The crumpled brown paper bag looked like trash.
But luckily for baseball card enthusiasts, a family in a rural Southern town who were sifting through their great-grandparent's possessions took a closer look.
The family, who wishes to remain anonymous, found seven identical baseball cards of famed Detroit Tigers outfielder Ty Cobb dating from a printing in 1909-1911. Previously, only 15 of this particular card were known to exist.
Card experts have now verified the seemingly improbable find, which they termed the Lucky Seven. California-based Professional Sports Authenticator, which assessed the find, calls this Ty Cobb card "one of the most valuable cards — pound-for-pound - in the entire hobby."
PSA President Joe Orlando, who authenticated the cards, writes that they date back to when tobacco companies tucked the collectibles into boxes of their products. He says the Cobb cards are even rarer than the elusive Honus Wagner card, described as "the most coveted baseball card of all-time". (As that story goes, Wagner allegedly didn't want to encourage kids to smoke and demanded the tobacco company stop production of his card.)
The "T206 Ty Cobb with Ty Cobb back," as it's known to collectors, was likely a limited release and differs from the standard Ty Cobb card produced by the American Tobacco Company in a few key ways, Orlando writes. First, it has a glossier coating. And second, "instead of showcasing one of the other 15 tobacco brands found on the revers of each card, these special Cobb cards have 'TY COBB — KING OF THE SMOKING TOBACCO WORLD' on the revers in green ink."
Orlando describes how the seven cards featuring the player nicknamed "The Georgia Peach" were uncovered earlier this year:
"The cards were found inside a torn paper bag on the floor. Initially, the family thought the bag was merely filled with trash and planned to discard it. One of the family members decided to sift through the contents, which included a number of postcards and other paper products. Beneath this small pile of items were the Cobb cards lying face down at the bottom of the bag.
"The family did not know much about baseball cards, but they did recognize the name 'Ty Cobb' which gave them some hope that the cards might actually have some value.
"While they didn't know if their great grandfather and his family ever collected baseball cards, they did believe that he enjoyed using tobacco for rolling his own cigarettes and pipe smoking, which helps explain the logical connection to the tobacco cards."
It's not clear what the value of these cards is exactly. As The Associated Press reports, "The cards' value is sure to shift now that there are so many more in existence." But Orlando says the cards are worth "well into seven figures."
Cobb, who spent most of his career with the Detroit Tigers, "may have been the best all-around baseball player that ever lived," the Baseball Hall of Fame says. His record career batting average of .367 still stands, 88 years after he retired from the game. Cobb was also famously hot-tempered and labeled as racially intolerant.
Orlando says the Lucky Seven discovery "made him feel like a kid again."
"These finds represent the hope that all collectors dream about," Orlando says. "Even though we live in the information age, undiscovered treasure is still buried out there."