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Stolen Treasures: The Miraculous Return of a Lost Vintage Card Collection

PJ Kinsella in Consignor Stories

May 22 — 5 mins read

By Amar Shah

The safe was gone. Inside it were jewelry, passports, and a collection of baseball cards.

“I was sick to my stomach,” our consignor remembers. We’re keeping her name private at her request, and you’ll understand the sensitivities more by the end of this story.

In February, her home in suburban Atlanta was broken into and robbed.

This wasn't just any group of cards taken. This was a curated collection passed down to her from her godfather.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I've been putting off doing something with these cards, and now they're gone,’” she said.

However, this story has an M. Night Shyamalan twist, so stay with us. But first, let's get to the man who assembled the collection.

Our consignor's godfather was born in the late 1800s in London, England, and immigrated to the United States when he was a boy. That's when he started his baseball card obsession.

“This was like a collection of a 10-12 year old boy,” our consignor says. “On the back of some of the cards, he wrote, ‘Got in New York’ or ‘Got in New Jersey’ or even ‘Traded with Joe.’”

Writing on cards has always been one of the big “Don’t Do’s” of card collecting, but it was little notes like these that made this collection special to our consignor and her godfather.

Her godfather worked for the train company, and that's how he ended up in Georgia.

“He married later in life and did not have any children,” our consignor says. “I ended up being his goddaughter.”

He passed away when the consignor was 10.

“He was just a gentleman, a distinguished old man,” she remembers.

He was also a Freemason.

“He was much older than my godmother,” our consignor says. “She adored him.”

The binder and box in which the collection was preserved

The binder and box in which the collection was preserved

Her godmother kept all his belongings.

“She didn't want to get rid of anything,” our consignor recalls.

Her godmother ended up bestowing some of the items to her.

“She pulled something out of a drawer in her bedroom and it was like a box,” our consignor says. “It looked like what old slides were kept in, like a thin, long box, like the old slots for pictures. And there were just these little cards.”

It was bound with a leather tie from the early 1900s. Her godfather wrote “Prize Fiters & Base Ball” on the cover. The word “fighters” was spelled wrong, almost as if a ten year-old boy had written it. Accidentally, yet somewhat fittingly, the word “baseball” was written as two words, just as it appeared in some of the earliest chronicles of the game dating back to the 19th century.

“These things had just been sitting for over 100 years. I didn't know what to do with them, and they made me very nervous because I knew they were valuable,” our consignor said.

The collection ranges from cabinet cards of notable prizefighters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to a T206 collection and even a Honus Wagner M110 Sporting Life cabinet card.

Our consignor kept them in a safe until they were stolen. But we promised a happy ending. 

1911 M110 Sporting Life Honus Wagner cabinet card that will be available in REA's Summer Auction

1911 M110 Sporting Life Honus Wagner cabinet card that will be available in REA's Summer Auction

Two days after the robbery, they got a lead.

“We got a message via Facebook from a man about 30 miles away who found our safe in a ditch by his mailbox,” our consignor says. “The thieves were looking for guns or jewelry. They tossed it out the window, and when they popped open our safe, they saw it was just paperwork, a little cardboard box, and some notebooks. Everything was in it, including the baseball cards.”

Before this, our consignor was reluctant to sell.

“I didn't want to give them away because I felt like it was not honoring my godparents and what they gave me,” she said. “But I just don't know what else to do with them. My children are not interested in that.”

Not after this encounter. That’s when she reached out to REA after doing some research on companies that specialized in vintage cards.

The bulk of the collection will be featured in REA’s Summer Catalog Auction that runs from July 23 to August 11. With more than 1,000 cards making up the collection, it’s an impressive snapshot of tobacco-card collecting in the 1910-era. All the hobby standards are represented. There’s a near-complete T206 White Border set, just about two dozen cards shy of completion, with virtually all the Hall of Famers and Southern Leaguers that make the set so desirable. 

If T205 Gold Borders are more your thing, there’s a near-complete set of those, too. Prefer larger cards? There’s enough to go around with a near-complete set of T3 Turkey Red cabinet cards as well as the full set of  T9 boxers. 

And if each of these is too mainstream for you, there are more than 150 T210 Old Mill cards, including a complete set of Series 1, as well as dozens of T330-2 Piedmont Art Stamps with many big names.

“Let's let someone collect these who wants them,” the consignor said. “I feel like they were given back to me to do something with because, sitting in that safe, they weren't doing anything, and I had no plans for them. So I decided to let a collector who cherishes them have them.”

Indeed, they will.

Amar Shah is a multiple Emmy-winning writer and producer who has written for ESPN.com, NFL.com, The Wall Street Journal, The Orlando Sentinel, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Slam Magazine and The Washington Post. In the 90s, Amar was a teen sports reporter and got to hang out with the Chicago Bulls during their golden era. He even landed on the cover for Sports Illustrated for Kids with Shaquille O’Neal. His debut novel "The Hoop Con" is now available with Scholastic. You can order it here:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-hoop-con-amar-shah/1143287376?ean=9781338840315

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