Uncle Jimmy would have been pleased.
James Micioni of Boonton, New Jersey, left a treasure trove when he died at age 97 on March 8, 2020. A baseball card and memorabilia collector throughout his life, Micioni had quietly accumulated a stunning collection of cards, photos and autographs. It included thousands of vintage items, including six different signed 1933 Goudey cards of Babe Ruth.
The last of those cards sold through Wheatland Auction Services late Sunday night for a record-setting $761,100.
It was the fifth auction the Pennsylvania company had conducted over the past 12 months that contained cards and other memorabilia from Micioni’s massive collection. The card itself was a PSA 4, but the autograph graded at PSA 8 and attracted 59 bids.
Another autographed 1933 Goudey card, of Jimmie Foxx, brought in $123,900 on Sunday. Like the Ruth card, it graded PSA 4 — but the autograph was a PSA 9.
The first five Ruth cards, along with four signed Lou Gehrig cards, sold for more than $2 million last year, and the first four auctions by Wheatland amassed nearly $4 million.
“We are shocked,” said Jeanne Micioni Griffith, one of Micioni’s nieces. “We all knew he had a ton of stuff, all throughout the house.
“But I don’t think we knew the sheer volume.”
“It’s been definitely a whirlwind,” said Ellen Micioni Easton, another niece and Griffith’s older sister.
Cards, autographs, photos, pins, programs, newspaper clippings and other collectibles had been meticulously collected by Micioni from the 1930s through 2020. Family members, friends and neighbors knew he was a collector, but no one had an idea how much value was tucked inside the boxes he had kept inside his home.
“My father used to say that Jimmy had a good collection, but even he didn’t know the extent of it,” Easton, 56, a real estate paralegal and the executor of her uncle’s estate, said from her home in Manasquan, New Jersey.
Uncle Jimmy (how can you call him by his last name?) had been giving his seven nieces and nephews cards since the 1980s.
For his nephews, nieces — and later, grandnephews and grandnieces — Uncle Jimmy would compile boxes of cards, numbering each one and completing Topps sets by hand. Griffith, as the youngest of seven siblings, would have a box numbered “7.’
“He’d have 12 boxes with everybody’s name on them,” said Griffith, 49. “And he would sort out the cards personally.”
“Everything he was giving us, we thought it was not worth anything,” Easton said. “I got more of the good stuff. My husband Donald is a Yankees fan, and Uncle Jimmy would have the boxes labeled ‘Donald, Donald, Donald.’ I’d say, ‘Wait, I’m your relative.’”
It didn’t help Easton that she, like many of her siblings and their father, was a New York Mets fan. Uncle Jimmy loved the Yankees.
Beginning as a youth, Uncle Jimmy would write to baseball teams for autographs, enclosing a card inside a self-addressed, stamped envelope. In his letters, he would ask the players to personalize the autograph with a “To Jimmie” salutation, a gesture that may have made players more likely to return the card. It was a savvy move, made years before the memorabilia craze made players wary about signing items.
Uncle Jimmy attended many games at Yankee Stadium, although his family did not discover that until Wheatland went through the many programs and ticket stubs in his home. He was in attendance at numerous milestone games.
He meticulously kept records of every card he sent away for an autograph and when it was received, compiling the information in a binder. And he completed card sets the old-fashioned way, by buying packs and collating them.
“He never spent more than $1.25 for a card and never paid for a signature, ever,” Griffith said.
“Every year for Christmas, the only gifts he wanted was stamps, college-lined paper and envelopes so he could support his card collection,” said Uncle Jimmy’s nephew and namesake, James Micioni.
“He used to mail his Christmas list,” Easton said. “College ruled paper, stamps and more stamps.”
There was no need for writing utensils. Uncle Jimmy had saved lots of pencils through the years.
Micioni never married and did not drive, walking to work. He worked for many years at the E.F. Drew Chemical Company in Boonton and also for PVO International in his hometown. He later became a janitor at Boonton High School.
But Uncle Jimmy got his start working as a baker, taking those talents overseas while a soldier during World War II.
Little did his family know how much dough Jimmy was going to make for them.
“He was very easygoing, but very set in his ways,” Griffith said from Lilitz, Pennsylvania, where she runs a home daycare business. “He was an avid gardener but wouldn’t eat anything green.
“He lived on Ring Dings and biscotti.”
“He was very humble, very basic, with very simple tastes,” Easton said. “He loved his Yodels and Ring Dings and watching his Western movies.”
He also loved children and enjoyed sitting on the floor with his younger relatives to play. And had boundless energy, even late in life.
“Up until five years ago, Uncle Jimmy could run up and down the stairs like any of us,” Griffith said.
“He’d set up his garage and basement,” Griffith said. “His house was 150 years old, all brick, and he had the steepest basement stairs.
“He’d just tinker with the mechanical toys and show them off at Christmas.”
Collecting was obviously in Uncle Jimmy’s blood.
“He was buying stuff literally up until he died,” Easton said. “His basement was like a museum. He had photos and pennants tacked up on the wall with old-fashioned thumbtacks.”
Stacey Whisman, the owner of Wheatland Auctions, said looking through the collection was “like taking a journey through Uncle Jimmy’s life.”
“Sorting and organizing this collection was like taking a walk through a baseball card museum.”
Easton said she was originally against revealing her uncle as the source of the collection when it went to auction, believing that Uncle Jimmy was “a private man.”
But when news of the collection came to light, “it just blew up.”
Befitting his demeanor, Uncle Jimmy came from humble origins.
His parents, Antonio Micioni and Angela Piccioni, both came to the United States from Civitello del Tronto in Italy. They married in New York City in 1921 and moved to New Jersey to raise a family. Antonio Micioli lived in Boonton for more than 65 years. He was a gardener and a war veteran, having won the Cross of War for his service during the Turco-Italian war. He later served in the Italian army during World War I.
Uncle Jimmy was born in Boonton on Aug. 22, 1922. Considering his love for the Yankees it had to be ironic that Jimmy’s father died on Oct. 2, 1978 — the day the Yankees’ Bucky Dent broke the hearts of the rival Boston Red Sox with his three-run homer in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park.
Uncle Jimmy’s brother, Lou, ran Lou’s Shoe Repair in Belmar, New Jersey for 51 years before retiring in 1998. Lou Micioni’s children have been the beneficiaries of Jimmy’s voluminous collection.
The Micioni siblings had been working with Wheatland for the last few years, selling cards through the auction house that had been given to them by their uncle. They took boxes and trunk loads of cards to Wheatland.
What was Wheatland’s reaction when Griffith brought her collection to the auction house?
“You have seven people like this?” Griffith laughed.
So, when it was time to assess Uncle Jimmy’s collection, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, auction house was more than happy to take a look.
After Uncle Jimmy died, Griffith and her siblings went to his home in Boonton and began looking at the many boxes of cards, magazines, ticket stubs and programs. Their uncle had lived at the same house in Boonton, at 806 Spruce Street, his entire life, along with his younger sister, Gilda.
“They were literally born in that house,” Easton said. “When my dad moved out of the house (Jimmy and Gilda) were not happy about it.”
They were old school, too.
“They probably still had a rotary phone,” Griffith said. The family gave them a microwave, but the elderly couple put aluminum foil in it to cook their food, which blew a hole in the door, Griffith said.
“They still used it,” she laughed.
Gilda Micioni died May 9, 2020, two months and a day after her brother. She was 96.
“Living through the (Great) Depression as they did, they saved everything,” Griffith said.
That was a good thing. As the family looked through the home, basement and attic, Griffith’s brother, Peter Micioni, found a signed 1940 Play Ball card of Mel Ott.
“So, my husband started looking and said, ‘Wait, I think there’s something here,’” Griffith said. “‘This is the good stuff,’ he said. We said, ‘It’s all good.’”
The family found the Ruth cards and other signed 1933 and 1934 Goudey cards of Hall of Famers in a binder.
Some of the other notable cards that Uncle Jimmy had was a signed 1934 Butterfinger premium card of Ruth that had a “10” autograph grade. There were hundreds of unsigned cards from the Play Ball-Double Play era along with tobacco cards.
“He definitely knew what he was giving us,” Griffith said.
That was reflected in the big numbers from the Wheatland auctions over the past year.
“I can’t believe the numbers,” Easton said. “And to think, (Jimmy and Gilda) reused the teabags two and three times.”
Easton said taking the cards out of Uncle Jimmy’s home was bittersweet.
“It wasn’t just baseball cards you’re emptying out. It’s years of memories,” Easton said. “He was the last connection to my father (who died in December 2004).
“The whole end of a generation.”
“The neighbors said to us, ‘Oh, we knew he had baseball cards,’” Easton said. “‘We hope you didn’t throw them away.’”
Not a chance.
Jimmy Micioni’s relentless pursuit of cards, autographs and memorabilia stands as a testament to hard work and persistence.
“Card collecting is more than a hobby to most of us, and Uncle Jimmy epitomized what it truly means to be a lifelong passionate baseball card collector,” Whisman said.