Hidden treasure: 7 extremely rare baseball cards found in a paper bag

While cleaning out a deceased great-grandfather's dilapidated house, family members stumbled across a million-dollar surprise.

Professional Sports Authenticator/AP
Professional Sports Authenticator provided this picture of one of seven Ty Cobb baseball cards found in a crumpled paper bag in a dilapidated house. Card experts in Southern California say they have verified the legitimacy, and seven-figure value, of the seven identical Ty Cobb cards from the printing period of 1909 to 1911. Before the recent find only about 15 were known to still exist.

Seven Ty Cobb baseball cards from the early 1900s were discovered in a beat-up paper bag, inside a dilapidated house. 

Family members, who wish to stay anonymous, made the discovery while cleaning out the house of a deceased great-grandfather. After planning to discard what looked like a bag of trash, one family member decided to sift through the contents. First there seemed to be only postcards and other paper products, but then at the bottom of the bag, the family member saw a pile of Cobb cards lying face down. 

“I am not sure if any baseball card find is more remarkable than this new discovery,” Joe Orlando, president of Professional Sports Authenticator in Newport Beach, Calif., told the Associated Press. “This is one of the greatest discoveries in the history of our hobby.” 

Before this week’s groundbreaking announcement, collectors believed only 15 Ty Cobb cards from this time period existed. Initial estimates have valued the seven cards at around $1 million in total.  

Ty Cobb “may have been the best all-around baseball player that ever lived,” according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. After playing as a center fielder for the Detroit Tigers for most of his career, Cobb was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936. His record-setting batting average of .367 still stands today. 

“I never saw anyone like Ty Cobb,” said Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel. “No one even close to him. He was the greatest all time ballplayer. That guy was superhuman, amazing.” 

The seven cards were part of the prized T206 collection printed between 1909 and 1911. (The ‘T’ stands for tobacco since the cards were sold alongside American Tobacco Company products.) The T206 collection, known as ‘The Monster’ among collectors, also includes the Honus Wagner card, which sold for a record $2.8 million in 2007. 

Mr. Orlando is not alone in his surprise. 

“I doubted they were authentic because finding seven of these cards at one place at one time seemed almost impossible,” said Rick Snyder of MINT State Inc., the first dealer to assess the cards in Myrtle Beach, SC.

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 representing mint conditions, card assessors have valued the seven Cobb cards between 3.5 and 4.5. And while this may sound low, it is actually quite impressive for cards over a century old.

Avid baseball card-collectors say the hobby's popularity has declined steadily since the 1980s. Those who are still collecting say their peers are old. Because today’s valuable cards are older, they are more expensive, thus attracting a demographic with high disposable income.

“It’s definitely an adult hobby,” dealer-collector Jack Palma told CBS News. “It’s turned into an adult hobby. I mean they kind of price themselves out of the kids.”

Orlando told NPR that this week’s ‘Lucky Seven’ find makes him feel like a kid again.

“These finds represent the hope that all collectors dream about,” Orlando said. “Even though we live in the information age, undiscovered treasure is still buried out there.”

[Editor's note: The time frame when the Cobb baseball cards were originally produced was misstated in the original version of this article.]

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