When we shared the news of Alan Rosen’s death late last month, I realized I had never read the second of his two books, called “True Mint”, published in 1994 and written with the help of T.S. O’Connell. I ordered a copy, knowing I’d probably heard some of the stories before but still feeling a little nostalgic for what was a truly remarkable era.
About two-thirds of the book consists of what are now outdated prices for the most popular vintage baseball card sets and a small amount of commentary on each of them. The first part, though, is actually a pretty important little time capsule that sheds light on some of the monumental discoveries that Rosen made during his heyday from about 1982 through the mid-1990s.
If there was a pack rat with baseball stuff, Rosen found that person—or they found him. From his New Jersey office, he went anywhere and everywhere there was a deal. Montana. Alaska. Canada. Even if you didn’t care for his style, reading about where he found his latest adventure was actually part of the fun of reading Sports Collectors Digest back in the day.
Sometimes those trips to one person’s home would last multiple days as he and his associates sorted through basements and closets jammed with thousands of cards, many seemingly untouched by their owners until Rosen swooped in flashing wads of cash.
The amount and type of material he uncovered through extensive advertising and word of mouth was staggering. The Quincy, Massachusetts 1952 Topps high number find alone—with stacks of mint Mickey Mantle cards on a silver platter—is just the tip of the iceberg (the actual case from that find is pictured on the right).
The tales in the book will make you drool if you love old cards and memorabilia. They’ll also help answer questions about the origin of some of the high-grade material we see at auction today.
Rosen’s 1950s unopened box find, which originated on the basement floor of a former Tennessee candy wholesaler makes you wonder how many of the 200+ 1954 and ’55 Bowman and Topps boxes that he bought remain intact. Where are they? A few dribbled out at auction several years ago but what about the rest? Over 70 were infested with bugs that had literally eaten much of the product and were tossed out.
The other part of the story is that the find led to another person who’d bought a quantity of ’55 Bowman from the same warehouse and opened them up. Enough boxes from the find were opened that it’s not a shock to see that there are many graded 9s and 10s from the mid-1950s on current population reports.
Rosen spent $225,000 to buy a Long Island man’s collection of wax boxes that included a near case of 1962 Topps first series and another filled with 1960 Leaf boxes, plus a stack of uncut sheets. Today, you still see a box or two of those Leaf cards, packed with marbles, for sale at major shows and empty boxes and a couple of display boxes are often on eBay, some perhaps remnants from that same find.
In 1988, he was set up at a show in Baltimore and a man came up to his table with a box of 750 high-grade T206s. After some brief discussion, the man revealed to Rosen that they represented only half of what he had bought from a local woman. There were another 750 tobacco cards in his car. Rosen packed up his table for the day and negotiated a deal. While it’s probably true that card doctors have “created” some high-end tobacco cards over the years, that story illustrates that 30-50 years ago, finding original cards in top grade—even T206s– was still very possible. It’s why so many dealers went on “buying trips” across sections of the country back then.
Rosen writes about making “eight or nine” buying trips to see the Lillian brothers, who had a huge secret stash of cards—nothing older than 1955—but only sold to him when they needed a specific amount of money. Multiple complete sets from the 50s, all very clean, were purchased. When Rosen complained that one of the cards was creased, one of the brothers went to the mysterious room that held the collection (Rosen was never allowed in) and brought out a better quality replacement.
Want more stories?
- A priest in Seattle had 27,000 autographed photos (not just sports) he had collected. Rosen bought them all.
- There was the time a man walked into a Chicago show with 290 1954 Wilson Franks cards that had never been inside the product. There’s a decent chance the high-grade cards you see at auction recently came from that find.
- A young man whose grandfather had worked for U.S. Caramel in the 1930s sold him hundreds of baseball and non-sports cards issued by the company.
- A trip through the snow netted complete sets from 1960-1970, ordered by one New York man from Larry Fritsch Cards, the first full-time card dealer. They were still in a box, never opened. Fritsch had pieced them together mostly through direct purchases from Topps.
- At a show in southern California in 1993, a man walked in with hundreds of untouched high numbers from 1966 and others from 1964 and ’65. He said his mother owned a miniature golf course in the 1960s that had a baseball card vending machine. Rosen spent $20,000 on the cards, many of which no doubt reside today in grading company holders and are worth a lot more.
- A Pottstown, PA man had “3,000-4,000” 1965 Topps football cards, all high-end. Rosen bought them for $75,000.
- A sixteen-foot truck hauled long-time hobbyist Roger Marth’s collection away, much of it from the pre-War era.
- There was a find of hundreds of complete uncut back panels from the boxes with 1960s Post Cereal baseball cards. Ponder that for a moment.
The value of what Rosen bought during that ten-year period alone in today’s market would test a really good accountant. He lamented later in the book that finds appeared to be drying up by the mid-90s. It wasn’t totally true, of course, as we continue to see discoveries of long-lost cards and memorabilia entering the hobby for the first time even now. Some of the hobby’s greatest finds, in fact, have happened just in the last few years.
Those tales from the last millennium, though, are really a great part of hobby history. How he made them happen is educational– and so is learning that sometimes “too good to be true” isn’t true at all.