When Evanston resident Lionel Carter purchased his first baseball card, Babe Ruth was still hitting home runs.
Seventy-four years and about 50,000 cards later, Carter, 89, has been forced to put his collection up for sale.
Burglars ransacked Carter’s home last November. They took his wife’s jewelry and emptied a drawer filled with a number of his baseball cards.
The stolen cards were recovered, but the jewelry was not. Carter feared the thieves would return. He said the police gave him two options to ensure his safety: Either put the cards in a safety deposit box or sell the collection.
“I sold every one of the cards because I didn’t want anything to remind me of them,” Carter said. “They meant so much to me (after) so many years of collecting. They were just a big part of my life.
“But you can’t put 50,000 baseball cards in albums in a vault, so I had no choice but to sell them.”
The sale is being conducted in three installments through Mastro Auctions, a prominent online auction house that specializes in vintage baseball cards. The first part of the collection opened for bidding on the Web site Monday and will close April 27.
One set of 48 cards from 1938 – including cards of Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Mantle – already fetched a bid of $139,493.
Brian Marren, Mastro Auctions’ vice president of acquisitions, called Carter a “real gentleman and nice guy” and “one of the true pioneers in the hobby.” Marren said he expects Carter’s collection to sell for between $2 and $3 million when the last auction closes in June.