When you get an e-mail with the subject line "We found 10 Bronko Nagurski's", your interest is immediately piqued. After all, when you think of Bronko Nagurski in hobby circles, you immediately think of his 1935 National Chicle football card – one of the most iconic football cards known.
And then you wonder: Did a collector find these and want to know their value? Do they know what they have? Are they legit? Turns out Hunter Heaney, who sent out the cryptic e-mail in the first place, already had the answers covered and knew exactly what he had.
Hunter's dad, Jim Heaney, had collected thousands of sports and nonsports cards, many hailing from the 1930s with names like National Chicle, Goudey, Sports Kings, Gum Inc. and more. But the Nagurskis are the big story. Of the 10 cards, the highest graded example is a PSA 5, with other examples a PSA 4.5, PSA 3, PSA 2 (three examples) and down the line to PSA 1(mk). All are offered as single lots, except for one of the PSA 1(mk) cards being sold in a seven-card lot of 1935 National Chicle high numbers.
UPDATE - Sold
Bidding took place the afternoon of Oct. 16 through Wilson Auctioneers. The 10 lots that included the 1935 National Chicle Bronko Nagurskis brought a combined total of $31,550 without the buyer's premium. The breakdown is as follows, in order of the sale:
PSA 5: $6,000
PSA 2: $2,300
PSA 1 $1,600
PSA 3: $3,300
PSA 2: $2,900
PSA 1.5: $2,800
Lot of 7 high numbers with PSA 1(mk) Nagurski: $2,600
PSA 1(mk): $1,800
PSA 2: $3,000
PSA 4.5: $5,250
“What’s fascinating about the Heaney collection is that he treasured the cards,” said Mike Wilson of Wilson’s Auctioneers and Appraisers. "“This was a collector who just loved these cards for what they were, not for what they might be worth someday.”
Wanting to ensure the items were accurately assessed, Wilson sought the advice of nationally recognized sports card expert, Kevin Heffner. With a resume that includes lead cataloger and head writer for several national auction houses, Heffner specializes in prewar sports and non-sport cards.
“The day that we looked through the albums will be one I never forget,” Wilson said.. "Leafing through the first few albums, Heffner saw some intriguing baseball cards including a Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and a trimmed Babe Ruth. Then came the football cards, first some Knute Rockne cards, great…and suddenly Heffner looked at me and proclaimed, ‘Oh man, you've got a Bronko Nagurski! Amazing’! And as he turned to the next page, he exclaimed, ‘There’s two more! And then another on the next page!’ I’ve been in this business a long time and moments like this rarely happen; but this was one of those moments, and we were in it.”
Jim Heaney appreciated the cards and what they represented – the players, the stories, and the memories they create. “I remember as a kid when I’d look through the cards and ask about this one or that,” recalled Hunter, his son, “and dad would never say that was a valuable or not a valuable card; he’d start telling us the story of the player, who he played for, for how long, but also if he drank a lot, if he was a loud mouth or a soft spoken nice guy.”
As an athlete, Jim Heaney was no slouch either. He rowed crew in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, won the U.S. National Championship in 1953, and competed in the second Pan American Games in Mexico City in 1955 alongside his friend Jack Kelly (brother of Grace).
“Yeah, my dad was this rare breed of renaissance man though, in the truest sense,” said Hunter. “He was such an amazing athlete, but his passion was art and collecting; he had a real sense for it. He famously bought a Picasso print as a young man for $15 and later sold it at Sotheby’s for $120,000. He told his rowing buddies about this great young artist that he found so often, that they nicknamed him ‘Picasso Heaney.’
“It was similar to the cards, he just loved it so much, when he saw it he just got it. He was so enthusiastic about things like art, good books, and the cards he’d had since he was a kid. He relished them so much, but he never talked much about everything he himself had achieved in sports. I mean, he was a national champion and an Olympian and almost never mentioned it. I think it’s a bit of a generational thing, the generation that fought in World War II. I think that he and a lot of guys like him, when they got out they just appreciated things more – the little things, their interests, the people and things they enjoyed that brought them happiness. They got an early understanding of how those are actually the big things, maybe the only things.”
The sports cards portion of the sale, which consists of 65 lots, also includes a 1933 Indian Gum near set and other non-sports lots such as Dick Tracy, Skybirds, R28 Cartoon Adventures, R128 Anonymous Series of 48 (Western) and G-Men.
Other football and baseball cards include more from the 1935 National Chicle set, broken in low and high numbers. There's also a 1933 Sport Kings near set (37/48) and different assortment of 1933 Goudeys, 1934 Goudeys, 1934-36 Diamond Stars,1935 Goudey 4-in-1s and a few select graded, vintage singles.
Also look for a signed index card lot of more than 1,100, a baseball uniform dating to 1900-05 and a 1960 Philadelphia Eagles team-signed football. For more information on this sale, visit Wilson's Auctions or call (610) 358 9515.