March 2019 Auction
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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 3/22/2019
When it comes to the finest baseball cards in the hobby, there are three classifications. First are the high-profile cards that are very pricey but not particularly scarce and turn up often at public auctions, issues like 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, 1909-11 American Caramel Joe Jackson and any of the 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth cards. Then come the type of rare cards that even people outside the hobby might be familiar with, issues that carry a story as to what makes them so scarce and desirable. Examples of this type are the T206 Wagner and T206 Plank as well as the 1933 Goudey Napoleon Lajoie. But the featured item fits into the third classification; an issue so rare that people don't even know about it, including even the most seasoned veterans of the hobby. While most advanced vintage collectors have some knowledge of the 1888-89 N172 Old Judge series, there's much about this collection that remain unresolved with new variations still being discovered almost a century and a half after its introduction. The companion N173 Old Judge Cabinet set is even more of a mystery with the tobacco company offering an oversized card of one of 276 players of your choice from 24 teams in the National League or American and Western Associations by mail with the redemption of 20 Old Judge coupons (according to a checklist issued from the company). You'd think that would seem pretty straightforward, but apparently, it is not. The offered cabinet card features Hall of Famer Michael "King" Kelly, one of the first true superstars of the sport. Kelly was a two-time batting champion with the Chicago White Stockings and led the league in doubles and runs three times before capturing a championship with the 1892 Boston Beaneaters. It seems pretty logical that Kelly would be one of the more popular choices for tobacco smokers who redeemed their coupons for cabinet cards, especially in the heavily populated Boston area, where he played from 1887-92. But the checklist just listed the players by last name, and little did anyone know at the time that variations of many of the players were sent without the option to choose a particular one. Most of the cabinet cards have yellow borders like the piece featured here, though some have been found with brown, black, pink, and even red background mounts. But in this case, it isn't the mount that makes this piece so legendary but the "street clothes" variation. Of course, any Old Judge cabinet of a 19th century Hall of Famer is worth noting, but this particular variation of King Kelly's N173 is one of the rarest examples in the entirety of the baseball card community as one of only 4 known to exist. Four! We will probably never know why the company made different variations of the same player, why they didn't account for the option of choosing which variation the consumer wanted, or why certain variations are so much more scarce that others. What we do know is that this N173 King Kelly is one of the rarest cards to ever come from a mainstream production, far more scarce than the celebrated T206 Wagner or even the enigmatic 1933 Goudey Lajoie. Graded SGC 40 VG 3, the card exhibits perfect centering and surprisingly bright yellow border pigment for its age, with a beautifully sharp time-period image of the Boston Hall of Famer that shows a light smattering of expected age spots that in no way hinder the majesty of the precisely delivered central image. A light crease about an inch in length originates in the center of the bottom border and moves due north to stop just as it reaches the photo. Though it makes the grade technically accurate, the actual eye appeal of this museum quality piece is far superior when all aspects are considered. Mile High Card Company has sold more expensive cards over its long history, but we've probably never had a piece that reaches this level of absolute scarcity. Good luck and good bidding!
Incredibly Rare 1888-89 N173 Old Judge Cabinet King Kelly "Street Clothes" SGC 40 VG 3
Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $12,500.00
Final prices include buyers premium.: $61,770.00
Number Bids:26
Competitive in-house shipping is not available for this lot.
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