Rare Newsboy series find includes Ty Cobb

Collectors of vintage caramel and candy cards will have a chance to get their hands on a prized 1911 Baltimore News Newsboy Series card in the coming weeks.

In fact, they’ll have 17 chances.

In what fi gures to be one of the biggest vintage cardofferings of the year, a Baltimore family will be auctioning off 17 of the super-rare cards, all of which have been graded, on eBay in the next three months. A single card will be listed each week, beginning Sunday, March 2. All the auctions are expected to last one week, for a total of 17 weeks.

The 17-card stash might well be the biggest original collection of Baltimore News Newsboy cardboard to ever surface in the hobby. No offi cial registry numbers exist for these cards, but it’s probably fair to say only a handful of specimens of each of the 30 cards in the set exist.

The headliner in the set is the Ty Cobb card, valued at more than $22,000 in VG condition by the 2008 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. The Hall of Famer’s Baltimore News Newsboy card is no doubt one of the rarest star cards in the hobby, with perhaps fewer than five in existence.

The rare collection is owned by a Baltimore family who inherited the cards from their great-great-grandfather, according to Martin Mattee, a former tobacco card collector from Baltimore who has been tasked with liquidating the cards for the family.

“It’s unclear whether he was a paperboy, or worked on a newsstand, but the grandfather actually worked for the Baltimore News,” said Mattee. “They’ve been in the family since at least 1911. It’s unclear how he got these, but they were part of a bigger collection of T205s, T206s and T207s.

“They were just stored in a box. I think they were even wrapped in rubber bands … and the family eventually put them in plastic pages. They really didn’t want to get rid of them. It’s only because the cards turned out to be worth so much. Before they found out, they weren’t really interested in selling the cards.”

The family is hanging onto the other 150 or so other vintage cards that were part of the collection, but the Baltimore News Newsboy cards will ultimately change hands one at a time for the next 17 weeks. Mattee has done plenty of homework on the subject, but even he isn’t sure how many of these cards have actually been available previously.

“If some people are trying to put this set together, there might be some cards in there that have never turned up before,” he said. “I’m not sure if anybody has a complete set. I believe that two Cobbs have sold before.

“Cards like this that show up so infrequently, even in this era, it’s hard to guide them on what they might be worth. What’s unique about this set is that there were only 30 different cards, and (the family has) 15 different ones — three Tris Speaker cards and 14 other players.”

The coveted Cobb card was graded 20 Fair by SGC.

The other 16 were graded by PSA/DNA, with none earning better than a VG rating. Still, the fact that so few have ever been graded, or even seen, before will likely trump their weathered condition. The PSA/DNA registry
lists only 18 examples graded by the company, with none receiving better than a 4 rating. Eight of the cards were graded 3. No Cobb card has ever been slabbed by PSA. Sports Collectors Digest’s Auction Prices Database (www.sportscollectorsdigest.com) reveals that four Baltimore News Newsboy cards have been sold through the major auction houses in the past two years, fetching prices from $2,225 for a pair of low-grade cards to $4,774 for a Tris Speaker card.

The Baltimore News Newsboy cards are designated M131 in the American Card Catalog and are similar to the Close Candy Co. cards from the same year. Unlike the Close cards (series E94), the M131 cards have a blue background on the front – the Close cards had several different color variations — and the notation “The Baltimore News Newsboys Series” and “Prize of $1.00 to First 35 Boys Getting Full Set of the Following:” on the back.

As was the case with the E94 series, the 30-player set checklist was shown on the backs. As the unique printing suggests, the cards were made available only to newspaper delivery boys, who could earn $1 if they could collect the entire set. Nobody is sure how many of the cards were issued, how many boys were able to collect the $1 bounty, what happened to the redeemed cards and, most importantly, how many cards survived.

“It’s kind of like a parallel to the more common Philadelphia Caramels, but one of the things that seems to attract collectors … is that the Baltimore News Newsboys have a nice, blue background that gives them more uniformity and makes them more attractive,” said Bob Lemke, a vintage card expert and longtime editor of The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. “They are just so much more diffi cult to fi nd than the standard E94s, and prices on some of the biggest players will be pretty eye-popping when the time comes.

“Another thing they have going for them is even the common cards are probably going to do well because of the type of card collectors that will be going after them. If people want an example of every card in that era, they are going to need one of these, and even the commons will sell for a premium.”

Selling such prestigious cards on eBay might be a little against the norm, but Lemke doesn’t expect the venue to dampen bidders’ desire for the rare cardboard.

“Most of the big-name collectors don’t miss anything on eBay,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any high rollers who don’t know the cards are available.”

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