Dealing with the collection of a loved one who passed away

By Bert Lehman

It’s a situation that nobody wants to be in, but a situation that is probably all too common in the Hobby. That is, what should a family do with a sports cards and memorabilia collection of a loved one who unexpectedly passes away?

A brother and sister in Wisconsin are weighing their options as to how to market a sports cards collection left to them by their brother who recently passed away. (Bert Lehman photos)

Several months ago I received a phone call from someone who was in that exact situation. His brother, who was a die-hard collector, had passed away. The person calling me asked if I had any guidance as to how he and his family should go about selling the collection.

Obviously the first question I had was, “What kind of items are in the collection?”

I was told there were baseball cards from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as modern day cards from the 1990s and 2000s. Hearing that there were cards from the 1950s and 1960s automatically piqued my interest.

When I found out that the collection was located in Wisconsin I offered to take a first-hand look at the cards in the collection and give them as much input as I could. The caller gave me the address of the collection’s location and we made arrangements for me to meet the caller and his sister at that location.

When I arrived, I found they had already set aside the vintage cards. They said they had done some research and realized the vintage cards were more valuable than the modern cards.

Cards of Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron were found in the collection.

I have never been part of a “collection find” so I was eager to see what vintage cards were in the collection. In the back of my mind I was hoping to see a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in the collection.

The person who had owned the collection was very organized when it came to the vintage cards. Most of the top vintage cards in the collection were already graded, and they were separated into different boxes based on year. He must have purchased some of the vintage cards already graded, as stuffed in some of the boxes were invoices listing the cards that were purchased and how much was paid for each card.

One box contained baseball cards from the 1950, 1951 and 1952 Bowman Baseball sets, as well as football cards from the 1950s. Another box contained 1962 Topps Baseball cards, while another box contained cards from that same year, as well as 1961 Topps Baseball and 1968 Topps Baseball. Other boxes contained cards from 1956 Topps Football, 1954 Bowman Baseball, and 1955 Bowman Baseball.

I started looking through the boxes and found a lot of vintage cards of star players. There was a 1952 Bowman Bob Feller graded PSA 8, a 1955 Bowman Willie Mays graded PSA 4, a 1955 Bowman Ernie Banks graded PSA 5, a 1955 Bowman Hank Aaron graded PSA 5, and a 1962 Carl Yastrzemski graded BVG 7, just to name a few. An ungraded card that caught my attention was a 1953 Topps Satchel Paige.

A sampling of the T206 cards found in the collection.

There was also a box containing around 15 T206 Piedmont and Sweet Caporal graded cards. There wasn’t a Honus Wagner or other star cards. For me anyway, that didn’t matter because I had never seen cards like these outside of a card show. There was a Piedmont Peaches Graham graded PSA 3, a Sweet Caporal Bob Spade graded PSA 3, and a Sweet Caporal Jack Hayden graded PSA 3, as well as others.

There were several graded Mantle cards mixed in, but not the 1952 Topps example.

Graded vintage football cards were also part of the mix, as well as a box of graded 1970 Topps basketball cards.

There were a couple of tubs of binders that contained raw cards from the 1950s and 1960s. These were split up by year.

After looking through the vintage cards, they told me there were a lot more cards inside the house. The living room was filled with a plethora of trading cards and other collectibles. There were a few binders of raw vintage cards, but most of the cards were unopened boxes of modern cards.

One of the rooms upstairs in the house is filled with boxes and tubs of modern sports trading cards as well as other sports collectibles. Each box and tub contains a label listing the contents.

A room upstairs in the house was filled with tubs of cards from the 1990s and 2000s.

After looking through the collection, the brother and sister told me more about their collecting brother who had passed away and how they found the collection.

“First of all, the cards were spewed everywhere,” the brother said. “We found them in a pile here, a pile there, but then every room we went in we kept finding boxes.

“We thought we were really done and then we found eight more boxes, tubs in the basement.”

They both said they were surprised by the magnitude of the collection.

“We knew he was a card collector,” the sister said. “His friends knew. He would say, ‘I’m a collector.’”

“He was very proud of it,” the brother added.

They also acknowledged that their brother wouldn’t like them going through his collection.

“He wouldn’t like any of this, we know that,” the sister said. “And he would never allow us to be doing any of this while he was alive.”

I informed them that the vintage cards are the most valuable items in the collection, which they already knew. I also informed them that modern cards aren’t worth very much, which they also already knew, as they did some research before I got there.

I also told them if they wanted to maximize the value of the collection, selling it piece by piece would accomplish that. But I warned them going that route would be time consuming. I told them that the other option is to sell the complete collection at one time, adding that there are dealers who advertise in Sports Collectors Digest who purchase entire collections.

They told me it was their goal to find one person to purchase the entire collection.

“We want somebody to use it, not just throw it in the trash,” the sister said. “We want somebody that appreciates it. We’re trying to do right by him.” 

Bert Lehman is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at

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2 thoughts on “Dealing with the collection of a loved one who passed away

  1. Charrayj on said:

    So what happened to the collection?

    • They are contemplating what to do with the collection, so they still have it.

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