he was hoping for a 4, Foster said a 3.5 was not a total disappointment.
“I was lucky the Jackson card was in as good of a condition as it was,” he said. “The back of the card is a lot cleaner than the 3.5 that sold last year.”
Heritage sold a similarly graded (3.5) card for $600,000 in February 2019 during its Platinum Night sale.
Whatever the Jackson card sells for, Foster said he was going to give the money to his parents. His father has been retired for a decade, and his mother still works as a paralegal.
“I’d like to take a couple of years off my mom’s career,” he said.
In an ironic twist, Foster never collected baseball cards. He did, however, have an interest in Pokémon cards as a youth while growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“I think the cards got lost in the move,” Foster said. “I think I had a handful of the first series (from 1999).”
Foster may be sad he no longer owns Pikachu, Charizard and Blastoise cards, but owning an extremely rare Joe Jackson card that is 110 years old and is likely to fetch six figures softens the blow.
“I’ve had enough card luck for a lifetime,” Foster said.