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$2.4 million baseball card collection destroyed in Flight 3407 crash

The Mickey Mantle 1952 rookie card is one of the most famous baseball cards from the 1950s.

Douglas Wielinski had 10 of them in a collection that a sports memorabilia expert testified Wednesday was worth up to $2.4 million when Wielinski was killed Feb. 12, 2009, in the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 into his Clarence Center home, where his collection was stored.

“It’s an incredible story for someone to have 10 of those,” said Joshua Evans, founder and chairman of Lelands, which bills itself as the largest and most respected sports auction house in the world.

He estimated that each of the Hall-of-Famer’s rookie cards in the Wielinski collection was worth $25,000 based on an assumption that they were in good, but not mint, condition.

He also singled out the box that the Mantle model baseball glove was sold in, which he said was very rare and worth $4,000 to $5,000.

“The box is more valuable than the glove,” he said. “The gloves you can find, but the boxes were generally thrown away” after purchase.

He described the boxes as very colorful, with some baseball cards attached.

Evans knows sports memorabilia. His New York City-based company has auctioned important individual pieces like the Herman “Babe” Ruth sale document for $99,000, Mantle’s 1960 Yankees jersey for $111,100 and the infamous “Mookie Ball” – the one hit by the New York Mets’ William “Mookie” Wilson that squirted through the legs of Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series – which Lelands sold to actor Charlie Sheen for $93,500, according to its website.

Over the past five years, the website says, Lelands has sold more than $40 million worth of vintage sports memorabilia.

Evans was testifying in State Supreme Court in downtown Buffalo at the trial of the Wielinski family’s lawsuit against Colgan Air, which owned and operated the twin-engine turboprop; Pinnacle Airlines, its parent; and Continental Airlines, which contracted with Colgan.

He was retained by attorneys for Karen Wielinski and her daughters, who are seeking compensatory damages for her 60-year-old husband’s wrongful death in the fiery crash, his pain and suffering as well as the family’s injuries, pain and suffering.

One of the claims involves Douglas Wielinski’s extensive sports and non-sports memorabilia collection, which he started amassing in the 1950s and continued expanding up to his death.

Evans testified that the Wielinski collection had a market value of $2 million to $2.4 million at the time of the crash and that it would be worth up to $3 million now.

Justice Frederick J. Marshall, who is presiding at the jury trial, has ruled that the evidence in the case must be limited to the value of the items at the time of the crash.

Evans said he based his appraisal on a review of prior testimony in the seven-week-old trial as well as 45 boxes filled with charred debris from the house and a list of items that a lifelong friend of Douglas Wielinski, who also collected sports memorabilia, made of items he remembered seeing in the Wielinski collection over the years.

A vendor at a Clarence flea and antique market that Wielinski frequented has testified that Wielinski, who had a large collection of Yankees memorabilia, showed him the 10 Mantle rookie cards at the market.

Evans said he saw no sign of the Mantle rookie cards in the boxes of charred debris. He also said Wielinski would never have sold those cards, because Mantle was his favorite player.

Philipp Rimmler, one of the Wielinski family’s attorneys, asked Evans about 20 Buffalo Bisons jigsaw puzzles from the 1930s that Wielinski had purchased for $800 about a month before the crash and that he was working on when the plane plunged into his Long Street home.

Evans placed the market value for one of the Bisons puzzles at close to $500. “I have only owned one in my 40-plus career,” he said, adding that it was rare to see someone with a complete set.

He also testified about the breadth of the Wielinski collection, which contained what he called Americana including historical and pop culture items, based on the list of items he reviewed.

He said Wielinski had photos on tin, known as tintypes, of Civil War soldiers from the 1860s, including eight of an entire New York State regiment, with each of those worth about $1,000.

He said Wielinski paid $250 apiece for them. “He was a savvy buyer,” he said.

Evans said he saw no remnants of the tintypes in the boxes of debris.

Besides Wielinski, the crash killed all 49 people aboard the plane. More than 40 lawsuits were filed against the airlines. The families of the other victims reached confidential settlements. The Wielinski suits are the only ones to go to trial.