A private sale of the legendary 1909 T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card is the first sports memorabilia transaction of 2019 to surpass $1 million. The card commanded $1.2 million in a private collector-to-collector dealing handled by SCP Auctions.
Honus Wagner Brings $1,000,000+
A different T206 Honus Wagner, in better condition, holds the record for most expensive sports card of all time, selling in 2016 for $3.12 million. That card was graded by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) as an ‘excellent 5’ (on a scale of 1-10) with the qualifier that the card had been miscut upon its original printing production.
The Memorial Day sale’s card was graded a ‘good 2.’ An estimated 50 T206 Honus Wagner cards exist, and, according to the PSA, PSA has graded 34 of them. The highest grade received has been an 8 with two 5s being the next-highest.
The T206 set is one of the most famous sets in the collecting world. Designated T206 by Jefferson Burdick, the forefather of card cataloging, the ‘T” denotes the card was issued alongside a tobacco product. Issued by American Tobacco Company, it contains 524 different players, including many players multiple times and 38 Hall of Famers. Ty Cobb had four different cards, and Cy Young had three, but Wagner, a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, had only one.
Wagner’s T206 card has likely been the most valuable card from the time it was first produced. This is due to its rarity. The reason has confounded collectors and researchers alike for decades. Many attribute the scarcity to Wagner’s anti-tobacco stance. However, this theory has likely been disproven, as Wagner has appeared on a multitude of tobacco advertising paraphernalia. For example, a 1948 card depicts Wagner, at that point a coach, with a tobacco product. A much more likely explanation is that Wagner and American Tobacco did not reach a suitable agreement regarding the financial compensation for use of his likeness.
Frequently regarded as one of, if not the best, shortstops of all time, Wagner had quite the career. He entered professional baseball with the Louisville Colonels in 1897. In 1900, Wagner joined the Pittsburgh Pirates and remained there for 18 years — the rest of his career. With Pittsburgh, Wagner was an eight-time batting champion who also led the league four times in RBI and five times in stolen bases. In 1909, Pittsburgh won the World Series, defeating the Detroit Tigers in seven games. Wagner’s 1909 salary of $10,000 was the highest of its time. He was voted into the Hall of Fame with 95.13% of the vote — the same percentage as Babe Ruth.
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