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As Collector Fantasies Go, This One Is As Close As I'm Likely To Get

Every hobbyist who collects something has the same fantasy: To stumble upon a cache of whatever it is you collect that is owned by someone else who has no clue about the value of what they have, and is willing to sell it to you for a fraction of what it's worth ... or even give it to you.

As a baseball card collector, my version of this dream goes something like this: I'm driving along a lonely road somewhere in the remote hills of West Virginia and note an older couple having a substantial yard sale. I get out to investigate, and I see on a table that there are several shoe boxes of baseball cards, all in excellent condition, that were collected by their children or grandchildren 40 or 50 years ago, and they are selling the lot for $10. A cursory look at a random handful reveals cards of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and other baseball luminaries of the '50s and '60s, EACH of which you know could fetch several hundred dollars, if not thousands, in their condition. You are faced with the ethical dilemma of deciding whether or not to tell the clueless sellers about what they have, or just buy them and drive down the road planning the itineraries for your next three trips to Hawaii.

About a year and a half ago, I and another enthusiast I had recently met decided to start a club for sports card collectors here in the housing development where I live in Williamsburg. We get together and share our love of the hobby, swap stories about games we've been to and what cards we've been lucky enough to get over our years of collecting. While we have had the pleasure of having a few kids join us, most of the guys who have shown up are in their 60s and 70s, happy to have found some kindred spirits in their love of sports card collecting and trading.

We have had some surprising things brought into the room. One gentleman brought in about 200 -300 baseball cards from the '60s and '70s, most of them in excellent condition. After examination, we realized that he had several thousand dollars worth of cards, which we helped him get professionally graded and put into protective containers. Another fellow came in with a small stack of 1948 basketball cards, one of which was of Hall of Famer George Mikan. Even in poor condition, this sought-after card can fetch $3,000 or more.

Another couple read about our club in the housing development's magazine and contacted me by phone. They were downsizing, they said, and wanted to see if the sizable collection their adult son had amassed 40 years ago, and now didn't want, had any value. At first glance the collection appeared to consist mostly of cards from the late 1980s and early 1990s, a time when six or seven different companies vastly overprinted their products, essentially destroying any future value they might have. But as I delved deeper into the four large plastic boxes of cards, I discovered some pretty significant gems, the best three of which are pictured here: Two Topps cards issued in 1960 of Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Don Drysdale, and a more recent card of Ken Griffey Jr. as a rookie, made by the Upper Deck company -- the most sought-after of his rookie cards.

Taking the ethical high road, I told the couple from the outset that if I found anything of significant value, I would let them know so they could decide what they wanted to do: Try to sell them, give them back to their son, etc. So I brought these three cards to them. They said I should keep them, along with the entire collection.

That was amazing generosity on their part. And these three cards weren't the only ones that got my attention: There were 1970s-era cards of Walter Payton and three rookies of Atlanta Braves slugger Dale Murphy; a Fleer rookie card of Cal Ripken Jr. in pristine condition; several rookie cards of Ken Griffey Jr. in addition to the Upper Deck card; and three Derek Jeter rookie cards.

I won't be planning any trips to Hawaii, but still ...


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