It’s astonishing how many people happen to stumble upon fortunes when old trading cards surface. There have been some amazing hobby-defining finds over the years. From 1952 Topps Mickey Mantles coming out of nowhere to a Babe Ruth rookie card to a rare “Shoeless” Joe Jackson to T206s, the finds never get old. There is always a captivating story attached to the old cards being discovered. In 2020 alone, there were four major finds. We offer our Top 10 Hobby Finds of all time.
1. 1952 Topps find
Famous card dealer Al “Mr. Mint” Rosen received a call in spring 1986 that a person in Quincy, Mass., had a bunch of 1952 Topps baseball cards for sale. Intrigued once he was told there were probably 30 Mickey Mantles in the collection, Rosen took thousands of dollars and an armed policeman for security with him to go to the house. Rosen was in shock as he rifled through Mantle after Mantle – around 75 in all and 42 in excellent shape. Rosen ended up buying approximately 5,500 cards – about 75 percent were the rare high-number cards. He had 18 runs from cards No. 251 to 407, which includes Mantle, Willie Mays and Eddie Mathews. Rosen paid upwards of $125,000 that day, which included the finder’s fee and security person. Noted dealer Bill Goodwin once said he believes two of three PSA 10 Mantles in existence came from this find. There were 187 Mays’ in the find and 12 beautiful John Rutherford’s, which is the hardest card to find in the set.
2. Black Swamp Find
It’s the find that shook the hobby in 2012. After an aunt had passed away in Defiance, Ohio, relatives accidently stumbled upon 700 1910 E98 cards in a box under an old dollhouse. Most of the cards earned grades of PSA 7 or higher. The E98 set consists of just 30 cards – 17 of the players gaining the Hall of Fame. Prior to the find, PSA’s highest grade for a Ty Cobb from that set was a 7. The find added 16 PSA 9 Cobb’s to the hobby. Also, an unheard of PSA 10 of Hans Wagner was part of the discovery. PSA added the wording “Black Swamp Find” to all the slabs it graded from the find. It’s so named for the Great Black Swamp that once dominated the Defiance area.
3. The Lucky 7 Legacy
The T206 Ty Cobb with Ty Cobb back is one of the rarest cards in the hobby. Prior to 2016, there were 15 known examples graded by PSA. Then came “The Lucky 7 Find,” where family members of the great-grandfather found a torn paper bag in the rural south. In the bag were seven T206 Cobbs. PSA graded all the cards: They received a 4.5 – the highest grade known – a 3.5, four 2.5s and a 1.5. The seven cards fetched about $3 million. Remarkably, two years later, an eighth Cobb was discovered by members of the family. That latest Cobb received a PSA 2 grade. When it surfaced, the family decided to keep the treasure, at least for the time being.
4. The Beer Box Find
It is described as the greatest unopened wax pack discovery in a generation. In 2017, a Tennessee man found unopened packs of baseball, football and basketball cards from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s in his aunt’s attic after his uncle died. The cards were being stored in an old Stroh’s beer box and dubbed “The Beer Box Find.” The crown jewel of the discovery were 19 packs from a 24-pack box of 1948 Bowman baseball. The man who found the packs kept one pack and sold the rest at auction for $521,000. The find also included unopened boxes of 1961 Fleer basketball and 1961 Topps football. Both sold for over $100,000.
5. Uncle Jimmy Collection
Uncle Jimmy’s seven nephews and nieces knew he loved baseball and had a card collection, but they didn’t know to what extent until James Micioni passed away at 97 in March 2020. When the relatives (Jimmy was never married and didn’t have kids) went into the attic, they knew they would find a Babe Ruth autograph, since their uncle always told them Ruth was in the attic. However, the heirs didn’t know they would find about 100,000 cards and six signed Babe Ruth 1933 Goudeys. There were also excellent autograph examples of Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx cards. The “Uncle Jimmy Collection” was valued in excess of $1 million.
6. Yahtzee Box Find
Another big find in 2020 was dubbed the “Yahtzee Box Find.” A collection of extremely rare candy cards was discovered inside a “Yahtzee!” game box. Two of the biggest cards were a 1914 E224 Texas Tommy Ty Cobb graded PSA 1 and a “Shoeless” Joe Jackson graded PSA 2.5. It is the first Texas Tommy Cobb card ever graded and just the second Jackson ever authenticated by a professional grading company. There were eight Texas Tommy cards found along with 300 cards from such sets as the 1922 E121 American Caramel, Zee-Nut PCL series, 1921 National Caramel and 1917 Collins-McCarthy cards.
7. Lunch Pail Find
In 2009, Hayes Foster and his son Ben found a stash of old baseball cards while cleaning out the dad’s law office in Raleigh, N.C. The eldest Foster thought his collection had been thrown out years before. It wasn’t until 10 years later that Ben, home from Christmas break, shuffled through the cards. Not a big baseball fan, Ben saw recognizable names Ty Cobb and Cy Young, which were T206s from 1909-11. The Fosters ended up having two Cobbs – the red portrait and bat-on-shoulder versions – and three Youngs – the green portrait, throwing with one bare hand showing and hands at the chest. In all, there were 585 T206s. Foster also had 86 cards from 1910 T210 Old Mill Cigarettes. Remarkably, a rare Shoeless Joe Jackson happened to be in the group, which was later graded SGC 3.5. It ended up selling for $492,000 through Heritage Auctions in May 2020.
8. Baggie Find
An artist found a gem, something she would have never expected. In mid-October 2020, a south Florida woman stumbled upon an old biggie. When a relative died 10 to 15 years ago, the woman was given a box of items that were children orientated: paper dolls, books and some toys. There was also a regular sandwich-sized bag filled with what she thought were old advertisements because of their small size. They turned out to be 178 cards from the 1916 M101-4 Sporting News set. The big card was a Babe Ruth rookie, along with a “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Heritage Auction had 24 of the cards graded by SGC and the Ruth came back a 4 (VG-EX) and the Jackson a 5 (EX). In SGC’s population report, it has graded just 15 Ruth M101-4 rookies and only five are graded higher than that 4. The Ruth sold for $360,000 through Heritage in December 2020.
9. Five 1952 Topps Mantles
When a 76-year-old New Jersey man saw an advertisement in 2018 that a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle had an estimated value of $3.5 million, it inspired him to look at his old collection. John and his brother Ed had stored the cards in their mom’s attic. After she died in 2006, the collection went to John’s. He was sure he had one ’52 Mantle, but it turns out he had five. His best was graded PSA 8.5 in 2018 – PSA has only graded nine examples higher: six 9s and three 10s. The brothers’ best card sold for $810,000 – which is a steal these days. The other four Mantles were graded PSA 7.5, 7 and two 5s. The 7.5 went for $200,000.
10. Tobacco cards discovered
Generations of a single family in upstate New York had been holding on to some early baseball cards and non-sports cards. In 2018, the family came forward with the prize possessions. It was 37 cards in all – 27 being baseball cards. A rare 1888 N403 Yum Yum Tobacco card of Hall of Famer Tim Keefe was the big card in the find. It was only the third example of that card PSA had graded to that point, while SGC has seen over 100 of them. It earned a PSA 3.5 and later sold through Heritage Auctions for $15,600. Also discovered in the find were 1887 N172 Old Judge cards of Cap Anson (in a suit) and Jim O’Rourke along with N28 Allen & Ginter cards of Keefe and Charles Comiskey.
Photos: Heritage Auctions, PSA