Unlike their bubble gum card counterparts, they came–literally–in plain brown wrappers. There’s nothing common, though, about this find.
Four fresh to the hobby unopened bricks of about 2,000 1963 Exhibit “stat back” baseball cards spread across four sealed packages have been uncovered thanks to a social media post that included a photo of a machine similar to those that once housed them.
Loaded with Hall of Famers, the postcard sized collectibles are desirable on their own.
In their original, still packaged form? The stuff of dreams.
“I’ve been doing this for 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Bill Mendel, a long time industry veteran who took the call from a man on the east coast last month. Mendel takes in consignments for Memorabilia Experts, a Las Vegas based store and auction house.
“He had seen our 1930s Exhibit machine that was posted on Facebook and he called us and said, ‘hey, my father and I were in the arcade business. We used to go to Mike Munves in New York. They were distributors and did repairs on all of the arcade machines back in the 1950s and 60s and we bought all of our machines from him’.”
After seeing pictures of the packages with Exhibit Supply’s Chicago address on the front and hearing the details of their origin, Mendel was convinced they were the real deal.
“I was in shock.”
He asked the man if he was interested in consigning them to auction. In a few days, a package containing the cards showed up at Memorabilia Experts’ home base in Las Vegas.
With good distribution, each brick likely contains around seven complete sets plus duplicates. Uncirculated complete sets would likely worth several thousand dollars each.
But there was more.
A fifth package, partially opened, was also in the box and there were loose cards, too. Hundreds of them.
The group included ten cards of Hank Aaron and ten more of Willie Mays. Nine Mickey Mantles. Nine of Sandy Koufax. Nine more of Roberto Clemente and dozens more greats and near greats from the past who appeared in the 64-card set that dates to the latter part of Exhibit Supply Company’s 20-year run of producing sports cards for coin operated machines that were found at penny arcades, carnivals, stores and other locations.
While most card backs were blank, the “stat back” baseball Exhibits from 1963 were unique in that they included career statistics printed in red.
Because of the size, high end examples are rare. While the loose cards aren’t all perfect, many are in excellent shape and will certainly add plenty to the grading company population reports once sold.
While unopened 10-cent cello packs of Exhibit cards issued in the 1960s aren’t especially rare, the vending type packages are something entirely different. There is a single, similar unopened package of Exhibit cards of sexy 1950s ladies on eBay with an asking price of just under $40,000.
The four bricks of baseball Exhibit cards are being offered as one lot with the other 900+ cards and partial packaging as a second lot in an auction set to close Feb. 18. One bid of $7,500 has already been entered in the newly opened auction of the four package lot. Bidding for the lot that contains the partial package and loose cards stands at over $2,100. Those numbers will certainly rise over the next two and a half weeks.
Munves, the go-to guy for arcade games, ticket machines and coin dispensers, started his business at the age of 20 and kept selling, repairing and rebuilding arcade machines until he was in his late 70s. While Exhibit card machines were only a small part of that business, for sports card collectors, they’re a glorious throwback to a time when you stuck a penny or nickel into the slot, pushed in and got a card of an athlete to keep or trade.
The machines are collectors items today (you can buy the one that led to the consignment for under $1,300), but finding the cards that filled them in their original sealed packaging is something collectors dream about.
To open or not to open those four sealed packs will, as with any unopened material, be up to the buyer. For now, the fact that they’re entering the hobby and getting the chance to show them off has been fun for Mandel and his colleagues
“It’s a big coup for us to get these.”