A sampling of the treasure trove that had been untouched for 100 years was sold Thursday night during the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore. The 37 baseball cards featuring the likes of Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Honus Wagner fetched US$566,132 in brisk online and live bidding. They were expected to bring about $500,000.
"It was a lot of fun," said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions, which conducted the sale. "The room was packed."
He said two lots were sold to Internet bidders and the third went to a live bidder. The auction house declined to identify the winning bidders.
Family member Karla Hench, who helped find the cards, said the cards brought "fantastic prices and we're very excited that we can all share in this find. It's like a gift from our grandfather to keep passing on."
What made this find so special was that the 700 cards were nearly pristine, the finest examples anyone had ever seen from an extremely rare series given out with candy around 1910.
The best of the bunch was sold in three lots — one, which sold for $286,800, was a nearly complete E98 set, the name of the the series the cards were issued under, and another was a Honus Wagner card that was judged to be in perfect condition by Professional Sports Authenticator, a company that grades cards on a 1-to-10 scale based of their condition. It brought $239,000.
The highest price ever paid for a baseball card is $2.8 million for a different Wagner card — a 1909 version produced by the American Tobacco Co. and included in packs of cigarettes. Only about 60 of Wagner's tobacco cards are known to exist after being pulled from circulation, either because the ballplayer didn't want to encourage smoking among children or because he wanted more money.
Sports card experts who authenticated the find in Ohio say they came across dozens of cards that were just about perfect.
Karl Kissner, who unearthed the cards in February in the town of Defiance with Hench, his cousin, said they belonged to their grandfather, Carl Hench, who died in the 1940s. They think he gave away the cards at his meat market and stashed the extras in his attic and forgot about them. One of Hench's daughters kept the house until she died last October, leaving everything inside to her 20 nieces and nephews.
Heritage Auctions plans to sell most of the Ohio cards over the next two of three years through auctions and thinks they could bring up to $3 million. The Hench family is evenly splitting the cards and all but a few have decided to sell their share.
Kissner said the money is nice, but the best part is how the discovery has brought his family together. Fourteen of the cousins planned to be at the auction in Baltimore. Some have talked about giving some of their share to charities, he said.
"It started out with a walk down memory lane, and this is going to create nothing but new memories," Kissner said. "This is a blessing that will grow throughout this family."