Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rare baseball card on display at Henderson card shop

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Aug. 28, 2009 | 2:05 a.m. (This story appears in the Las Vegas Sun print edition)

Jeffrey Rosenberg’s mind raced and his hands trembled as he sat in the stands at the Little League field in Texas. No, he wasn’t worried about the game.

Rosenberg, founder of a sports memorabilia company, was constantly checking his cell phone, waiting to hear from auctioneers in California.

The first call: $40,000 was the bid on the first-ever baseball card — the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.

“Wow,” Rosenberg thought. “This is way too low.”

Over the next hour, the bidding escalated: $50,000, $60,000.

“We knew we wanted the card,” he said.

Rosenberg waited at that field for more than hour before dropping his final bid of $75,285. Then he waited some more.

“The longest 15 minutes of my life,” he said. “All of a sudden I get a call saying ‘You’ve won,’ and I was in disbelief. Shocked actually, absolutely shocked.”

Rosenberg is bringing the historic card to AllStar Sports Cards in Henderson, where it will be on display from 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday.

The card was discovered earlier this year by a 72-year-old woman from Fresno. Bernice Gallego buys the contents of storage lockers and sells the contents. She found the card in a box full of miscellaneous things.

On the front of the 140-year-old piece of compressed cardboard are the 10 members of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. The team generally is considered the first professional baseball team, put together by Harry and George Wright, two of the best players of that era.

Not knowing what she had, Gallego posted it on eBay with a starting bid of $10. She told reporters she thought it might be worth $15, but didn’t want to pay 20 cents extra to start the auction that high. A friend told her that it might be worth much more to collectors, so she pulled it off the online site.

“To own something that’s so rare, so unique and historical, it’s a dream come true,” Rosenberg said of the card. “We want to share it with the fans.”

Rosenberg is president of Houston-based Tristar Productions, one of the leaders in sports memorabilia and shows. The company’s collection includes the only hand-signed “Shoeless” Joe Jackson baseball bat; game-used bats from all 25 players in the 500-home run club; and the most recognizable baseball card, a T206 Honus Wagner. It’s also the most expensive; one of these rare cards of the Pirates star sold for $925,000 in July.

Jared Bing, manager of Allstar Sports Cards, is excited about displaying the 1869 Red Stockings card.

“The oldest baseball card in the world at our store is a big deal,” Bing said. “To think about the history of this card and how much it’s been through, the Depression, world wars. It’s remarkable.”

It’s part of a daylong celebration of classic baseball cards and memorabilia.

Tristar, which is the exclusive baseball card producer for Minor League Baseball, also introduce a series commemorating the centennial of the Obak cards. Those 1906 cards were featured in tobacco products and are smaller, miniature versions in terms of today’s baseball cards.

The new T212 series includes 68 cards combining nostalgia (Duke Snider in Fort Worth Cats uniform, Tom Seaver on the Jacksonville Suns, Satchel Paige on the Miami Marlins), history (baseball inventor Alexander Cartwright), ownership (Branch Rickey and Bing Crosby) and investment (a handful current minor leaguers such last year’s No. 1 pick Tim Beckham, which should make collectors salivate).

The set isn’t scheduled to be released to the public until Tuesday.

“We’ll be opening them before anybody else in the world,” he said.

Families and fans are encouraged to join Saturday’s party-like atmosphere, the first of 17 around the country, and will feature games, pizza and prizes, including three to four thousand dollars in free Tristar merchandise giveaways.

“For us, it’s a thank you to our customers who have been loyal buying our cards,” Rosenberg said. “It’s an opportunity to see baseball history before your eyes.”

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