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Dreams of finding old baseball cards

Sports in Kentucky


Bob Watkins

Bob Watkins

Remember a cloudy June day at Grandma’s house? Soft rain that caused puddles, not streams? Time on the front porch with enough quiet so we could hear a woodpecker at work?

Rainy days can blend nostalgia and imagination with energy to take to the stairway up top to the seldom-opened small door to the attic. Treasure hunt time.

It happened to 54-year-old Karl Kissner in Defiance, Ohio a few summers ago and life has never been the same since for attic adventurers and baseball card collectors.

Maybe you remember the story from the Toledo Blade newspaper in 2012. Baseball cards found from 1910 in pristine condition.

“(It) all started out as a walk down memory lane,” Kissner told a reporter.

Alongside cousin Karla Hench, he went rummaging in the attic of a home owned by an aunt recently deceased. It had belonged to their grandfather Carl Hench who died in 1910.

Like most pack rat Americans (see storage unit industry), the Hench family accumulated stuff. Predicated mostly on the familiar, “Gee, I might need that one of these days” items. And so, crates and boxes and bundles filled and pushed into crooks and crannies, eventually up to the attic. Forgotten.

Karl Kissner posed in front of the door to an attic in his grandfather’s old home on July 10, 2012, where he and a cousin found a collection of century-old baseball cards in Defiance, Ohio. (AP Photo)

Karl Kissner posed in front of the door to an attic in his grandfather’s old home on July 10, 2012, where he and a cousin found a collection of century-old baseball cards in Defiance, Ohio. (AP Photo)

At this point, put your imagination into the fun of it.

Transport yourself into Kissner’s shoes and the attic of an 1800s-built home, a veritable family museum. Under a single light bulb, amid the dust covered typicals – Christmas decorations, an old dresser with (cracked) mirror, a trunk (grandma’s quilts?), toys and porcelain dolls, wooden boxes, a ladder-back chair or two, a floor lamp.

One’s curiosity on high alert by now, you’re hoping to find a bundle of letters (spicy maybe) done in elegant penmanship, a turn-of-the century newspaper, a post-Civil War magazine, or, treasure of treasures, a family album hiding those remarkable for their pixel clarity black-and-white photographs.

This is a point at which Kissner and his cousin Karla Hench elevated attic trolling and discovery up to level: “Can you believe this?”

They would make a discovery Karl would characterize later as “like finding the Mona Lisa in the attic.”

Moving aside a wooden dollhouse, he found a soot-covered cardboard box. With Karla looking on, he raised the lid, looked inside and discovered baseball cards bundled in string taken from Grandpa Hench’s butcher shop. More than 700 of them. Smaller than cards we collected and bound in rubber bands with such care in the 1950s.

Suddenly Kissner was looking at faces of Christy Mathewson and Connie Mack, Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Honus Wagner, all in perfect condition. Eventually 37 of them would be auctioned for more than half a million dollars.

The cards had come to Hench’s butcher shop as give-away samples by tobacco product salesmen to promote turn-of-the-century items. Hench had so many, he shuffled them home and into the attic.

Kissner set the box aside on a dresser and rummaged awhile longer, but later would take the box of cards to his office, then on to a safety deposit box at a Defiance bank.

By late 2012, the treasure trove, unseen for more than a century, would be on display at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore. The 37 cards featuring Hall of Famers Cobb, Young and Wagner projected to sell for $500,000 sold for $566,132.

Eventually the total collection would be valued at more than $3 million and be shared by 20 cousins.

Whether or not Kissner and Karl Hench received a bonus, there’s no word. But he did tell a reporter, the baseball card windfall “has brought all our family closer together.”

Thoughts to leave this story with? Two. v First, to this day in an attic belonging to someone you know, there are baseball cards still in original packages (with bubble gum). v It’s June, maybe a rainy day soon would be time for you to visit the attic at the old home place. Just for fun, you understand?

Best Of Best:

Emma Talley

When various news outlets in our state propose a nominee list for Kentucky Athletic Person of the Year next winter we will find names of celebrity ball coaches, thoroughbred horses, a jockey, an owner, a football or basketball All- American or two, Mr. Football, Mr. and Miss Basketball winners, and various other candidates.

It’s barely June. but none will match Emma Talley.

Now a junior at University of Alabama, the Princeton, Kentucky native won the NCAA women’s golf championship last month. Consistency. Having already won the U.S. Women’s amateur championship in 2013, Talley shot a threeunder par 285 over four days at Bradenton, Florida to win the NCAA title.

How she has represented Kentucky already, Emma Talley should a Kentucky Colonel with oak leaf clusters as well as grand marshal of a parade or two near you.

And so it goes.

You can reach me at bob. Watkins24@aol.com


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