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Antiques Roadshow Offers Highest Sports Memorabilia Appraisal Ever

For almost 20 years, the U.S. version of Antiques Roadshow has been appraising everything from a Richard Nixon-shaped potato to original Peanuts comics. The show recently came across the most valuable selection of sports memorabilia in its history, in the form of an 1871 set of baseball cards and letters from the Boston Red Stockings, one of the first professional baseball teams in existence. How much did it go for? A cool $1 million, that’s all. I think I heard Honus Wagner scoffing somewhere.

Obviously, this collection features cards from some of the oldest players in the game, including George Wright, widely considered the sport’s first superstar. His brother Harry, whose card is also included, was the manager of the team, which formed from the ashes of the Cincinnati Red Stockings and later became the Boston Braves, and then the Atlanta Braves. (The Red Sox were a different thing entirely.) There’s also a card for Albert Spalding, whose name you might recognize from seeing it on sporting goods for the past 138 years. Take a look at George and Albert below, featuring hair that definitely needs to come back in style.


Arguably the most valuable piece of the collection, according to appraiser Leila Dunbar, is a letter dating back to May 1871 from Spalding and the Wright brothers to a woman who ran the boarding house in Boston where the team stayed for an extended period. Her food got some nice compliments. There are other notes to the woman as well, all featuring highly lucrative signatures.

The owner of the set, whose name was withheld for privacy purposes, actually inherited the book of cards and letters from her great-great-grandmother, who was the owner of the boarding house. She said she found it in a desk drawer one day and decided to take it, without a clue as to how much money it could bring in, according to the Daily Mail. Though this was the first time the entire collection was formally appraised, the owner had previously received an offer for $5,000 for at least part of it. I’m assuming the person making that offer was named Shyster J. Swindleson.

Those wanting to see the episode where the cards and letters get showcased will have to wait until the Emmy-nominated Antiques Roadshow returns to PBS later this year.

Nick Venable
Nick Venable

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.