— While cleaning out the attic of their late grandfather’s Defiance, Ohio house, Karl Kissner and Karla Hench unknowingly made the dream of baseball card collectors everywhere come to life.
Kissner was put in charge of the family estate after their aunt, who'd lived in the house since the 1940s, died in October. While Kissner was cleaning out the attic with his cousin, Hench, the two stumbled on a soot-covered cardboard box that was underneath a wooden dollhouse.
That box contained 700 cards from 1910 that have been valued at up to $3 million, a discovery some experts are calling the most incredible find of rare baseball cards in history. Hench and Kissner appeared on TODAY Wednesday along with Chris Ivy of Dallas-based Heritage Auctions to talk about their discovery with Matt Lauer. With them, they brought 37 of the best cards from their collection, which are expected to net $500,000 alone when Heritage auctions them off on Aug. 2 in Baltimore.
“I brushed (the box) off a little bit and opened it up,’’ Hench said of that fateful day in the attic. “There was a collection of cardboard in there tied together by twine and I said, ‘Carl what’s this? It’s not a Topps, there’s not stats on it, but, darn, it’s exciting.’’’
“We drug them out of the attic where we had better light, and I’m going, ‘Karla, they’re definitely baseball cards,’’’ Kissner said. “It’s Cy Young, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner — they’re all here, but they’re not right. They’re abnormal. So we set them aside thinking we’ll look at them later.’’
The family revisited the cards the following day. Kissner did some research and thought they might be worth something, so he FedExed a portion to Heritage Auctions for further inspection.
“We look at these type of things every day, and when we opened up this box with these untouched e98 cards that are over 100 years old, we were just dumbfounded,’’ Ivy said.
Not only were the cards more than a century old, they were in pristine condition. Cards are graded on a scale of 1-10 by the PSA Professional Sports Authenticator, and the cards they discovered had an average grade of seven. Before this find, there were about 625 known cards out there from this particular series. This more than doubled that.
“My aunt was a bit of a pack-rat, so nothing left the house,’’ Kissner said.
The series represents 30 players, many of whom are Hall of Famers, including baseball immortals like Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb. One set of 27 is valued at $400,000 on its own, said Ivy.
“That represents the finest example of each card known,’’ Ivy said. “It’s the partial set, and it’s the No. 1 set known.’’
The gem of the group is the Honus Wagner card, which is graded a 10 on the mint condition scale, according to Ivy. It is the closest thing to the most famous baseball card in the world, the Honus Wagner T206 card from 1909. There are 75 of those known in the world, and the last one sold for $2.8 million in 2007. The Wagner card found by Kittner and Hench is expected to bring in at least $200,000.
The proceeds from the auction will be split among 20 family members, which could average about $150,000 per person. Kittner plans on using his money as a college fund for his six children, while Hench is planning to remodel her home. Heritage Auctions is currently accepting online bids for three different lots; the live auction in August will be part of the Vintage Sports Collectibles Platinum Night Signature Auction.