It’s a typical blue-collar dream. Moving into a new house or removing a relative’s belongings is often a stressful affair, but as you’re unloading boxes or clearing an area, suddenly you spot a card. It looks old, so you’re careful as you turn it over, hands trembling ever so slightly.
Boom! Suddenly, you’re a millionaire, thanks to a tiny piece of card that your grandfather probably forgot about four decades ago. It might be less likely than winning the lottery, but here’s a rundown with five times when it actually happened.
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From the owners’ reactions, the prices, and the cards themselves, here’s everything you need to know about the best baseball collections that were unexpectedly found in the home.
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Many collectors have cards stored away in an attic or in storage somewhere, but it’s unlikely that any of us are unknowingly sitting on a couple of ‘holy grails’.
A number of the people to feature on the list had no idea what they had found, while one family even left the cards for a few weeks after they had first been discovered. The point is, you don’t have to be a fan of baseball to be able to reap the benefits, and it’s way more likely to occur if you have an elderly male relative that just so happened to be around 80 years ago.
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Before you go rummaging through your grandfather’s stuff, the cards on the list are so rare that it’s unlikely that you’ll find copies hidden away. Unlikely, but not impossible, as you’ll see below.
“Uncle Jimmy” and the Six Babe Ruths
James Micioni passed away at the age of 97 in 2020, leaving his family to discover a secret collection of more than 1,000 vintage baseball cards and collectibles that are expected to fetch up to several million dollars at auction.
They’ll be known as the Uncle Jimmy Collection, and it includes; a signed Babe Ruth card from 1933, which is likely to sell for more than $100,000, five more hands signed 1933 Babe Ruth Goudeys, a signed Lou Gehrig card from the same 1933 Goudey set, and an autographed Jimmie Foxx card.
Unlike many of the others on this list, Micioni was meticulous in terms of the care he showed to his collection, so many are still in great condition almost 100 years on. Colors are vibrant, and they weren’t stuffed away to rot in a tin, or forgotten about. Each was loved, and he wasn’t the type to show off.
He clearly preferred to collect the cards quietly. The lots are going to be handled by Wheatland Auction Services, and the owner Chuck Whisman took the time to comment;
“Maybe once a decade something like this comes around. The cool thing is, nobody knew of his collection. He just collected his whole life. He didn’t show it off to anyone.”
With no children of his own, Micioni was an uncle to seven nieces and nephews. One of them is Peter Micioni, who said; “We were his only family, over the past 15 years, we would visit and he would always give us part of his collection.” They used to worry about his obsession, but he always told them; “You’ll figure it out when I’m gone.”
Damn. We could all do with an uncle Jimmy.
The Ohio Attic Collection
Again, this story is almost unbelievable, but we have the cards to prove it! Karl Kissner was rooting through his grandfather’s attic in 2012 and found a green box with metal clips. Inside were hundreds of old cards wrapped in twine. There were a few recognizable names such as Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Cy Young, and Honus Wagner, but the cards were small, so he promptly forgot about them for a few weeks.
After a quick Google search, Kissner sent a few off to Heritage Auctions, where they were promptly verified as being legitimate items. There are about 700 cards that could be worth up to $3m according to experts. There are so many that Heritage had to spend the next two to three years selling the card via auctions and private sales so that the lot didn’t flood the market. In all, they hoped to earn somewhere between $2m to $3m.
The collection also includes legends such as Christy Mathewson and Connie Mack, but most of the attention is on the trio of HoF players listed above.
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The family claim that the cards belonged to their grandfather, Carl Hench, who died in the 1940s. He ran a meat market in Defiance, and the family suspects he got them as a promotional item from a candy company. Kissner said afterward; “We guess he stuck them in the attic and forgot about them, they remained there frozen in time.”
When you realize that they had been sitting up there for roughly 70 years, quietly appreciating each day, it does give some hope for the discovery of another set or two hidden away somewhere.
Many Mickey Mantle ‘52 Topps Cards
This one is slightly different, but it’s interesting nonetheless. A 76-year-old man from New Jersey (who wanted to remain anonymous for obvious reasons) chanced upon a newspaper ad, seeing a 1952 Mickey Mantle card being sold by Heritage Auctions with an estimated value of $3.5 million. He and his brother just happened to have five, with one being a PSA 8.5 that was valued at a cool $1 million by Heritage. (It later sold for $810,000, so they clearly broke $1m.)
As the owner explained;
“We always knew we had the cards, but they were just in the attic, we were fortunate our mother stayed and lived in the house until she was almost 102. Most people would have moved at some point, and in the move, things like baseball cards and old school books would get thrown away. Ours just stayed there for 50 years.”
He said that he and his brother merged their collections together and left them in the attic for years, while he had talked to a dealer in 1980 and described what he had and without seeing the cards, he was offered $8,000. However, he wasn’t in a rush to sell, which obviously proved to be a wise decision in the long run. He noted;
“Part of the anxiety is you don’t know how (to sell the cards), “If you go to a dealer who is buying them, your best interest isn’t his primary one. With an auctioneer, the better you do, the better they do.”
It’s another crazy story, but it’s unlikely that there are many others who just happen to be sitting on a stack of Topps Mantle cards that they haven’t been bothered to sell. Just how many elderly people are out there, with a potential goldmine that they have no idea about?
The Lucky Seven Legacy – & Crazy Eights
Again, take a moment to imagine that you’ve managed to find seven vintage baseball cards while cleaning out your late great-grandfather’s house. In your wildest dreams, you probably wouldn’t expect to find one T206 Ty Cobb card, must less seven. (The card is known for its extreme rarity, even for a set released between 1909-11.) At the time and prior to the find, there were only about 15 known copies of the card in existence. That number then grew to 22 after the submission of seven Cobbs to PSA.
It’s obviously one of the biggest finds in the history of the hobby, being found inside a crumpled bag in a dilapidated home.
Be ready to feel even sicker. The same family that made one of the greatest finds in sports collectibles history when they found seven Ty Cobb baseball cards found one more in the matching set just two years later. It was hidden between two books inside a dusty old box, proving that while seven is lucky, eight is elite. The majority of us will struggle to see one in real life, let alone dream of finding yet another Cobb specimen with its ultra-rare “Ty Cobb King of the Smoking Tobacco World” back.
The 1948 Bowman Box
The final story on our list isn’t about a singular card or even a set. Finding one pack of 1948 Bowman cards is unheard of, much less 19 unopened packs in their original box. (The set includes rookie cards of players destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Yogi Berra, Ralph Kiner, and Stan Musial.) The Mile High Card Company received a call in 2017, from an owner who had managed to do just that.
It turned out that the seller’s uncle, who recently passed away, had owned and operated a small confectionery company that produced trading cards in the ‘50s. The box had been stored in a Stroh’s beer case that was probably as old as the cards, and it was clear that the collection hadn’t been touched for over 50 years.
Just to be clear, it’s an untouched 1948 Bowman box with 19 unopened packs out of the original 24. It’s not priceless, but it’s certainly worth a lot to hobbyists. There were also more boxes in the collection, including a full box of 1961 Topps football cards, a nearly full box of 1961 baseball cards by Nu-Card, and a box of 1961-62 Fleer basketball cards.
The seller went in hoping to raise $11,000, while estimates put the value of the box at roughly $900,000. It’s not a million, but it’s still one of the better stories for would-be collectors to dream about