For a century, a box of baseball cards sat in a Defiance, Ohio, attic . Then, it moved to a dresser for about two weeks before landing on an office desk for a few more days. But once Karl Kissner realized he was holding up to $3 million in circa 1910 top-condition baseball cards, he quickly moved the cardboard box across the street to a bank vault.
Kissner was working with family members cleaning out his aunt’s house—a house previously owned by his grandfather—in Defiance when his cousin, Karla Hench, ran across a green box with about 700 baseball cards packaged with twine. He knew they looked a little different—they were the smaller, tobacco-style cards of the early 1900s—but with so much stuff to clean, he set them aside for a couple of weeks. Once he had the time to go through the box, he realized that these cards of Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Connie Mack might be worth something. Yeah, try $3 million.
The cards, from a rare series dubbed E98 — the publisher’s name has been lost to history — were from 1910, according to multiple memorabilia experts who authenticated the stack of cards, according to the Associated Press. The series contains 30 different cards; half of the players depicted are now Hall of Famers. There are only a handful of the E98s in existence and the ones floating around certainly aren’t in the top-notch condition as ones from the box in Kissner’s aunt’s attic.
Experts say that any sports memorabilia found from this point forward will be compared back to the attic find.
Jean Hench, a daughter of Carl Hench, who died in the 1940s, most recently owned the house. Jean passed away in October and left her estate to her 20 nieces and nephews. Kissner was in charge of the estate and slowly sifted through the contents of the house — which still contained many of Carl’s belongings, which his daughter never threw out after his death in the 1940s. The baseball cards, with their pristine white borders and vibrant red backgrounds, were first found in late February.
The family believes Carl may have come across the cards when he ran a meat market in Defiance and received them as a promotional item from a candy company. Carl obviously stashed them away, unknowingly preserving the cards almost perfectly.
Experts rates cards on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being mint condition. None of the E98s previously found are in pristine condition (the nicest Ty Cobb E98 still around is rated as a seven); Kissner’s find includes 16 Ty Cobb cards graded at a nine and a Honus Wagner card at a remarkable 10 (a 1909 Honus Wagner card recently sold for $2.8 million).
Working with Heritage Auctions, which authenticated both the cards and the family history to determine the find was legitimate, the family hopes to sell the best 37 cards in August at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore for as much as $500,000. They will spread the rest of the cards out over a few years so as to not flood the market. The 20 relatives have split the 700 cards evenly and nearly all of them have decided to sell. There is no word on whether any of the rest have decided to stash the cards in an attic.