Red Sox

What's in the Uncle Jimmy collection? Some of the greatest finds in baseball card history

Red Sox

Everyone should be so lucky to have an Uncle Jimmy.

World War II veteran. Devoted uncle. A fixture in his working class New Jersey neighborhood for 90 years.

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And over the course of nearly a century, the silent curator of one of the most spectacular collections of baseball cards ever seen.

When James Micioni passed away at age 97 on March 8, he left his family a treasure trove that might be unrivaled. For decades, the man known as Uncle Jimmy mailed cards to teams seeking autographs, meticulously cataloguing the results.

He stored hundreds of cards in his attic in binders and boxes, keeping them out of the sun and out of public view. His nieces and nephews knew he owned a vast collection — he never married or had children of his own, so he often doled out vintage cards for birthdays and Christmas — but they had no idea exactly what was hidden away, save for cryptic references to the "Holy Grail" in his attic.

Now the entire collecting world knows. The sheer scope of the Uncle Jimmy collection is breathtaking, and it's expected to fetch millions at multiple auctions.

 

His collection includes cards signed by some of the game's greatest players, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Rogers Hornsby. He owned news clippings signed by Mel Ott and a rare wall plaque of Mickey Mantle. His completed Topps and Bowman sets from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s are almost perfectly preserved. 

Joe Orlando runs Professional Sports Authenticator, which graded and authenticated Micioni's vast holdings under the special "Uncle Jimmy Collection" tag. He has worked there for 21 years and never seen anything like it.

"It's pretty rare for me to get stopped in my tracks and look at something and have it blow you away," he said. "It's a privilege, because we get to handle many of the best items in the market, but every once in a while, something like the Uncle Jimmy collection comes forward and it makes you feel like a kid again."

What separates this collection from others of similar size and vintage, Orlando said, is the effort it took to assemble. Micioni mailed and received hundreds of cards, fastidiously tracking each attempt in a ledger. He began as a boy with the famous 1933 and 1934 Goudey sets, distinct for their player illustrations against monochromatic backgrounds above a Big League Chewing Gum label.

Most such cards that circulate today show understandable wear, but Micioni filed his in albums for decades, allowing them to retain their original color and brightness, which more than compensates for whatever damage they incurred in the mail.

"The cards are by no means in perfect condition," Orlando said. "They have corner-wear. But in terms of the colors, the eye appeal, they retain a freshness, because he preserved them the right way. So when people see images of these cards, they are absolutely gorgeous."

There are six signed Ruth cards that alone could be worth $1 million, as well as signed cards and news clippings from Hall of Famers like Lefty Grove, Charlie Gehringer, Ted Williams, Satchel Paige, and Eddie Mathews. 

 

In an era when new cards can sell straight out of the pack for thousands, it's nice to know we can still be surprised, Orlando said.

"What's so neat about stories like Uncle Jimmy is that it proves that the stuff is still out there," he said. "There's this idea, ever since the emergence of the internet, I think some people believe everything has been discovered and there are no finds anymore. There's stuff out there and people like Uncle Jimmy that preserved their collections and wanted to hand them down to family members, and they've never come to market.

"At PSA we get to see millions of items a year, but it's not often that you get stopped in your tracks with a collection of this magnitude, but it is absolutely remarkable stuff."