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Big League Stew

Baseball cards found in Ohio attic could be worth $3 million

David Brown
Big League Stew

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(Heritage Auctions via AP)

Sometimes the details differ, but the stereotypical baseball card horror story usually goes something like this:

In about 1967, somebody's mother got tired of the mess, and started to clean out her kid's closet, or the family basement, or the attic. And along the way she threw out three or four precious Mickey Mantle rookie cards that, if sold, could have kept Greece solvent for years.

It's a good thing for the descendents of Defiance, Ohio's Carl Hench that no mothers in the family tree ever acted on what could have been such a destructive impulse. Because now, after decades in the attic, a treasure trove of rare baseball cards featuring vanguard Hall of Famers can come out and play.

Described in an Associated Press story as "one of the biggest, most exciting finds in the history of sports card collecting," about 700 cards from a series made around 1910 were found. Names such as Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Christy Mathewson. And the most remarkable thing about the cards: Their great condition. In total, the find could be worth $3 million. And that could be conservative.

[Slideshow: Baseball cards in Ohio attic might fetch millions]

Wagner's name alone is a monster among collecting enthusiasts, mostly because he refused to be associated with the chewing tobacco companies that usually produced baseball cards at that time he played. Different cards of his from around the same time have recently sold for $2.8 million and $1.2 million, respectively. The Wagner card pictured above was graded a 10 — an unheard-of score. The cards in Hench's attic were from the mysterious E98 series, which has an unknown manufacturer. It should only add to the allure.

An auction for the Wagner card is live right now and continues into August. The bidding already has surpassed $55,000. Six months ago, nobody alive knew it even existed.

Hench died in the 1940s and one of his daughters lived in the house until her death in October. Karl Kissner, the youngest among Jean Hench's 20 nieces and nephews, was put in charge of her estate. While cleaning out the house, the family found the usual items:

His aunt was a pack rat, and the house was filled with three generations of stuff.

They found calendars from the meat market, turn-of-the-century dresses, a steamer trunk from Germany and a dresser with Grandma's clothes neatly folded in the drawers.

Months went by before they even got to the attic. On Feb. 29, Kissner's cousin Karla Hench pulled out the dirty green box with metal clips at the corners and lifted the lid.

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No one was sure at first what they found, but Kissner did some research and realized: This stuff needs to be put in a safe. Later, they appraised the loot.

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(Heritage Auctions via AP)

"It's like finding the Mona Lisa in the attic" Kissner said.

Beat that, "Antiques Roadshow."

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