Tin Top rarities surface in forum post

MASTRO1.jpgMembers of the Network 54 Vintage Baseball Card Forum (www.network54.com/Forum/153652) are tired of people coming to their online community with the next T206 Honus Wagner, only to find out that it’s just another one of the thousands of reprints that constantly circulate throughout the hobby.

So, it’s no wonder why when someone comes on their message board with a genuine “find,” the newbie will be hit with a bit of skepticism. However, in the case of a post made on Aug. 7, 2007, by a user called “Skydash55,” those skeptics quickly turned into believers.

It all started with this anonymous post: “I’m trying to find out the process of locating an honest appraiser. Is that possible?”

What board members would see next is the entire dialog of how this lucky man, who inherited more than 1,000 prewar baseball cards and discovering that his collection is worth more than $1 million and will go down as one of the great rarity baseball card finds in the hobby’s history.

After a few of the message board members chimed in willing to help Skydash, heads started to turn with this more detailed post that he made: “I just inherited approx. 1,200 t206 cards and 157 colgan “tin tops.” The cards are from about 1900-1910 and there are around 15 different cig. companies. I don’t know where to start!”

For those who aren’t familiar with the Colgan Chips Tin Tops set, it carries an American Card Catalog designation of E270, and according to the 2008 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, they were originally inserted in tin canisters of Colgan’s Mint Chips and Violet Chips.

It turned out that Skydash lives in upstate South Carolina, as does one of the veteran board members, Brian Weisner. Between the help from Weisner and numerous other board members, the gradual postings slowly uncovered the inevitable – some of the rarest, high-grade E270 Colgan’s Chips Tin Tops in existence.

Before any images of the collection were posted, the board members began to start getting anxious. One board member expressed his excitement by posting, “Well, if this is real . . . then Holy ****.” Another chirped in like a kid in a candy store – “Skydash- we’re all hyperventilating!”

During an exclusive interview with SCD, Skydash55 expressed how happy he was with the help he received from the board members.

“The message board has been incredibly helpful,” said Skydash. “I’ve made two good friends through this and probably through a month’s worth of e-mails. I could determine that they didn’t have an agenda. They were just honest-to-goodness collectors in it for the love of the game. They were very helpful in pointing me in the right directions.”

By now, members were getting excited to lay their eyes on the collection. Skydash obliged the request and posted some initial images, even though he was a novice with a camera. The excitement reached epic proportions when he posted some blurry images, one (pictured at right) which appeared to be the one of the rarest cards in the entire set.
blurry thorpe.jpg
“THORPE TIN TOP!!!” one board member typed.

“Sure looks like Thorpe!” was the post made by another member.
By now, the major auction houses began to take notice of what was going on, including Mastro president Doug Allen.

According to Allen, he regularly reads the message board and was very eager to talk to Skydash55 right after he started following the thread. But because he had no contact number, e-mail address or even his real name, Allen didn’t have a way to track him down.

Fortunately for Allen, Skydash55 was given the advice that he should contact various auction houses, and Mastro was one of the company names he was given.

“I was very excited about talking to him about the possibility of selling the collection for him,” said Allen. “He actually contacted us first. It was a very competitive situation. When he talked to me, there were three other parties in the running for the collection. We had previously sold an SGC 20 Joe Jackson Tin Top that sold for over $40,000, and I think that was one of the reasons he was willing to talk to us.”

Eventually, Skydash posted clearer images of the collection, and all the onlookers realized what was at stake for the auction house that would eventually be awarded the right to sell the cards.

Still, Allen wondered if it was too good to be true.

“To be honest, when we first talked about the collection, I saw the scans and they looked fantastic, but still there’s part of you in the back of your mind that wonders if this is really real,” said Allen. “Because I think people recognize that the only person who has the Thorpe card is Larry Fritsch.
“We as a firm, probably in our history, have sold fewer than 50 Tin Tops. And recently we sold 30 of them. The guy who gave us the Joe Jackson gave us the other ones, all in collector grade.

“If you look at the back of them, you could trade in 25 of them for a picture of your favorite player. No one has ever been able to confirm exactly what you were able to trade them in for, but evidently because of that, rather than saving the cards, people probably redeemed the cards and they probably were destroyed.”

Allen also commented on the condition-sensitive nature of the collection.
“They’re thinner than a Cracker Jack card,” said Allen. “I would say they’re the thinnest card stock card I know of, and as a result, it makes them extremely condition-sensitive.”

MASTRO2.jpgAllen and Skydash conducted more than a month’s worth of negotiating, and recently, Mastro Auctions was awarded the right to sell what will be referred to as The Skydash Collection.

When asked why he ultimately selected Mastro, Skydash said he had good talks with all the major auction houses, but Allen was the least aggressive and never tried to call him. He liked that and was also impressed with Mastro’s reputation.

“Ultimately, the bottom line was when I decided to consign it, I wanted to consign it to who I thought was going to get it out there to the best people, the right people for this thing, because it is kind of a unique collection,” said Skydash.

“The fact that there are over 150 different ones and that there are about 20 that are completely uncataloged and no one’s ever seen them before, it takes a special collector out there to appreciate that, and I knew Mastro could get them in front of the right people.

“I just thought at the end of the day that they could sell the collection better than anyone else. They’re not the least expensive company out there regarding buyer’s fees and things like that, but ultimately, if you bring in more people, and I guess the top people, it’s going to work itself out.”

While Allen has handled more than a quarter of a billion dollars in collectibles in the eight years he has been involved with the company, he is still fascinated to see things he’s never seen before.

“Just to put this collection into perspective, Lionel Carter didn’t have a single Tin Top, but he wasn’t a rarity guy,“ said Allen. “(Richard) Eagan didn’t have any Tin Tops. (Frank) Nagy didn’t have any Tin Tops. Of the 50 we sold in our history, 30 came from one guy in the last year and they were in mixed condition. And talking to that guy, he said it took him years to assemble them.

“There’s no logical explanation, when you look at the rest of the (Skydash) collection, why this guy ended up with these Tin Tops,” added Allen.
How Skydash ended up with the collection might even be more amazing than the collection itself.

His wife’s grandfather, who originally owned the cards and was a collector, passed away in 1964.

“When he died, my father-in-law and mother-in-law drove to the funeral and arrived a day early,” said Skydash55. “When he passed, he had four boxes. Two of the boxes contained the baseball cards and Tin Tops. The other two boxes contained memorabilia – uniforms and signed baseballs, including a Babe Ruth game-worn, signed jersey.

“But, when my father-in-law arrived at the house, he was going through his things and asked where his baseball cards were. They told him they were thrown away, that they were just trash. So he literally went to the trash dump and dug those things out, but he only found the cards. He didn’t find the uniforms.”

Even though he will never have a chance to obtain the other box with the signed balls and jersey, Allen thinks it’s safe to say that he will come out pretty well with a collection this special.

“It’s magical because you have three things all in one,” said Allen. “Number one, you have an unbelievably rare issue. Number two, you have unbelievable condition in that rare issue. And number three, you have the star power of having the two key cards in high-grade condition.”

Mastro is all set to offer the collection in multiple segments starting in its December 2007 sale. Overall, the collection features various tobacco and E-card issues, along with more than 200 Colgan’s Chips Tin Tops, including 136 known and nine uncataloged.

Of the Tin Tops, Allen estimates the average grade is Near Mint/Mint, with the Thorpe already having been graded a NM/MT+ 92 by SGC. He predicts it will sell in the six-figure range.

Apparently, the initial excitement about the find was right on the money.

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