Pandemic project turns old baseball cards into found treasure

As he picked through the items in the storage tub containing his dad’s collection, Healy uncovered sheets of glued 1969 Topps cards and a separate binder of Orioles cards and autographs from the late 1960s. He also found a couple dozen unopened 1974 Topps rack packs, with the cards of Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Mike Schmidt and Reggie Jackson visible through the cellophane wrapper. Healy’s dad, who died unexpectedly in 2014 at age 55, had shown Healy these particular cardboard time capsules before, and when he did, he offered a bit of advice.

“My dad always told me, ‘Don’t open them, don’t get rid of them,’ but I never thought that they would have immense value,” said Healy, who shared a love of Baltimore sports and memorabilia with his father. “When I was younger, they really didn’t.”

Healy had mostly stopped collecting cards by the time he graduated college, but he had recently read that the sports card industry, which collapsed in the mid-1990s, was experiencing a revival. On a whim, he searched eBay to see if his dad’s 1974 rack packs, which feature an Orioles logo header card that suggest they may have been a stadium giveaway, were worth anything. Similar cards were selling for more than he expected, but he was skeptical.

“Whenever you think you have something, you usually don’t,” Healy said.

Healy sought a second opinion from a few memorabilia stores in the area. One showed minor interest in his cards. Another told him that 1974 wasn’t a great year for Topps, and that rack packs in general weren’t that valuable. Healy’s own research, which included logging about 100 sales of rack packs by various auction houses over the last 20 years, suggested otherwise. Healy created graphs from his data that showed 1974 Topps rack pack sale prices were at an all-time high, and that the average sale price had jumped 300 percent from five years ago.

“The interest in the hobby overall has increased dramatically over the last year or two,” Brian Dwyer, president of Robert Edward Auctions, said in a phone interview. “The segment of unopened material, be that boxes or packs, the interest in that part of the hobby has really ballooned. We have seen more and more people getting into collecting unopened material.”

With no telling when the recent demand for rack packs might dip, Healy decided it was the right time to sell. While he was the only member of his immediate family who shared his father’s passion for collecting, Healy got the approval of his mom and four siblings before agreeing to consign the cards to Robert Edward Auctions. He said he chose REA over other options because it had the best recent track record of selling rack packs, including a collection of 19 1974 Topps rack packs that fetched $20,400 last year.

REA’s latest auction features 23 rack packs from Healy’s dad’s collection. They’re available in four lots of five and three separate lots for the packs featuring the visible Schmidt, Jackson and Winfield cards, as those players have rabid collector bases. As of Thursday afternoon, bidding for the seven lots, which ends Sunday, totaled more than $16,000.

Dwyer said REA has always featured a mix of items from high-end dealers and amateur collectors in its auctions, but he’s noticed an uptick in stories like Healy’s in this most unusual year.

“We’re seeing a lot of material that’s coming out of the woodwork, because people are at home, they’re decluttering, they’re sorting, they’ve got time on their hands,” Dwyer said. “These items might not have been unearthed if business had continued as usual.”

Healy intends to put roughly one-third of the proceeds from the auction toward paying off his student loans. He is scheduled to graduate in May and hopes to land a position with an NFL team as a salary cap expert or possibly return to the league office in New York, where he interned in the summer of 2019. Another chunk will be earmarked for his wedding, whenever that time comes.

“We’re a pretty middle-class family,” Healy said. “My mom’s a teacher, and it would be nice if she didn’t have to worry about that. It would be like Dad paid for the wedding.”

Whatever’s left over, Healy plans to invest, including some in the hobby he fell in love with at a young age. Healy kept one of his dad’s unopened rack packs — the only one with an Orioles player, pitcher Mike Cuellar, visible. It will go in his personal collection, which includes an autographed Eddie Murray baseball his dad, the longtime manager at Baltimore’s Perring Place restaurant owned by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, surprised him with when he was 7 and a couple of seats from Memorial Stadium. Healy has fond memories of waiting in a long line with his father after a CYO soccer game in 2000 to purchase the seats and a few other artifacts from the historic venue, which was located a short walk from the Northwood neighborhood where they both grew up, before it was demolished.

“Sports was a major thing for my dad and I, and cards was something that connected us,” Healy said. “I think that’s the coolest thing about this.”

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