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When Florida physician Thomas Newman died of COVID-19, he left his family a huge legacy – a collection of sports cards worth some US$20-million, including a Babe Ruth card that could set a new world record.

It was love, not money, that drove Mr. Newman when he started his collection some 40 years ago, travelling the United States to trade at conventions and storing his cards in a safe at his Tampa home.

A 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth baseball card from the collection of Dr. Thomas Newman, in an undated photo ahead of an online auction by Memory Lane Auctions.

MEMORY LANE, INC/Reuters

“He loved his paper babies,” said his widow, Nancy Newman. “He got such joy out of it.”

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Mr. Newman, who died in January at the age of 73, kept the collection of more than 1,000 vintage and modern baseball, football and hockey trading cards mostly private outside his immediate family and friends.

It will be shared with the world at an online auction at California-based Memory Lane from June 21-July 10.

“It is cool for his legacy that he put 40 years into collecting and he is getting the recognition that was probably overdue,” said his son Stewart Newman.

The jewel in the crown is a 1933 Babe Ruth card that auctioneers believe could break the US$5.2-million world record price that was set in January for any single sports card.

It is the only Mint 9 condition Babe Ruth card of its kind that is known to exist and comes to auction at a time when prices for sports trading cards have exploded. The condition of cards is ranked on a 1-10 scale, so a 9 is near perfect.

Mr. Newman acquired the Babe Ruth card some 15-20 years ago from a dealer at a fraction of its current worth and turned down hundreds of offers to sell it over the years, his son said.

Other highlights are a 1916 Babe Ruth Sporting News rookie card, and a near-perfect 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card that is expected to sell for about US$1-million.

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“There are some amazing one-of-a-kind pieces that we, as a company who have been doing this over 20 years, have never seen before,” said JP Cohen, president of Memory Lane Auctions in Tustin.

Mr. Newman, who worked as a neurologist, began collecting as a boy but his mom threw out his cards when he left for college.

He started again in the 1980s, visiting sports collectors conventions around the country, often with his son.

“I remember it was hard getting my dad away so I could even just have some lunch or something,” Stewart Newman said.

Thomas Newman and his family had a rough idea about the value of his collection but prices have soared over the past few years, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

“He would want it to be an investment for the family’s future,” Ms. Newman said of the decision to part with the memorabilia.

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“He would probably love this. He wouldn’t have asked for it, he wouldn’t have brought attention to himself … [but] I am sure he is looking down and is very happy with what’s happening with the collection,” she said.

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