- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 29, 2005

If you collect them, they will come — those well-meaning mothers on cleaning rampages, that is, the bane of baseball card collectors everywhere.

One of the nation’s leading sports-collectibles appraisers has figured out just how much that moldering shoe box full of ancient baseball cards is now worth — the one that accidentally on purpose got thrown out when mom ventured into junior’s bedroom once upon a time.

Curious? It’s more than $6,500.

“If you take a typical kid who lived in middle-America back in 1957, we figured he would have kept roughly 100 cards in a shoe box,” said Rich Klein of New York-based Beckett Media, which publishes price guides and other resources for sports cards aficionados.

Mr. Klein came up with the estimate by studying the statistics of cards made at the time by the Topps Company, a longtime producer of classic baseball cards.

He pondered the typical pack of cards Topps once purveyed, packed with an obligatory wafer of pink bubble gum. Mr. Klein mulled over the probability that some lucky lad might pull a “star” card from among the second-string offerings.

“We estimated that the average shoe box in the summer of 1957 had an 80/20 mix of common cards and stars, which would have included Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron,” Mr. Klein said.

He estimated the boyhood collection was worth about $8.95 back in the day.

But a mystifying thing happened while that forgotten box sat under a bed or in a closet over the years. The boy grew into a man, and the cards, well, they grew, too — right into the thousands.

Mr. Klein estimated the increase in market value to be 74,900 percent.

Mom, armed with broom and dusting rag, meant well. But that shoe box is most likely history. “In other words, mom has a lot of explaining to do,” Mr. Klein observed.

Almost five decades later, many of those one-time collectors are seeking the lost baseball cards of their halcyon days, thumbing through boxes at a card show or searching online. According to Beckett’s consumer research, many are between the ages of 40 and 55.

“They’re trying to reconnect,” the company’s retail analyst, Beth Grimsley, said. “We’ve seen adults who really aren’t collectors, but want to buy an item or two they cherished as kids and have never really forgotten.”

But who knows? Perhaps that sentimental collector might run across the genre’s Holy Grail: the T206 Honus Wagner baseball card, of which about a handful produced between 1909 and 1911 survive today. The last one on the market sold for $2.7 million five years ago.

Topps, in the meantime, has since expanded its trading card line to include military heroes and, for the media-obsessed, the “Chronicles Collection,” a series of weekly cards “depicting the world’s most significant news stories,” the company notes. There’s no bubble gum, and they ain’t cheap. The cards go for $4.75 each.

But the pitch for the cards is definitely 1957-style. Early buyers receive a special binder — “while supplies last!” — Topps advises.

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