LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Seven rare, identical Ty Cobb baseball cards more than a century old were found weeks ago inside a torn paper bag on the floor of a house, marking one of the most remarkable discoveries in the world of sports collectables, an expert said on Thursday.
What sets apart the newly dubbed "Lucky 7" cards is that in addition to a portrait of the American League great emblazoned on the front, his name is printed with a tobacco ad on the back - matching a design found on just 15 other Cobb cards previously known to exist.
The collection as a whole is worth "well into seven figures," said Joe Orlando, president of Professional Sports Authenticator, or PSA, in Newport Beach, California, who verified and graded them. He called the find "unprecedented."
"When you factor in rarity, value, quantity and quality, it can be argued this is the single greatest baseball card find the hobby has ever witnessed," said Rick Snyder, an authorized PSA dealer in South Carolina who was the first to examine them.
The Lucky 7 date from 1909 to 1911, part of a larger set designated the T206 series, affectionately known by collectors as "The Monster," and originally distributed as tobacco brand promotions with cards of all the era's baseball stars.
The group ranks among the most prized by collectors and includes the Holy Grail of baseball card hobbyists, one picturing the Pittsburgh Pirates' "Flying Dutchman," Honus Wagner.
Several far more common Cobb designs exist, bearing variations of artwork portraits of the Detroit Tigers star, nicknamed "the Georgia Peach." The newly found cards belong to an extremely scarce version - now numbering just 22 - that also came printed with his name on the reverse side, above the phrase "King of the Smoking Tobacco World."
Snyder said the Lucky 7 were unearthed in January or February. They were found facedown beneath postcards and other papers at the bottom of a ripped paper bag on the floor of a dilapidated house by members of a family rummaging through belongings of their late great-grandparents.
He said the family asked to remain anonymous, declining even to reveal the Southern state where the house was located.
Snyder said he sold the first two cards on the family's behalf on Thursday. The price was undisclosed, but each fetched well more than the $154,000 a lesser-quality specimen sold for last year, Snyder said.
Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney