Shoeless Joe Jackson baseball card from 1910 sells for $492,000
4:01 PM ET
  • Tom VanHaarenESPN Staff Writer

    • ESPN staff writer
    • Joined ESPN in 2011
    • Graduated from Central Michigan

A Shoeless Joe Jackson baseball card from a 1910 series called T210 Old Mill has sold at auction for $492,000.

Heritage Auctions said the auction ended after bidding that continued late into Thursday night. The winning bidder’s identity was not revealed.

“After 110 years in the same North Carolina family, we were glad to help find it a proud new owner,” said Chris Ivy, Heritage’s director of sports auctions.

It’s one thing to find old family heirlooms or your parents’ sports cards worth a few dollars. But Ben Foster and his father, Hayes, unearthed a valuable collection in 2009 that netted the father and son the Shoeless Joe card — among others.

Foster had found his father’s old baseball card collection in a metal lunch pail in an unfinished room in the back of his dad’s law office. Initially going through the cards, there were some Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax Topps cards from the ’50s, but nothing that overtly stood out.

“My dad had always assumed that he lost his baseball card collection somehow when he moved in with my mom and he thought it was just gone,” Foster said. “That was back in 2009. At the time, I was in high school, so we took the box home and looked at it that day. I didn’t take a full inventory, I just flipped through them.”

Foster straightened up the cards in the box after seeing a few were worth a couple dollars and decided that, at some point, he would take a more thorough look at what the collection held.

Over 10 years went by and after traveling home for Christmas in 2019, Foster decided it was time to take a deep dive into the collection. He and his father sat down together and went through the lot. After getting through the Topps cards, Foster noticed a large number of smaller cards at the bottom.

They were Tobacco cards from the early 1900s, and included Cy Young and Ty Cobb, among others.

“I’m not a huge baseball history buff, so I didn’t realize immediately Ty Cobb was playing in 1910,” Foster said. “I sent a picture to a group of friends with the Ty Cobb and Cy Young and a friend texted me back saying I should get them insured. That’s when I started to do more research and found out they were the T206 cards.”

Those are a rare and older set of cards that have produced a high value in recent years. A Honus Wagner T206 card sold for $1.35 million in 2019, so Foster naturally scoured the group of 585 cards for a Wagner — but it never came up.

He took inventory by photographing each card, then took notice of similar cards that had a red border instead of the white border found on the T206 cards. Research found that these cards were produced the same year in 1910, but were images of minor league players rather than professionals.

They were T210 Old Mill cards, but didn’t have an overwhelming value unless there was a Shoeless Joe Jackson card in the lot.

“I went through the stack and found ‘Jackson, New Orleans,’ and showed it to my dad,” Foster said. “There must have been a miscommunication about the minor league thing because I asked him if this was Shoeless Joe Jackson and he said, ‘No, New Orleans wouldn’t have had a major league team and he wouldn’t have played for them that year.’ So I put it back in the stack and kept taking inventory.”

For some reason that card still piqued his interest, as did the rest of the red-bordered cards from nearly 100 years ago. Foster stayed up most of that night researching cards and found his way to a list of some of the most valuable ones sold.

He moved down the list to No. 10, where he saw the image of the Shoeless Joe Jackson card he had just shown his father. He put the card in a plastic holder once he realized its potential worth and started digging in to what the value might be. According to the Heritage Auction site, Foster’s card had a PSA grade of 3.5 out of 10.

“I knew the value would come down to what it got graded at,” Foster said. “In the next couple weeks after that, I matched up a side-by-side picture of our card with another one that sold in 2019 that was a 3.5 out of 10 and sold for $600,000. I just kept looking at them side-by-side and I know I was biased, but I thought it looked like it was in the same, if not better, condition than the one that sold last year.”

The cards that were found in the old lunch pail had been passed on to Foster’s father from his great uncle, Millard Camp, in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

The family still has the T206 cards in their possession and plans to auction those off at a later time. That they almost didn’t realize that it was indeed a Shoeless Joe Jackson card and finally discovered its value was thrilling for Foster, his dad, and the rest of the family, he said.

“My family was keeping up with the auction at home in North Carolina,” Foster said. “My mom would call every 10 or 15 minutes freaking out about how there wasn’t another bid, and then another would come in. We were keeping a close eye on the auction page and refreshing constantly, and when the bids finally stopped, we were thrilled with the outcome.”

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