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Man finds hundreds of rare 1920s baseball cards in deceased father’s closet

(KTLA) — Few things stand the test of time like the bond between father and son. One of those things is baseball.

For one Sacramento man, those things are intersecting in an unexpected way.

Hidden in a forgotten corner of a home in the town of Tracy sat a tin cigarette box that once belonged to a man named Ed, a longtime collector of baseball memorabilia.

Ed lived in Oakland during the early 1920s, starting his collection in his adolescence. He would often receive baseball cards as gifts from family members and, over the years, the number of cards in his possession continued to increase.

Babe Ruth, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and Ty Cobb found their way into Ed’s collection, which he kept safe for decades in a 1900s-era Pedro Cut Plug Tobacco tin.

Hundreds of vintage and rare baseball cards, including 20 Babe Ruth cards, will soon head to market after they were found in a Northern California home. (Auction Monthly)
Hundreds of vintage and rare baseball cards, including 20 Babe Ruth cards, will soon head to market after they were found in a Northern California home. (Auction Monthly)

Ed’s son, John, said he remembered the rare occasions when his father would show him the cards and the tin they called home. “When I was young, elementary school age,” he told Auction Monthly.

When Ed moved from the Bay Area to the San Joaquin Valley, the cards came with and they remained there for years until Ed’s passing.

After his father’s death, John was left with the chore of cleaning out his home to prepare for an eventual sale.

“Like many of those who grew up in the Depression, my father and members of his family did not discard anything,” John said.

As John began clearing out what remained in his father’s home, he stumbled upon that familiar cigarette box stowed away in a closet.

John, whose full name is being withheld by Auction Monthly, pulled the tin container out and took it back to his home in Sacramento. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he was in possession of some of the rarest and most important baseball cards ever made.

Even the owners of the consignment and auction company were in shock by what the tin held.

“I couldn’t believe what was inside when I first opened the lid,” said an official from Auction Monthly in a press release. “I began to imagine what it was like to be a kid in the 1920s chasing the game’s current greats.”

Ed had kept more than 600 pre-war baseball cards, many of which were well-preserved inside the tin.

Hundreds of vintage and rare baseball cards, including 20 Babe Ruth cards, will soon head to market after they were found in a Northern California home. (Auction Monthly)
Hundreds of vintage and rare baseball cards, including 20 Babe Ruth cards, will soon head to market after they were found in a Northern California home. (Auction Monthly)

In addition to Ruth, Cobb and “Shoeless” Joe, the collection included baseball hall-of-Famers Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and several cards from the infamous 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” team, recipients of the moniker for allegedly throwing the World Series in what is regarded as the greatest scandal in the sport’s history.

The cards range from 1919 to 1926, many of which belong to a rare set of “Zee-Nuts” cards that were distributed exclusively on the West Coast. Zee-Nuts were a 1920s-era treat made of popcorn, peanuts and coconuts, according to PreWarCards.com. The cards, which were given out with the purchase of the snack, are “by far the most complex minor league issue in the pre-war era.”

Ed’s collection was rediscovered several years ago and has sat in storage while John decided what to do with them. Following encouragement from a friend to sell while the collector card market is hot, he called the Northern California-based company for a meeting.

An official for Auction Monthly, a company founded by a father-son duo, said they knew what much of the collection held, but even they were shocked by a few things — particularly the surprising number of Babe Ruth cards of various varieties and rarity.

They’re still evaluating what the cards could go for, but they estimate it will likely be in the “high six figures.” Some cards will be graded and the number could eventually go up.

Updates about the eventual sale will be released soon on Auction Monthly’s website. Interested buyers are encouraged to keep an eye out for their opportunity to own a piece of sports history and maybe one day pass the cards down to the next generation of collectors.

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