The story of how the cards were discovered is the stuff that hidden-treasure dreams are made of.
Attics, garages, barns and flea markets have been typical finding places for spectacular and miraculous collectibles discoveries. But a crumbled brown paper bag has yielded what Forbes magazine called one of the greatest baseball card finds in history: Seven Ty Cobb tobacco cards.
Previous to the discovery of what has been dubbed the "Lucky Seven,” there were believed to be only 15 of these precious cards known to collectors. They were printed between 1909 and 1911 and sold with packages of tobacco as a legendary lot called the T206, which includes the Honus Wagner, perhaps the most valuable and sought-after baseball card that has fetched $2 million at auction (the scarcity of the Wagner card is due to his pulling it from circulation because he did not want to promote smoking).
The story of how the cards were discovered is the stuff that hidden-treasure dreams are made of. According to Associated Press reports, a family in a rural Southern town was rummaging through their great-grandparents’ possessions. The cards were found inside a torn paper bag on the floor. The family initially through the bag was filled with garbage, but one of the family members decided to check it out. The Cobb cards were lying face down at the bottom of the bag, which also contained postcards and other paper items.
The family recognized Ty Cobb’s name, and encouraged by a story some members had seen about another momentous baseball card find on the Fox Business Network series, “Strange Inheritance,” took the cards to a dealer. The rest is now hobby history.
According to Joe Orlando, writing on the website for PSA, which authenticated the family’s find, Cobb, the Georgia Peach, was considered baseball’s marquee player. He was the centerpiece of the American Tobacco Company’s T206 set. He appeared on four different cards, including the Bat off Shoulder, Bat on Shoulder, Red Portrait and the toughest and most valuable of the four, the Green Portrait.
But, Orlando notes, another T206 Cobb card, is an even greater rarity. The T206 Ty Cobb with Ty Cobb back and the words, “Ty Cobb-King of the Smoking Tobacco World.” It is this card that was found in the bound-for-the-trash-bin paper bag. Even in poor condition, these cards have sold for more than $150,000.
The more than century-old “Lucky Seven” cards were determined to be between 1.5 and 4.5 on a 10-point scale on which 10 is mint condition. At least three of the cards have been sold to anonymous buyers. The family can expect to take in more than $1 million from the sale of all the cards, dealers estimate.
Collectibles rank with precious metals as the most popular alternative investment, according to a Spectrem Group wealth segment study of Millionaire households with a net worth up to $5 million (not including primary residence). Sports memorabilia lags behind art, currency/coin and automobiles as the most popular collectibles category. Across all age groups, those ages 45-54 and Baby Boomers up to age 64, comprise the highest percentage of Millionaire sports memorabilia collectors,
Peter Calderon, collectibles consignment director and vintage baseball card specialist for Heritage Auctions in Dallas, previously told Millionaire Corner that the allure of sports memorabilia is the opportunity to invest in something with a personal connection. “There’s little emotional involvement in owning a stock,” he said, “but if you grew up in Chicago and you’re a Cubs fan, to invest in an Ernie Banks bat or autographed card is a little more personal.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.