The National Sports Collectors Convention has arguably never had a more exciting moment in its 39 years than what happened Friday afternoon in Cleveland.
A company called Vintage Breaks, which offers collectors a chance to buy spots in unopened vintage card packs, charged $500 for spots in a pack of 1955 Bowman.
On a stage, wired up to the crowd, owner Leighton Sheldon screamed when he saw the second to last card in the pack.
“My eyes bulged out of my head,” Sheldon said.
What Sheldon saw was the most valuable card in the set: a Mickey Mantle, which appeared to be in pristine condition.
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Some 375 miles east of Cleveland, Chris Rothe was finishing up his job as a third-generation bookbinder in Maryland when he decided to check the archived videos of the pack openings from earlier in the day. Rothe, who randomly got the 19th card that was to be opened in the pack, discovered that he was the proud new owner of the Mantle card.
“My friend told me my face went pale white when I saw it,” Rothe said. “I was weak in the knees.”
Rothe said he knew immediately that he was going to sell the card.
“I have the card in a 3 [on a 10 scale],” he said. “That’s good enough. I’ll use the money to get a [Roberto] Clemente rookie and maybe get a lower graded Mantle rookie.”
But the price Rothe expected to get for the card has risen significantly.
On Saturday morning, Sheldon returned to the convention and took the card to be graded by PSA, considered the industry’s authority on grading the condition of cards. Three hours later, PSA returned with a grade of 9 out of 10.
It marked only the eighth time that PSA gave a 1955 Mantle Bowman card a 9 grade. Sheldon said he was told by PSA officials, however, that it was the first time in more than two decades that they had graded that card a 9.
The last PSA 9 for the 1955 Mantle Bowman sold for $35,089. All day, Sheldon was working the show and the phones. By 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sheldon had an offer for $50,000 for the card.
Rothe won’t be the only one who will come away a big winner from a future sale. So, too, will Sheldon. His Vintage Breaks company, which has existed for a year, has never had such a high-profile pull. His greatest success to date was when a Michael Jordan rookie card was pulled from a pack of 1986 Fleer basketball. A collector paid $2,000 for the right to the unknown card before the pack was opened. Given its condition, the Jordan rookie was worth about $5,000.