DEFIANCE, OH (WTVR) - Karl Kissner was cleaning out his grandfather's attic when he found hundreds of untouched baseball cards from an extremely rare series issued around 1910. Up to now, the few known to exist were in so-so condition at best.
Experts believe it's one of the biggest, most exciting finds in the history of sports card collecting, a discovery worth perhaps millions.
The best of the bunch — 37 cards — are expected to bring a total of $500,000 when they are sold at auction in August during the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore. There are about 700 cards in all that could be worth up to $3 million, experts say. They include such legends as Christy Mathewson and Connie Mack.
Kissner and his family say the cards belonged to their grandfather, Carl Hench, who died in the 1940s. Hench ran a meat market in Defiance, and the family suspects he got them as a promotional item from a candy company that distributed them with caramels. They think he gave some away and kept others.
On February 29, Kissner's cousin Karla Hench pulled out the dirty green box with metal clips at the corners and lifted the lid.
Not knowing whether the cards were valuable, the two cousins put the box aside. But Kissner decided to do a little research. The cards were at his office in the restaurant he owns when he realized they might have something. He immediately took them across the street and put them in a bank vault.
Still not knowing whether the cards were real, they sent eight to expert Peter Calderon at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, which recently sold the baseball that rolled through the legs of Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series for $418,000.
The cards are from what is known as the E98 series. It is not clear who manufactured them or how many were produced, but the series consists of 30 players, half of them Hall of Famers.
The experts at Heritage Auctions checked out the family's background, the age of the home and the history of the meat market. They looked at the cards and how they were printed.
The Ohio cards were the finest examples from the E98 series the company had ever seen.
The highest price ever paid for a baseball card is $2.8 million, handed over in 2007 for a 1909 Honus Wagner that was produced by the American Tobacco Co. and included in packs of cigarettes. Another similar Wagner card brought $1.2 million in April. (Wagner's tobacco cards were pulled from circulation, either because the ballplayer didn't want to encourage smoking among children or because he wanted more money.)
Heritage Auctions plans to sell most of the Ohio cards over the next two of three years through auctions and private sales so that it doesn't flood the market. In all, they could bring $2 million or $3 million.
The Hench family is evenly dividing the cards and the money among the 20 cousins named in their aunt's will. All but a few have decided to sell their share.