T206 Honus Wagner
Baseball card issued 1909–1911 / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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The T206 Honus Wagner baseball card depicts the Pittsburgh Pirates' Honus Wagner, known as "The Flying Dutchman,” a dead-ball era baseball player who is widely considered to be one of the best players of all time. The card was designed and issued by the American Tobacco Company (ATC) from 1909 to 1911 as part of its T206 series. Wagner refused to allow production of his baseball card to continue, either because he did not want children to buy cigarette packs to get his card, or because he wanted more compensation from the ATC. The ATC ended production of the Wagner card, and a total of only 50 to 200 cards were ever distributed to the public (the exact number is unknown), as compared to the "tens or hundreds of thousands" of T206 cards, over three years in sixteen brands of cigarettes, for any other player. In 1933, the card was first listed at a price value of US$50 in Jefferson Burdick's The American Card Catalog (equivalent to $1,100 in 2022), making it the most expensive baseball card in the world at the time.
The most famous T206 Honus Wagner is the "Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner" card. The card's odd texture and shape led to speculation that it was altered. The Gretzky T206 Wagner was first sold by Alan Ray to a baseball memorabilia collector named Bill Mastro, who sold the card two years later to Jim Copeland for nearly four times the price he had originally paid. Copeland's sizable transaction revitalized interest in the sports memorabilia collection market. In 1991, Copeland sold the card to ice hockey figures Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall for $451,000. Gretzky resold the card four years later to Walmart and Treat Entertainment for $500,000 for use as the top prize in a promotional contest.
The next year, a Florida postal worker won the card and auctioned it at Christie's for $640,000 to collector Michael Gidwitz. In 2000, the card was sold via Robert Edward Auctions to card collector Brian Seigel for $1.27 million. In February 2007, Seigel sold the card privately to an anonymous collector for $2.35 million. Less than six months later, the card was sold to another anonymous collector for $2.8 million. In April 2011, that anonymous purchaser was revealed to be Ken Kendrick, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks. A different card, named the "Jumbo Wagner", was sold at auction again in 2016 for a record $3.12 million. These transactions have made the Wagner card the most valuable baseball card in history. However, this record was recently broken when a Mike Trout 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractors series rookie card with a card count of 1 sold in August 2020 for a record setting $3.93 million, and pushed further back by a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card that sold for $5.2 million in November 2020, making Wagner the third most valuable baseball card in the world. Another example sold for $6.6 million in August 2021, making it the most expensive sports card. That is, until August 2022 when another 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card sold for $12.6 million becoming the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia in history.
In October 2013, Bill Mastro, CEO of Mastro Auctions (the owner of Robert Edward Auctions) pleaded guilty to mail fraud in U.S. District Court and later admitted to the court that he had trimmed the "Gretzky" Wagner card to sharply increase its value.
Other T206 Wagners, both legitimate and fake, have surfaced in recent years. Some of the real cards have fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars in auctions. One particular T206 Honus Wagner owned by John Cobb and Ray Edwards has attracted media controversy over its authenticity.