Several weeks ago, we were referred to a family in Texas that was interested in selling what was described to us as a “run of sets.” After a few phone conversations, the family agreed to consign the collection in its entirety to Love of the Game.
During the last conversation, when we discussed how I would be retrieving the collection, I simply replied “I’ll just drive down with my SUV and pick everything up.” My statement was met with a strange silence.
Last week, I made the journey to the deep south in a whirlwind trip that landed me in Texas late Saturday afternoon. After a brief meeting with what turned out to be an absolutely lovely family, I was brought into the card room to receive the shock of my life.
This is a cellphone photo of one corner of a room that contained what is, without doubt, the largest card collection I’ve ever seen. “Run of sets” doesn’t quite describe this collection, and “I’ll just drive down with my SUV and pick everything up” was, in light of the collection’s size, a laughable statement.
The collection was assembled over a lifetime, by a gentleman who lived and breathed baseball, sharing it with his daughters and also with his community. Decades of dedication to the hobby were evident in literally hundreds of binders and photo albums, each containing complete or near sets ranging from the collector’s childhood through his unfortunate passing in 2007. During nearly sixty years of devotion to the hobby, the collector built sets from virtually every mainstream manufacturer, as well as dozens of regional and minor issues, minor league sets, and even “off brand” issues by companies like TCMA and SSPC.
It was almost overwhelming. Around every corner was another surprise, inside each binder was another set. In roughly eight hours that we spent rooting through and cataloguing the collection, we discovered a host of rarities, beautifully-stored vintage sets, and diligently assembled modern ones.
From 1951 through the mid 1970s, the collector (whose name we will disclose in due time) painstakingly assembled complete sets, paying closer attention to condition with each passing year, and carefully mounting the cards in numerical order in photo albums, using “photo corners” to help display the collection while still protecting the cards. We took some photos of the earlier cards to help describe what these cards look like in their albums.
Arriving back in the home office in New Jersey, we were struck by how similar this collection was to the famed Lionel Carter collection that was sold at auction in 2007. While the Carter collection contained a large number of prewar sets, this collection, for the post part, began in the 1950s – yet the display methods were very similar. We were naturally bursting at the seams, dying to see the condition of the cards underneath those photo corners, and we decided to begin with one of our favorite sets – 1959 Topps.
Back at home in the kitchen, I have a broken steak knife. The very top quarter inch of the knife has chipped off, leaving a flat top but a sharp edge. For some ridiculous reason, I have not thrown this knife away – and it turns out that it’s the perfect tool to separate the photo corners from the album. By sliding the flat top of the knife underneath each of the top two photo corners, we’re able to separate them from the paper without worrying about damaging the card. Then, the card simply slides out of the bottom two corners, without the necessity of bending or twisting the cards to remove them.
What we discovered was absolutely thrilling:
The cards were clearly maintained in relatively pristine condition when they were initially collected, with the consignor paying attention to centering during a time when Topps was notorious for poor quality control. Looking through a pile of duplicate 1959s, we can see that the collector put off-center cards to the side when possible, choosing the cleanest and best-centered examples for display in his album. It is our impression that the collector probably assembled the sets, and then mounted them in the albums once complete – the cards are ever-so-slightly handled, with a few exhibiting very minor edge wear and tiny corner touches. While some were undoubtedly touched simply by inserting them into the photo corners, the collector was undoubtedly careful when handling them – many of the cards have retained not only their original color and gloss, but also their crisp, “new” texture. Some even still have gum residue on the surface!
We are thrilled beyond words to be able to offer the vintage components of this collection in our upcoming auctions. In the coming weeks, we will continue to share the journey of removing these cards, the surprises we encounter, and of course, the results of those cards we submit for grading. And of course we are eternally grateful to the family for allowing us a window into the life of an extraordinary collector, and for choosing Love of the Game as the auction house to introduce this incredible collection to the hobby.
Buckle up; it’s going to be a fun ride.