No fairy tale: Pennies of investment yields $100K

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This month's column has all the makings of a Ron Howard movie.

If you have followed our musings during the past four years, you'll recall our stress on the importance of research and condition of your collectible. The following is not a fairy tale, but rather a recent happening of a collection discovery.

Let's begin this remarkable story with a phrase that our mothers would use to tell our bedtime stories: "Once upon a time ..." This is where the fairy tale stops, though, as this is a true story.

Once upon a time, in 1923, a little boy by the name of Jimmy was born. Growing up during the Roarin' Twenties in a small New Jersey town of a few thousand, Jimmy led a normal life of a child. Then the financial crash came to all of America.

By the early 1930s, Jimmy had become a real baseball fan of the New York teams - the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees. He knew all of the great heroes, as baseball dominated all of his time.

There was very little money to spend during the Depression, but in 1933 the Goudey Gum Company came out with a package of gum for 1 cent.

Within the package of a slab of gum was a card of one of the present-day baseball players. Jimmy did chores to earn a few cents to purchase not the gum, but the cards of his heroes.

Jimmy was now 10 years old and had an idea. He wrote very lengthy letters to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx, the biggest stars of the day. Within the letter, he asked each if they would autograph the Goudey card and return it in the enclosed self-addressed and stamped envelope.

Lo and behold, because of his thoughtful efforts, all returned the autographed cards.

He then carefully kept them in a box and continued the practice for the next 20 to 30 years.

Before we go on, remember: 1 cent for the gum, 3 cents for a stamp and 3 cents for the return envelope's stamp - a total of 7 cents.

Jimmy was a quiet man and went about his hobby without any fanfare. He did not have any children, but had seven nieces and nephews, and later in life he would give each a card or two when they visited him. They politely accepted them, but had very little interest.

Jimmy passed away in March of this year at age 97 and when his relatives went to take care of his belongings, in the attic they came upon a huge collection of baseball cards, score cards, pins, badges, etc. - all in near mint condition.

Ron Howard, are you listening?

There were about 2,000 pieces to inventory and put into an auction. The auction house divided the collection into three or four events, the first of which ended July 12. The least attractive autographed Ruth card brought $100,000-plus!

After all lots are sold, the auction will realize $2 million to $3 million, according to the CEO of P.S.A. (authenticators) because of the superb condition of all lots.

As our headline indicates, that seven cent investment yielded an amazing return. Research and condition are proven once more to be vital to the serious collector.

Most senior readers remember news commentator Paul Harvey and his phrase "and now, the rest of the story."

This story really hit home, as I lived in this small town of Boonton, N.J., where Uncle Jimmy lived and was the custodian at the local high school. Everyone knew Uncle Jimmy.

Though I never actually met him, I knew of him through the many antique shops on Main Street. Jimmy would frequent each one, looking for New York baseball memorabilia.

As luck would have it, I once purchased six boxes of old cards from a shop I would visit each Saturday morning, only because Jimmy hadn't been in for a month, and the shop owner said, "They are yours if you want them."

I had lots of fun sorting them, and it got me hooked. So you can see how Uncle Jimmy was a tiny part in my collecting life.

Where are you, Ron Howard?

Jerry Glenn is co-owner of Reminisce in Bluffton, where sports collectibles are bought and sold.

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