The 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner needs no introduction. With apologies to Mickey Mantle – and the recent hobby momentum gained by his 1952 Topps #311 – the coveted Wagner remains the Holy Grail of baseball cards. Just last week, a Wagner graded in PSA Good 2 condition sold at auction for $1,353,625. The online event, hosted by Mile High Card Company (MHCC), had its share of qualified bidders battling it out over 18 days when it finally culminated early Friday morning, Oct. 11. When all the dust settled, after 33 bids were placed, the Wagner card found a new owner. As is the norm, the lucky winner wishes to remain anonymous.
“I really wasn’t surprised by the result even though it was a world record price for the card [and its PSA grade],” said Brian Drent, owner of MHCC. “I really expected the card to perform to exceptional levels and it did not disappoint. As a firm, we are truly humbled by the price realized.”
There have been a total of 35 T206 Wagner cards graded by PSA, none higher than a single example that earned Near Mint-Mint 8 status. Legend has it that there could be another 30 or so Wagners yet to be found from its initial distribution more than 100 years ago. The lone PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 version of the card has rested with its proud owner, longtime Arizona Diamondbacks owner Earl G. “Ken” Kendrick, since he acquired it for $2.8 million in 2007. The PSA Good 2 card that just sold reflects the second sale of that particular example within the past six months. It sold privately in May for $1.2 million, so its continued ascent indicates that the market is ripe for Wagners and the buying audience is not bashful about paying for it.
The MHCC catalog description that accompanied the latest sale left nothing to the collector’s imagination: “The card exhibits heavy but consistent rounding of each corner, none of which are significantly out of step with the others as to rob the card of its visual aesthetics. The framing, specifically the side to side centering, is quite accurate and superior to several others that have been graded equally or even higher. Light creases run horizontally across the card, just below Wagner’s mouth, but they have little impact on the full majesty of the historic image, with the steely gaze of Wagner’s emotionless visage demanding your attention and preventing you from even noticing the imperfections for too long.”
According to the Sports Market Report (SMR) price guide, current prices for the sought-after Wagner vary greatly, but remain noteworthy in any condition. For instance, amongst the 35 examples graded by PSA, current market prices include: $550,000, Poor 1; $1 million, Good 2; $1.4 million, Very Good 3; $4 million, Very Good-Excellent 4; $5.25 million, Excellent 5; and $7.5 million (Near Mint-Mint 8).
The mystique and rarity behind the T206 Wagner remain its most ardent selling points. A shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the turn of the last century, Wagner – an eight-time National League batting champion – was said to be upset with his likeness being used within an American Tobacco Company (ATC) product. His refusal of the company’s request for permission to use his image led the ATC to end production of Wagner’s card almost as soon as it started. Despite the halt in distribution, it’s widely believed that as many as 60 copies of the card did make their way out inside cigarette packs.