By P.J. Kinsella
Every collector has a journey. For Victor Martinez and his collection, that journey not only crossed over international borders, it took him over the Atlantic Ocean - twice. A key part of those travels was a piece that Martinez has held dear - a full set of 1924-1925 Aguilitas Cigar cards.
Martinez, who is now 39 years old, was born in Cuba and resided there until 2013. He has been an avid collector since he was fourteen when his father, also named Victor, got him into the hobby. The elder Victor has been a collector for nearly his entire life, accumulating a variety of rare items but specializing in rare photographs.
Martinez’s father would bring home his latest finds to his son where they would analyze each item and discuss the history behind each one, contributing to young Victor’s fervent passion and knowledge of the collectibles market.
“Over the years, my father sold off most of his collection, but he has held on to a few pieces that have intrinsic value to him,” said Martinez.
In 1999, Victor’s father met Rolando Sanchez, where he purchased an album that included the 1924-1925 Aguilitas Cigar cards. Sanchez, widely considered the biggest baseball memorabilia collector in Cuba, had been assembling the set since the 1970s. Incredibly, the album contained the entire 43-card set. Finding one of the Aguilitas Cigar cards is a challenge, let alone the entire set. And, yet, here it was now in front of Martinez’s father. He took it home and marveled at the cards with his son.
The flagship card in the set is Oscar Charleston, one of the earliest and most prominent stars in the Negro League. He won three league batting Triple Crowns and finished his career with a .365 batting average, second all-time only to Ty Cobb’s .366. Charleston was not only an incredible player but a very successful manager as well. He spent nine seasons playing in the Cuban Winter League, a common trend among Negro League players who were looking to sharpen their skills during the offseason.
Martinez is consigning the Aguilitas #869 Charleston card, which is graded VG+ 3.5 by SGC, as part of REA’s Spring 2023 Catalog Auction. This is the only example to which SGC has ever given this grade. In fact, only two examples have ever been graded higher, and only 10 have been graded in total by SGC, according to the company’s Population Report.
REA has sold a handful of Oscar Charleston cards from this set in previous auctions, the last of which came in Spring 2022 selling for $132,000, making it one of the highest prices ever realized for a Cuban card.
In 2013, the younger Martinez moved his family from Cuba to Spain but kept in touch with Sanchez to discuss the set among other collectibles the family had acquired over the years.
Victor previously worked with REA in 2019 when he consigned a single sheet of unlined paper that featured a series of mathematical equations written by Albert Einstein from 1930. The item was sold in REA’s Summer 2019 Catalog Auction for $8,100. When looking to sell the treasured Aguilitas Cigar cards collection, there was no doubt in his mind which auction house he wanted to use.
In addition to the Charleston card, Martinez is also consigning the rest of his Aguilitas set in REA’s Spring Auction, including John Henry "Pop" Lloyd graded SGC VG+ 3.5, Biz Mackey's Rookie graded SGC GOOD+ 2.5, Cristobal Torriente graded SGC VG 3, as well as a single lot featuring 19 cards from the Aguilitas Cigars Second Series collection.
“REA has a very strong reputation in vintage cards and the comprehensive analysis the company provides is what sets them apart,” said Martinez.
Although he’s parting ways with his Aguilitas Cigar set, this will forever remain one of his favorite and most treasured items even as it continues its journey to another lucky collector.