'Holy Smokes!': Rare Baseball Card Collection Hits Home Run

Jan 10, 2015
Originally published on February 12, 2015 6:50 pm

This week on Antiques Roadshow on PBS, a woman brought in a set of old baseball memorabilia that she had found in a desk drawer — and received a big surprise.

The woman, who has remained anonymous, inherited the collection from her great-great-grandmother, who she says owned a boarding house in Boston back in 1871. It included cards for Boston Red Stockings players — today's Atlanta Braves, explains Marsha Bemko, executive producer of Antiques Roadshow.

The players from the Stockings, who stayed at the woman's great-great-grandmother's house, also wrote and signed a letter addressed to her.

The signatures included Albert Spalding — "maybe you've heard of him," Bemko says, "that's the person who ended up starting Spalding Sporting Goods" — as well as the famous brothers George and Harry Wright.

As she watched the scene unfold, Bemko says she knew between the cards and the letter, this was a huge find.

"To see them all in one group like that," Bemko says. "None of the experts associated with [Antiques] Roadshow have ever seen them all in one place that way."

Then came the big moment: Appraiser Leila Dunbar announced her insurance valuation for the archive at $1 million.

Bemko says this sets the record for a sports appraisal on Antiques Roadshow. It made headlines back in August, when the show was taped.

"It is a stunning thing to hear," Bemko says. "You never get used to it. And I've been producing this show for a long time. We can go for seasons without seeing a seven-figure value. That stratosphere of value, no matter what category you're in, is so rare."

It's also been disputed: This week Keith Olbermann, a baseball card collector himself, complained about the valuation, calling it far too high.

But during the show, Dunbar was adamant, calling it the "greatest archive" she'd appraised on the show. The guest was overwhelmed with emotion. "She thought those cards are going to be worth five, maybe 10 grand," Bemko says. "Something like that."

For now, Bemko says, the guest will keep the Boston Red Stockings baseball card archive in the family.

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Now we turn to probably the most exciting moment in the history of the PBS program "Antiques Roadshow." Marsha Bemko is the executive producer.

MARSHA BEMKO: In came a woman with a set of baseball cards. And these aren't just any baseball cards. They are from the year 1871-1872 for the Boston Red Stockings, which are today - by the way - today's Atlanta Braves.

RATH: That woman, who has decided to remain anonymous, says her great-great-grandmother had a boarding house in Boston back then. For a time, that's where players from the Boston Red Stockings stayed. Here were the handwritten letters the team sent her.

BEMKO: And among those eleven team members who signed it were - maybe you've heard of him - Albert Spalding. That's the person who ended up starting Spalding Sporting Goods. And the Wright brothers - not the flying Wright brothers, but George and Harry Wright of sports fame are among the signatures on that letter.

RATH: You can hear the excitement in the voice of Leila Dunbar, "Antiques Roadshow" appraiser.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANTIQUES ROADSHOW")

LEILA DUNBAR: To have anything with their signatures on it is phenomenal because again, you're talking about the precursor to the National and American leagues.

RATH: While taping, Bemko says she knew this was a huge find.

BEMKO: To see them all in one group like that, none of the experts associated with "Roadshow" have ever seen them all in one place that way.

RATH: And then the big moment. Here's appraiser Leila Dunbar.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANTIQUES ROADSHOW")

DUNBAR: I'm going to value this as an archive - everything here. If you're going to insure it...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Insurance, OK...

DUNBAR: I would ensure it for at least...

RATH: Get ready.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANTIQUES ROADSHOW")

DUNBAR: $1 million.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Are you serious? Oh my. Holy smokes.

RATH: Bemko says this sets a record for a sports appraisal on "Antiques Roadshow."

BEMKO: It is a stunning thing to hear. You never get used to it. And I've been producing this show for a long time. We can go for seasons without seeing a seven-figure value. That stratosphere of value, no matter what category you're in, is so rare.

RATH: Even Leila Dunbar is overwhelmed.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANTIQUES ROADSHOW")

DUNBAR: It is the greatest archive I have ever had at the Roadshow.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Really?

BEMKO: She is close to tears and those are not fake tears. She is overwhelmed with emotion. The guest, of course, is very overwhelmed with emotion. She thought those cards were going to be worth five, maybe 10 grand, something like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANTIQUES ROADSHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Holy smokes.

RATH: Marsha Bemko says the guest plans to keep the million dollar Boston Red Stockings archive in the family. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.