Contributor: John McTaggart

My friend, Brian, recently received a letter from an attorney about a decent-sized box that now belonged to him. 

There were instructions included on what he needed to do in order to claim this decent-sized box, as well as a deadline date to contact the attorney and set up a pick up time and place for the aforementioned box. 

Now, Brian is from Arizona, graduated from Arizona State University, got his dream job with one of the auto companies here in the Detroit area, and has called it home for the better part of 25 years now. 

He’s raised a family in a wonderful neighborhood, been married for more than 20 years, as a pair of daughters, both in their late teens now, and seems to be living the quintessential American dream.

He isn’t wealthy, but he doesn’t struggle financially anymore.

He and his wife, Sarah, are eyeing retirement, which is quickly approaching for both of them — Sarah is a public school teacher, and there is some excitement surrounding the years after they both leave their jobs for good.

Now all of this sounds great, and, take it from me, Brian is a super good guy.

I’ve known him since before he was married, even when he first met his wife back in the day. 

We used to play basketball twice a week in mens’ leagues around town, but now play golf every Wednesday morning when the weather permits. 

He’s one of my closest friends.

So when he called me last week to come take a look at this decent-sized box, I swung by his house as soon as I could.

The Decent-Sized Box

Eyeballing it, I’d say it was about 18 inches square, but truthfully, it may be a little bigger or a little smaller, but nonetheless it’s not a huge box.

He didn’t tell me much about the box, other than it was something from his uncle, who passed away recently in Arizona.

I know from many conversations that Brian was close to his uncle growing up. They both loved sports, played a lot of sports, and had personalities that were nearly identical. 

I had met “uncle Ned,” a few times over the years, including at Brian’s wedding, and the occasional birthday party for one of he girls whenever Ned could get up to Michigan.

I knew he played some minor league baseball when he was much younger, and I also knew he was a veteran, serving in Vietnam during the early 1970s.

“This is it,” Brian said. “I really don’t know what to make of it. Figured you may be able to make some sense of it.”

I opened the box to find six binders, each one loaded with baseball, football and hockey cards dating back to what appeared to me to be the late 1950s, early 1960s all the way through to 2003.

The Collection

Bran remembers collecting cards with Ned when he was younger, opening packs on the porch or in the kitchen. He remembers going to card shows as well in the late 1980s and 1990s with Ned, scouting through boxes and showcases for hours. 

We started to unpack the binders and leaf through them. 

It was awe-inspiring to say the least.

Tucked among the collection was seven 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan rookies, five 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson rookie cards, 38 Topps Mickey Mantle cards dating as far back as 1956 all the way through the Topps 1968. There were Joe Morgan rookies, Roberto Clemente Rookies, Johnny Bench rookies, Gary Carter Pete Rose and more.

There was and entire page of 1996 Derek Jeter rookies, including two 1993 SP rookies. There were Gwynn’s and Boggs’ and Sandberg’s mixed in the pages. There were Clemens and Doc Gooden rookies, Ripken Fleers and Topps, and a dozen Don Mattingly 1984 Topps cards among others. 

There were two Walter Payton Rookies and a trio of Peyton Manning Topps Chrome Rookies. 

There were three 1979 OPC Wayne Gretzky rookie cards, and enough early 1990s Young Guns to fill three pages of a binder. 

The collection was massive, impressive and valuable.

Not a single one graded, not a single one looked like it had been out of the binder for years and years.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “ I remember looking at these when I was a kid, and I even remember getting some of these when we would go get packs to open.”

What to do?

I honestly don’t have any clue, without coming to each one, what the entire collection is worth, but I can promise you, the Mantle’s alone would be enough for a really nice car and then some. One of the Gretzky’s is as centered as any I’ve seen in person, regardless of whether it’s graded or not, and more than a few of the other vintage cards had great eye appeal and looked clean.

Now, are there many 10s in here?

Not sure, probably not, but many of the cards did show some wear, but they’re decades old, and finding them in gem mint condition is more a fluke than the norm.

I asked him what he was going to do with them, what he wanted to do with them.

“I’m keeping them,” he said, without hesitation. “If he wanted to sell them, or wanted me to see them for the money he would’ve done that and just left me the money. I think I got them because he wanted me to enjoy them, to share the collection maybe with others. Not sure, but I do know I’m not letting go of it anytime soon.”

Brian even got a little teary eyes as we looked through each page, recalling a time many years ago, remembering when that very card may have been pulled from a pack outside the 7-11 party store. 

“I think I remember getting this one…” came up quite a bit. 

We picked out about 100 of what I considered to be the most valuable cards in the collection along with a few that just looked incredibly clean. 

We’re sending these off to SGC for grading, if anything, just to protect them in a slab.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if I could pass these off to my grandkids one day,” Brian said. ‘Just like Ned trusted me with them.
I left with my list of slab candidates, hoping to get the SGC order ready to go through their website for Brian.

It dawned on me just how these little pieces of cardboard can connect us to the past, to old and current friends, and to family. 

It’s a nice reminder to me of the importance of collecting, of the hobby itself. 

It’s not all about comps, and platforms and shipping and profit margins… it’s about much more than that. 

It’s nice, every so often, to be reminded of that. 

Thanks, Brian… and thank, Ned.

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