Baseball cards more than heirloom find for family
Historic haul of Wagner and Co. uncovered in long-forgotten box during attic cleanout
DEFIANCE, Ohio -- Here's the house on Perry Street, the time-worn Colonial with the peeling paint and sprouted weeds. Karl Kissner still stamps out his cigarette on the porch before stepping inside, a show of respect for his long-since-departed grandparents."Don't smoke in there," he says. "Never could." Here are the stairs leading to the second level, and Kissner must pause to point out that he was probably 30 years old before he was allowed to climb up them, and only then because his aunt needed him to help with the maintenance work. And here, if you duck down and step through the entryway, is the attic, swamped in soot and, until mere months ago, packed to the rafters with more than a century's worth of family remnants. This has become the most famous attic in America this summer, the place that made Kissner's relatives heroes to pack rats everywhere. For this is the place where Kissner made what one baseball card-collecting expert has called "the most significant find in the history of the hobby" -- a cardboard box filled with hundreds of baseball cards from early in the 20th century and estimated to be worth $3 million. On Thursday, the first and most significant batch of those cards will be auctioned off by Heritage Auctions as part of the National Sports Collectors Convention. A set featuring the likes of Ty Cobb, Connie Mack, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner has already received bids in excess of $200,000 at Heritage's web site (ha.com), and a mint-condition Wagner card has received a bid of $150,000 on its own. Those online auctions will be completed in-person at the convention in Baltimore's Camden Yards. And when they're completed, Kissner and his 19 cousins, who are splitting the pot evenly, will have quite a few more bucks in their bank accounts. And they each have an additional set with which they can do as they please down the road. All because, long ago, Kissner's grandfather, Carl, the owner of a meat and sausage shop that sat just two blocks away at the corner of Fifth and Perry, put an unused box of promotional items away in his attic and likely forgot all about them. "Thanks, Pop!" Karl says with a laugh. And yes, he's laughing all the way to the bank. But this story is about family bonds as much as monetary ones.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.