2013 Topps Goes ‘Out Of Bounds’

There are certain truisms in life, certain specific and unavoidable happenings that are hardly worth mentioning because they simply ‘are’ by their very nature – and always will be.

The Pope being a Catholic; the fact that bears taking time out of their busy schedules to defecate in nearby wooded areas; and Topps releasing a shed-load of short prints in their flagship Baseball release.

Ahhhhh… Topps and their short prints – a Baseball card collecting truism!

In previous years we’ve had Hall of Famers in the dugout and ex-Presidents in the crowd, while last year we had players being dowsed in Gatorade (other isotonic sports drinks are available folks); players being cream-pied (no, that isn’t a euphemism) and players accosting team mascots!!

Oh yeah… there was also that f*&%ing squirrel!!

Anyway, as I’m sure you can imagine, this years release of Topps Series 1 has been no exception! But rather than going for the random shots of player-related tomfoolery, this year Topps has given us a theme!!

‘Out of Bounds’ is a series of short prints dedicated to those highlight-reel, high-flying, death-defying defensive plays that usually involve players putting their limbs (and sometimes their lives) at risk… all for the sake of an out!

And to celebrate this set I’ve picked out a few of my favourites for us all to enjoy!

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2013 Topps Kevin Youkilis SP

2013 Topps Kevin Youkilis SP

Good Lord, that must have hurt!!! It’s been well documented in a variety of sources that The Youk’s body has been systematically shutting down over the last few years as age and injuries have been taking their toll, so the fact that he managed to leap over three inches off the ground WITH a running jump deserves some props!! Well done, that man!

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2013 Topps Mike Trout SP

2013 Topps Mike Trout SP

Mike Trout doing that he does best… Apart from hitting home runs, scoring runs, knocking in other runners, getting on base, stealing bases, winning awards, and so on, and so on…

My favourite part of that shot is the shadow he casts on the wall behind him… Reminds me of Max Shrek in the film Nosferatu. Check out the hand!!

Max Shrek in Nosferatu (1922)

Max Shrek in Nosferatu (1922)

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2013 Topps Alex Gordon SP

2013 Topps Alex Gordon SP

“Spider-Gordon-man, Spider-Gordon-man, does whatever a Spider-Gordon can”… Join in, you know the words…

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2013 Topps Mark Reynolds SP

2013 Topps Mark Reynolds SP

I really, REALLY don’t know what’s happening with Mark Reynolds in this picture. I’ve ran through every possible scenario in my head and the only plausible one that I’ve come up with is that he’s slipped on a giant banana skin that’s been thrown from the crowd. I can only assume that if it WAS a giant banana skin then it must have been thrown by a giant monkey – and that’s when my theory starts to fall apart.

After all, everyone knows that giant monkeys only turn up and throw giant banana skins at Cubs games 🙂

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2013 Topps Jay Bruce SP

2013 Topps Jay Bruce SP

Woah!!! Now that’s some elevation that Jay Bruce has got going on there. The fact that you can’t even see the ground in that picture means he could well be something like 10m in the air!!! This kind of physical feat can mean only one of two things… One, he has springs in his legs like Zebedee on The Magic Roundabout, or two, he’s getting some type of divine help like that kid in Angels in the Outfield. Either way that’s a damned impressive leap!

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2013 Topps Rajai Davis SP

2013 Topps Rajai Davis SP

Another example of a gravity-defying leap a la Jay Bruce. This time we see Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis taking near the outfield wall, but what the picture doesn’t show is the small trampoline positioned 6 feet to the left. Rumour has it that Davis continued his elevation long after this picture was shot, travelling out of the stadium and into the night’s sky, finally coming back down to earth on the outskirts of Quebec City nearly 500 miles away!

No – seriously – that’s exactly what happened!!

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2013 Topps Alex Rodriguez SP

2013 Topps Alex Rodriguez SP

OK… Let’s let this one sink in for a few moments…

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Right, here’s my take on it!

Top of the 2nd and A-Rod spots a blonde in the crowd who he decides to hit on. Why would he do this? Because he’s Alex Rodriguez, what more reason do you want? Anyway, he patiently waits until the top of the 7th when suddenly a foul ball is hit up from home plate and heads out towards her. He starts to run full out to get the ball but he realises that it’s heading into the crowd… So he launches himself towards the ball and puckers his lips at the same time in order to steal a quick kiss from the object of his affections…

But suddenly this old guy gets out his seat, probably to go to the Wiz Palace (a shout out to all you Parks and Rec fans out there), and ends up intercepting A-Rod amorous advances!!

So there you go!

Unless of course the person receiving the ‘kiss’ from A-Rod was actually Madonna and he was just running over to say hello. Come to think of it, the arms of that old ‘guy’ do look awfully familiar…

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So there you have it! My run down of some of the highlights from this years 2013 Topps Series 1 short prints!!

No doubt you’ll be able to pick some of these up on eBay for a ridiculously high premium, but if that’s your thing then who am I to get in your way?

Enjoy your cards and just be grateful that you’re not chasing after a bloody squirrel this year!

Please take a few moments out of your day to read this from fellow collector and fellow blogger, Mike Karamanian. Mike lives in Canada and this is quite a candid and personal look at why he collects sports cards and what they mean to him!

Thanks for your time!!

Prospect Watch: Billy Hamilton

This weeks Prospect Watch looks at the fastest pair of young legs in the Minor Leagues, Reds shortstop – Billy Hamilton.

Hamilton is an elite, top-tier talent and the No. 1 Prospect in the Reds organisation according to Baseball America’s 2013 rankings! With a game built almost entirely on his speed and his ability to run the bases, Billy Hamilton set a professional record in 2012 by swiping 155 bases in the Minor Leagues, split between Single-A and Double-A…

I’m just going to repeat that again for you… 155 total bases!!!

Wow!! That’s 10 more than Vince Coleman’s Minor League record of 145 set in 1983, and 25 more than Rickey Henderson’s Major League record!

Like I said… Wow!!

2012 Bowman Chrome Billy Hamilton Prospect Autograph

2012 Bowman Chrome Billy Hamilton Prospect Autograph

Hamilton was drafted out of Taylorsville High School, Mississippi, by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2nd round of the 2009 Draft. He was offered a football scholarship to Mississippi State – he played receiver and returned punts – but instead decided to pursue a career in baseball as it better suited his 6-foot tall, 160-pound frame.

During his early years in the Minors Hamilton relied purely on his speed to steal bases, but under the tutelage of Reds coaches, including former Reds outfielder, Eric Davis, he has developed his game to read pitchers more effectively in order to expand his skills as he progresses through each level.

Hamilton will start the 2013 season in Triple-A and has moved from shortstop to centre field to accommodate the young Zack Cozart, who is pencilled in at shortstop for the foreseeable future. Hamilton is expected to take over the centre-field role either late-2013 or at the start of the 2014 season, depending upon how quickly he develops at Triple-A.

In the fan-community SB Nation, John Sickels writing for Minor League Ball notes that Hamilton’s speed is “tremendous”, something that he uses to his advantage when running the bases. He goes on to say –

“Unlike many speedsters, he has good technique, and he’s so fast he often outruns any mistakes he does make. The rest of his hitting game is steadily coming along. He doesn’t have home run power and probably won’t develop much, but he has ability to lace the gaps, making him a threat for more doubles and triples as he matures. His plate discipline is gradually improving, and he’s done a good job reducing his strikeouts this year [2012]. He’s still learning finer points of the game like bunting, but he understands that anything he does to leverage his speed and get on base more frequently is to his advantage”

Some scouts have speculated that his base-stealing game could develop along the same lines as Rickey Henderson’s but concede that Hamilton will probably never develop the same power that Rickey exhibited throughout his career.

An MVP award at the California League All-Star game has led to an invite to the 2013 Future’s Game at Kansas City during this year’s All-Star Week-End!! And it doesn’t stop there…

The Reds have also been concentrating on developing Hamilton’s switch-hitting game, with the emphasis placed on positioning him on the left-hand side of the plate so that he has the added advantage of starting out closer to first base, thereby being able to beat out more infield ground balls due to his quickness!

Because of the way that Billy Hamilton’s speed impacts games he has started to garner national recognition, particularly when one of his inside-the-park home runs became a YouTube hit and he was clocked at just over 13 seconds covering the bases! He’s also a throwback to an era when base-stealing was an integral part of the game, when the scrappy ‘small-ball’ plays were seen as an important way of generating runs, as opposed to the modern game which has placed more emphasis on the long-ball.

The Bleacher Report makes an interesting observation when assessing how Hamilton’s speed might impact a game –

“It’s hard to measure the true impact of a speedster through stats. Total number of stolen bases does not quantify their impact. A players slugging percentage takes into account the total number of bases that a player gains throughout his at-bats. But, it does not, however, factor in stolen bases as a total base earned.

If Hamilton reaches base on a single and then steals second, he essentially got a double (or gained two total bases), right? If he steals third base after that, then he essentially has earned a triple, or recorded three total bases, correct?

So, if we added Hamilton’s stolen bases into factoring his slugging percentage it comes out to a whopping .745! Take the season that Joey Votto is having right now [2012] and factor in his stolen bases and you get .675. When using SLUG as a measure of the amount of total bases gained by a player (with stolen bases factored in), you begin to see just how amazing the impact of Hamilton’s stolen bases.”

THAT is pretty impressive!! Based on that kind of production Hamilton could end up carrying your Fantasy team for a whole season in the SB category in most Roto Leagues!! Think about that for a while!!

As per usual we turn to Baseball Prospect Nation for a full scouting breakdown as of May 2012…

Body (6-0, 165): Very thin. May be shorter than listed height. Plus-plus athlete was a Division I football recruit as a wide receiver. Lacks strength throughout body and doesn’t have a lot of room to add strength in the coming years. Body fits his game. Classic burner body.

Hit: Drastic improvement since beginning of 2011 season. Previously showed inconsistent swing mechanics with a lot of hand movement and some delay getting the bat to the zone. Has quieted his setup and load, and now gets the bat to the zone much more consistently. Has average to a tick above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate. Improved ability for solid contact to all fields from both sides. Needs to stay within himself at the plate and not get power hungry. Approach can get overly aggressive at times and he needs to improve pitch recognition on secondary pitches. Will always run out extra hits which should help him hit for higher averages. Needs to improving bunting to fully develop the hitting ability his speed can support. Potential to push upwards of a .300 average in peak seasons and hit at the top of a big league order. Grade – 40/70

Power: Not part of his game. Lacks the strength and bat speed to drive the ball. Speed can generate extra-base hits but will not drive the ball to the gaps or over the fence consistently. Doubles and triples from speed will make power look a little better than grades. Grade (raw power) – 20/30

Arm: Fringy arm at shortstop. Can make most throws for the position but really has to get on it to make the tough/long throws. Loses accuracy and velocity on the run. Arm is stretched at shortstop but can play at second base and would play in the outfield. Grades ranged from 40 to 50 over the last two years, will likely settle with a fringe-average arm that could play up if he better learns how to use it in game situations. Grade – 40/50

Fielding: Speed gives him incredible range to both sides at shortstop. The same was true at second base in 2010. Lacks the instincts for shortstop and his actions aren’t fluid. Hands are below-average. Tendency to make some routine plays more difficult because of lack of instincts or not catching it cleanly and on the proper hop. Many scouts would prefer to see him in center field where his speed could be a defensive weapon. If at shortstop, would likely remain a below- to fringe-average defender at the position. Grade – 30/40 (shortstop)

Speed: Absolutely elite. Fastest player in the minor leagues, and it’s not even close. True burner that gets out of the box quickly and has even better top end speed. Can turn routine grounders into base hits. A threat to take over any game with his legs. Can scoring chances almost at will. Instincts have improved since signing and he now gets good jumps off both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Brilliant runner whose legs could have a 1980s style impact on the game. Grade – 80/80

Summation: Improvements with the bat look significant and maintainable. Potential .290+ hitter with enough on-base ability to wreak havoc on any opposing team. Could cause chaos at the top of the lineup. Needs more well-rounded and consistent small-ball game to help take further advantage of his speed. Elite, elite runner with instincts to let it play to the max. Shortstop defense is still rough and doesn’t project to improve arm strength, instincts or hands enough to stick there long term. Could be an impact defensive player in center field. Has the swagger of an elite player. Plays the game hard and works hard before/after games. Potential to impact the game on both sides of the ball thanks to elite speed.

Relative Risk: High. Everything rides on the sustainment of his hitting ability and the health of his legs. Any deterioration in either could destroy his prospect stock.

Future: Hamilton could see Double-A before the end of the 2012 season. Defensive development will be what holds him back and the development of his bat may force his move to second base or center field. Could be ready for big league action by 2014 and could hit atop the Reds order for quite a while.

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Billy Hamilton is an incredibly exciting prospect. I’ve always had a soft spot for the speedy base-runners but appreciate that their shelf-life is often limited, and more often than not an abrupt leg or foot injury can put the stop to a once promising career.

Hamilton’s first Bowman card appeared as a Prospect in the 2009 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects set but his 2012 Bowman Chrome contains his autograph and will no doubt be the card everyone will be chasing!!

You can also pick up a number of base and parallel Hamilton cards in 2012 Bowman Platinum, but if you want to go for a cheaper alternative to the Bowman Chrome autograph then look no further than the 2012 Bowman Sterling Prospect auto, and obligatory refractor parallels!!

Along with his licensed Topps and Bowman releases there are a number of non-licensed releases that feature Hamilton that might be worth your time, including 2012 UD Goodwin Champions, 2010 Tristar Pursuit and 2009 Tri-Star Prospects.

A great player to watch out for with a rich life on baseball cards ahead of him!

In the next Prospect Watch – The next ‘Albert Pujols’ for the Cardinals??

My Favourite Baseball Sets of the 1990’s – Part 1: #10 – #6

It occurred to me earlier that I’ve written a lot recently about what’s to come in the world of Baseball cards, whether it’s up and coming Prospects or new products; the future of the Rookie or increases in postage costs, and while it’s fine and dandy to be looking forward in this great Hobby of ours, sometimes it’s just as much fun to look back…

So I’ve decided to go back to a period when I first started collecting sports cards, around the mid-90’s, and to look back over my favourite sets that were around at the time!

This isn’t meant to be a definitive ‘best of’ list by any stretch of the imagination, just a few random scribblings about the sets that fired up my imagination at the time and made me realise how much fun there was in collecting cards. Some of these you might agree with, others you won’t… Everyone has their own favourites after all…

#10 – 1997 Bowman Chrome

This is the set that started the whole Chrome phenomenon, all the way back in 1997. As was the trend for the majority of releases in mid-90’s, Topps produced Bowman as a two-series product rather than one large card set. These black bordered beauties employed the same card technology that Topps had been using since 1993 with their first Finest release, but Bowman Chrome was the first to put the emphasis on the Rookie Card, with collector’s vigorously chasing the likes of Kerry Wood and Jose Cruz jr!! Nowadays the popular rookies are of Roy Halladay and Lance Berkman!

1997 Bowman Chrome Roy Halladay

1997 Bowman Chrome Roy Halladay

1997 Bowman Chrome Rookie Card

1997 Bowman Chrome Rookie Card

#9 – 1999 Upper Deck SP Signature Edition

Upper Deck’s first foray into the ‘auto per pack’ Baseball product came with SP Signature in 1999. With a distinctive design and a huge checklist of signers (including many Hall of Famer’s) this was an incredibly popular release and almost impossible to find now as unopened wax. I remember being at a card show at the US airbase at Mildenhall when I first saw these cards… One dealer had purchased a box and had ripped each pack to sell off the autographs. I remember having the opportunity to pick up a young Yankees closer by the name of Mariano Rivera for £20 but thought it was a bit too much at the time!! The same card now books for over $150… sigh…

1999 SP Signature Pedro Martinez Autograph

1999 SP Signature Pedro Martinez Autograph

1999 SP Signature Mike Schmidt Autograph

1999 SP Signature Mike Schmidt Autograph

#8 – 1997 Fleer

Perhaps an odd choice but I’ve always felt that this was a really underrated set. This was the last Baseball set that Fleer produced before changing the brand name to ‘Fleer Tradition’ in 1998. What made this set stand out for me was a move away from the glossy card stock to a matte finish (with a gold-stamped foil logo), giving the card a more old-school feel and making ideal for autographs. Split into two series, rumour has it that the last 11 cards in Series 2 were all short-printed due to being late additions to the set. 1997 Fleer is also notable for being one of only two sets (along with Fleer Ultra) to feature the Rookie Card of Big Papi, David Ortiz, appearing on the card as David Arias.

1997 Fleer David Ortiz Rookie Card

1997 Fleer David Ortiz Rookie Card

1997 Fleer Cal Ripken

1997 Fleer Cal Ripken

#7 – 1997 Topps Finest

Again not necessarily an obvious choice but I came across this set through the earlier Basketball release, and although the Baseball release doesn’t have the equivalent of a Kobe Bryant rookie to make it stand out it still has enough going for it to make it an easy-ish set to put together. The complete set was 350 cards (two series of 175 cards in each) with a built around a fractured structure of card rareness, made up of the more common Bronze cards, the uncommon Silver (1 in 4 packs) and the rare Gold (1 per box). Series One is divided into five distinct themes: Finest Hurlers (top pitchers), Finest Blue Chips (up-and-coming future stars), Finest Power (long-ball hitters), Finest Warriors (superstar players), and Finest Masters (hottest players). Series Two is also divided into five distinct themes: Finest Power (power hitters and pitchers), Finest Masters (top players), Finest Blue Chips (top new players), Finest Competitors (hottest players), and Finest Acquisitions (latest trades and new signings). A fun set with sealed boxes available on eBay at pretty decent prices.

1997 Finest Barry Bonds - Gold

1997 Finest Barry Bonds – Gold

1997 Topps Finest Greg Maddux - Gold

1997 Topps Finest Greg Maddux – Gold

#6 – 1995 SkyBox E-Motion

An awesome and durable set from SkyBox, made on thick card-stock and featuring some gorgeously clear player photography, E-Motion had a lot going for it… but then SkyBox went and added an ’emotive’ word to each card that was supposed to summarise a quality or emotion for that particular player! These ’emotions’ went from odd to downright ludicrous, in a lot of instances, providing some great comic moments such as ‘Surprise’ for Jim Thome; ‘Fresh’ for Kenny Lofton and (my personal favourite) ‘Stroking’ for J.T. Snow!! Notable as a set that even has its own blog – 1995 SkyBox E-Motion. Hot on the heals of the truncated 1994 season E-Motion even has a complete insert set dedicated the the then ‘saviour’ of Baseball, Cal Ripken jr!

In retrospect this would be a great set to re-release today having the benefit of history on our side. I imagine we’d see some fun new designs with the ’emotions’ of ‘Liar’, ‘Cheat’, ‘Deceitful’ or ‘Juicer’!

1995 E-Motion Ken Griffey  jr 'Junior'

1995 E-Motion Ken Griffey jr ‘Junior’

1995 E-Motion Will Clark ' Mr Intense'

1995 E-Motion Will Clark ‘ Mr Intense’

1995 E-Motion Roger Clemens 'Rocket'

1995 E-Motion Roger Clemens ‘Rocket’

So there’s numbers 10 through 6.

Numbers 5 through 1 coming soon!! Any guesses what will make it in?? Or what will be in the top spot??

It’ll be interesting to hear your thoughts on what you got a kick out of from the same era!!

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Buyers Outside The US Read This NOW

Ladies and Gentlemen!

If you regularly purchase items from the US you’re about to receive a short, sharp kick to the nuts courtesy of the US Postal Service. I wanted to make that non-gender specific but couldn’t think of a better way of describing it!!

As of yesterday, Sunday 27th January 2013, the USPS introduced a price rise of around 3-5% for their domestic services. International services also saw an increase, but that’s another story entirely with huge hikes across the board! And when I say huge, I mean MASSIVE!!!

Please understand that I’m not trying to downplay these increases for buyers outside the US. These changes are likely to have a long-term and detrimental impact on the way we purchase items from the US from this point forward.

The guys over at Etsy have put together the following comparison breakdown for the benefit of their international customers, so many thanks for the great work. Click here to read the full article on their website:

All you need to do is check out the international shipping rates and you can see how it’s going to affect us. For example a 3oz package sent by First Class International (about the size and weight of a single, top loaded card in a jiffy mailer) to the UK has gone from $4.56 to $8.88, an increase of some 94.7%, and a flat rate small envelope/box sent via Priority International has gone from $16.95 to $23.95, and increase of 41.2%!! Other international services fluctuate in between.

And don’t think our brethren over in Canada have got it any better either as their rates show a very similar increase percentage wise!

At the moment I’m trying to come up with some kind of positive from all this but I’m at a complete loss!!

I’ll post again in a few days after the news has had a chance to sink in a bit, but I just wanted to get the word out! Feel free to spread the news far and wide… The sooner more non-US buyers are aware of this the better!

And please remember – when you start seeing listings on eBay from US sellers showing these ridiculously high increases for international shipping, take a moment to acknowledge that this isn’t their fault. Sellers are just as much the victims of these increases as we are and they have to increase their costs accordingly!

So thank you USPS and have a nice day!!

2013 Bowman Platinum Baseball Preview

Another week and another product preview lands in our laps from Topps.

And how wrong was I…?

Recently I posted a preview of 2013 Bowman Inception Baseball which I was convinced was replacing Bowman Platinum but this doesn’t appear to be the case after all!!

Bowman Platinum is a mid-season prospecting release with a relatively low price point when compared to the higher end, post-season release of Bowman Sterling. How this will sit side-by-side with Bowman Inception, and how collectors will take to two prospect-related products released so close together, remains to be seen.

Here’s a pdf of the sell sheet for your viewing pleasure…

I’ve never had a great deal of time for Bowman Platinum myself, preferring to defer to the more ‘traditional’ releases such as the main Bowman set, Bowman Chrome and Bowman Draft! While Bowman Sterling always comes across as the ‘rich uncle’ of the Bowman brand I always think of Platinum as the ‘strange cousin’ who nobody in the family likes to talk about!

However it must have its fans as this will be the fourth year in production, and the 2013 release does have some nice designs and a great list of signers! One of the problems that plagued the 2012 release was a high instance of redemption cards strewn throughout the production run, so let’s hope that’s an issue that Topps manages to resolve before this year’s release hits the stores!

So, if you’re a prospect fan and a lover of nice and shiny cards, with a whole host of parallels, refractors and autographs, then this might just be the set for you! Personally I think that Topps does prospects better across its main Bowman brand, but Platinum offers a nice alternative for player collectors and it usually has a small enough check-list to entice set builders as well.

I’ll probably pick up a blaster for a review further down the line, but unless I’m completely bowled over by it, it’s unlikely to be a product that will feature highly on my ‘must-have’ list!!

All UK-based Sports Card Collectors – READ THIS!

A few days ago a gentleman by the name of David Marshall contacted me regarding a collection of sports cards that he inherited from his uncle.

David has been attempting to sell these locally, in the Lakenheath area, through an online small-ads service, so far without much success. But he saw this blog and contacted me to see (a) if I was interested in buying them, or (b) if I knew of anyone else who might be interested.

David estimates that there might be around 40,000 cards (a shop’s stock, as he describes it) of various US sports and there is a mixture of sealed wax, sets and singles. David’s uncle originally amassed this collection with the intention of selling then on to the servicemen at the nearby US airbases and this is basically what’s left. As I understand a lot of the stuff hails from the 80’s and 90’s but there could well be stuff dating back much further.

You can click on this link to take you to his online listing – Topps Baseball, NFL, & Ice Hockey Trading Cards

Now, I haven’t turned The Wax Fantastic into a classifieds site, but I thought that this might be an offer too good to pass up for someone out there. Unfortunately I don’t have the funds to snap the collection up myself but there could be someone more than happy to help David out, and take literally thousands of sports cards off his hands.

This a quote directly from one of the emails he sent me…

“My Uncle collected all sorts of things in his time – Antiques – Rupert Books, but, it has become a Family joke to be left with a Legacy of Cards, in respect of which we are struggling to discover, what is really there, in terms of value.

There are undoubtably gems amongst them, and indeed one US Airman did many years ago come to have a look. He was overwhelmed by their sheer number, but did say that (at the time), he found a card amongst them, he thought worth around £1,000 on it’s own!”

If that doesn’t whet your appetite then I don’t know what will!!

He advises that a viewing is essential as he has no idea what’s in the collection, so if you’re in or around Suffolk (or fancy a trip out there) then drop him a line!! There could well be some really nice finds amongst the cards that will make it well worth someone’s time to take the trip in the first place!

Obviously, my 15% finders fee will apply as always 🙂