Baseball Has Been Very, Very Good to Him For one 89-year-old man, a lifetime of collecting baseball cards delivered a solid return this past weekend: $1.5 million dollars and counting. Lionel Carter of Evanston, Ill., sold a portion of his 50,000-card collection at auction. The items included the 1951 rookie card for Mickey Mantle.

Baseball Has Been Very, Very Good to Him

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I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Melissa Block. And this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

SIEGEL: We're going to talk now with Lionel Carter of Evanston, Illinois who is 89, who has been collecting baseball cards since 1933, and who is selling much of his very valuable collection for an unfortunate reason.

Mr. Carter, welcome to our program. Good to talk with you today.

Mr. LIONEL CARTER (Baseball Card Collector): Yes, sir.

SIEGEL: First, I wonder if you can tell us how many baseball cards you've collected over the years and which were either your favorites or the most valuable?

Mr. CARTER: Well, I never knew how many cards I had until they told me. And when they went up for auction they said it was 50,000.

SIEGEL: And of those 50,000, which would you think would be the most valuable among them?

Mr. CARTER: Oh, I would suppose the old cigarette cards - 1910.

SIEGEL: Well, so far from what I've read, a mint condition 1951 Mickey Mantle card - that was his rookie year - went for $165,000, a set of 1938 cards went for $280,000. So far, the collection has brought in $1.6 million, and I gather you're not altogether happy about this.

Mr. CARTER: I haven't been following the auction at all. Because I didn't want to sell them and I would still rather have the cards than the money.

SIEGEL: Well, tell us the story of what happened in the fall that led you to put this remarkable collection of baseball cards up for auction.

Mr. CARTER: I had a ring at the door. So I went to the door and there was this fellow giving me a story about they'd been working in my backyard and they've done some damage, and he wanted me to come out and look at it. I laughed at him and told him to get lost, I wasn't going to fall for that. And I turned away from the door and he walked in behind me. So then I had to get him out of the house. So we went out in the back, and when he finally left, I went in the house and the house had been ransacked.

SIEGEL: So having been burglarized like that, I guess the question for you then was: Was your collection of baseball cards safe anymore in the house?

Mr. CARTER: Well, the Evanston police got the cards back, and it was about $250,000 worth. And they got them back because they had a suspect in mind. And they gave me the choice - do you want to prosecute or do you want your cards back? And I said I'd take the cards back. But then the police were real concerned about them coming back again. And my wife was concerned the next time that they'd come back with a gun. So it was a no-choice decision.

SIEGEL: Well, what about, though - I know you worked as a bank officer all your life, what about a safety deposit box in a bank to store the cards somewhere safe?

Mr. CARTER: For 50,000 cards in albums, you would have to go down to a bank to show them to everybody, so it wasn't a good idea.

SIEGEL: Yeah. It's a great tribute to you as a collector that some of your cards when they went up for auction, like the 1951 - I guess it's a Topps Mickey Mantle card, did that sold for - according to at least one source I'm looking at - three times what similar cards have commanded, because your cards were in such excellent condition?

Mr. CARTER: All my cards were in excellent condition.

SIEGEL: And you're telling me that - as these reports file out of the - a quarter of a million dollars for these cards that you put up for auction, and 160 for those, and over a million - you're not paying attention to this? You're not?

Mr. CARTER: No, I'm not following it. Those cards meant so much to me. I don't care about the money. It's all just depressing.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Carter, I'm sorry to hear that it's such a painful experience; on the other hand, congratulations on making a lot of money for the sale of the collection.

Mr. CARTER: Okay.

SIEGEL: $1.6 million dollars is a…

Mr. CARTER: It's been a pleasure talking to you.

SIEGEL: It's been a pleasure talking with you, sir.

Mr. CARTER: Okay.

SIEGEL: That's Lionel Carter of Evanston, Illinois. He is selling his entire baseball card collection to prevent it from being stolen. And so far, he has made $1.6 million.

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