Attic held baseball card gold mine

Cobb, Young, Wagner in nearly pristine collection

TOLEDO, Ohio — Karl Kissner picked up a soot-covered cardboard box that had been under a wooden dollhouse in his grandfather’s attic. Taking a look inside, he saw baseball cards bundled with twine. They were smaller than the ones he was used to seeing.

But some of the names were familiar: Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Honus Wagner. Then he put the box on a dresser and went back to digging through the attic.

It wasn’t until two weeks later that he learned that his family had come across what experts say is one of the biggest, most exciting finds in the history of sports card collecting, a discovery probably worth millions.

The cards are from an extremely rare series issued around 1910. The few known to exist are in so-so condition at best, with faded images and worn edges. But the ones from the attic in the Ohio town of Defiance are nearly pristine, untouched for more than a century.

“It’s like finding the Mona Lisa in the attic,” Mr. Kissner said.

Sports card experts who authenticated the find say they may never see something this impressive again.

“Every future find will ultimately be compared to this,” said Joe Orlando, president of Professional Sports Authenticator.

The best of the bunch - 37 cards - are expected to bring a total of $500,000 when they are sold at auction in August during the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore. There are about 700 cards in all that could be worth up to $3 million, experts say.

Mr. Kissner and his family say the cards belonged to their grandfather, Carl Hench, who died in the 1940s. Hench ran a meat market in Defiance, and the family suspects he got them as a promotional item from a candy company that distributed them with caramels.

After Hench and his wife died, two of his daughters lived in the house. Jean Hench kept the house until she died last October, leaving everything inside to her 20 nieces and nephews. Mr. Kissner, 51, was put in charge of the estate.

On Feb. 29, Mr. Kissner’s cousin Karla Hench pulled out from the attic the dirty green box with metal clips at the corners and lifted the lid.

Not knowing whether the cards were valuable, the two cousins put the box aside. But Mr. Kissner decided to do a little research.

Still not knowing whether the cards were real, they sent eight to expert Peter Calderon at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, which recently sold the baseball that rolled through the legs of Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series for $418,000.

“I was in complete awe,” Mr. Calderon said. “You just don’t see them this nice.”

The cards are from what is known as the E98 series.

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