Maybe the nicest cards I’ve ever seen …

Mike Keasler.jpg
   The list of things that make my job pretty cool is lengthy, but somewhere near the top would be the opportunity to be part of various adventures that include looking at some of the nicest card collections in the country.

   Because the hobby is maturing so, uh, briskly, that stuff doesn’t happen as frequently as it once did, but just having the potential lurking out there is helps to keep the enthusiasm going.

   Hard as it for me to believe, it has been 15 years since I traveled to Chicago to cover the evalutation of Mike Keasler’s incredible card collection by Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen. The collection was slated for Rosen’s auction later that year, and this was part of the process of going through the vast accumulation in prepartion for that.
Keasler.jpg
   Keasler (at right) had been a college basketball coach and was an old-time collector who was there in the heyday when some of the great collections were amassed for a fraction of what they would cost only 20 years later. He had been a partner in the famed Sports Collectors Store; his stuff was nothing short of stunning, especially for a collector from the period when condition would sometimes take a back seat to finishing a tough set.

   That was an accomodation that Keasler never indulged. It became clear as we broke down the vast inventory that rather than plunk down something beneath his near-mint standards, even the trickiest of older issues would go uncompleted. It showed a reverence for condition that few old-timers might have been able to exercise back then.

   For the better part of a day, the three of us trudged up and down the stairs from Keasler’s basement to his kitchen table. He had kept all these great cards in metal drawers in the basement, all of them in semi-rigid holders; none of them slabbed and third-party graded. It’s a pretty good bet that most of them have since undergone that process in the intervening 15 years.

   He had near-mint complete sets from Topps, Bowman and Fleer from 1954 on, plus high-grade tobacco cards and cool stuff like many of the 1930s Goudey and Buttefinger premiums.

   Keasler had also been an early autograph hound, sending out thousands of cards to get signed, including Play Ball Joe DiMaggios from 1939 and 1941. It was hardly the rarest pile he had, but I was particularly fascinated by a grouping of 1958 Topps All-Star Stan Musials, all of them neatly signed by Stan. All 90 of them.

   I was so intrigued by the Musials that I fanned them out and took a picture, but I haven’t been able to find it for quite a few years. I assume it was featured in the 1994 story I wrote about the collection. As you’ll note from the photos shown here, it was so long ago that we were shooting in black-and-white.

   Positively prehistoric!

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