Treasure trove of cards unearthed in Ohio

| Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 11:50 p.m.

Imagine discovering a painting in a relative's dusty attic and learning it's a Picasso. Or prying open a long-discarded jewelry box and being dazzled with a rare diamond.

For baseball card collectors, this was just such a once-in-a-lifetime find — a dusty metal box filled with hundreds of the rarest cards ever printed, century-old pieces of cardboard in such pristine condition they appear to be new.

The family of former Defiance, Ohio, meat market owner Carl Hench, who died nearly 70 years ago, recently discovered the treasure trove of about 700 vintage candy-set cards in a metal box while cleaning out an attic in Hench's former home.

Portraying some of the biggest names of the day — Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Connie Mack and, yes, former Pirates star Honus Wagner — the cards could be worth as much as $2 million to $3 million because of their exquisite condition. These are the first cards in the candy-set E98 series found in almost-new condition.

Several Pittsburgh card dealers expressed disbelief Tuesday that such cards could be discovered, more than 20 years after a boon in vintage card values caused millions of sports fans to explore grand dad's basement or Aunt Minnie's attic for rare cards.

The E98s are a contemporary of the most valuable sport in the sport, the nearly impossible-to-find T206 tobacco card from 1909 (the Pirates' first World Series championship season) that pictures Wagner. That Wagner card has been sold for as much as $2.8 million.

“My first thought was, ‘Wow, this is awesome,' ” said Cindy Birmingham, who owns Steel Town Sports in Beaver. “The authenticators are saying how rare it is to find something like this.”

Baseball cards are graded on a scale of 1 to 10 by companies such as Professional Sports Authenticator, which has previously authenticated fewer than 700 E98s; there were that many cards in this find alone.

Previously, the highest grade PSA gave a Cobb E98 card was a 7. The Defiance attic yielded 16 Cobbs that were graded at a 9 and an E98 Wagner judged to be a perfect 10.

David Pfaff, the owner of Sports Cards Etc. in McKees Rocks, called it “a phenomenal find.” He owns some E98s, but they have grades of only 1 or 2.

“The condition these cards are in, I'd be very, very hesitant to think they were even real if someone brought them into my store,” said Pfaff, a dealer for 21 years.

“They just don't exist in that condition. These cards are the best that's ever been found of that era. You're talking about one of the greatest finds in the history of card collecting.

Nearly 40 cards — with a value of about $500,000 — will be sold next month during the National Sports Card Collectors Convention in Baltimore. The rest will be sold gradually over the next few years so as not to saturate the market.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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