No Honus Wagner card, no problem
Last Thursday evening, the online auction of what was the finest set of T206 baseball cards ever assembled ended with a triumphant bang. The collection, which included 520 of the 524 cards released between 1909 and 1911, was sold in individual lots through Heritage Auctions. Once all the dust settled, the final tally on the collection reached an astounding $8.1 million. Perhaps most remarkable of all was the fact that the record-breaking total was achieved without a single Honus Wagner card in the bunch.
According to Chris Ivy, director of Sports Auctions for Heritage: “This might have been the most significant trading card auction in history.”
The headline-grabbing sale is one thing; the painstaking acquisition of the rare cards through decades of collecting is something else entirely. Think about it: The T206 set was released more than 100 years ago and packed out inside small packs of American Tobacco Company products. The white-bordered cards, which measure 1-7/16” wide by 2-5/8” tall, were designed to fit inside the tiny packages they shared with cigarettes. The most popular of the 16 tobacco brands included Piedmont, Sweet Caporal, Old Mill and Sovereign.
But what’s most extraordinary is that within the consignor’s entire collection was only one card that dipped below PSA Near-Mint 7 in quality. In fact, 271 of the cards earned PSA Mint 9 grades and another 13 achieved PSA Gem Mint 10 status. Nicknamed “The Monster” based on its size and scarcity, the entire set has never had a single owner with all 524 cards. This collection, which boasted 99.24% of the original set, had earned the No. 1 ranking on the PSA Set Registry. Now the cards have new owners.
The highest price realized for an individual lot came via the always elusive Sweet Caporal 350/30 Eddie Plank card, which was graded Near Mint 7 and sold for a whopping $690,000. A southpaw who put up a career mark of 326-194, Plank’s popularity – like that of Wagner’s – rests largely on the card’s perceived scarcity. It has a PSA Population Report of just three with only one other card grading higher. Next up was a PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 Piedmont 150 Sherry Magee (“Magie” error) card, which sold for $660,000. The Magee is the highest graded PSA example of its kind known to exist. Rounding out the auction’s Top 3 highest selling cards was a PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 Old Mill Ty Cobb (Green Portrait) beauty that went for $360,000. The latter card has a PSA population report of just eight cards in NM-MT 8 condition with none higher.
Beyond the Wagner card, which – besides Arizona Diamondbacks’ owner Ken Kendrick’s NM-MT 8 example – is quite simply not available in better than PSA Excellent 5 condition, the other three cards that were not part of the offered set consisted of Larry Doyle “N.Y. Nat’l,” Mordecai Brown “Cubs Shirt” and Fielder Jones “Hands at Hip.”
Any way you slice it, the accumulation of 99.24% of the aged cards by one collector was extraordinary. Patience, determination and sufficient funds quickly come to mind.