A rare 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card, of just a handful still in existence, was auctioned off last week, fetching $1.2 million from a New Jersey collector.
According to the Associated Press, the VG-3 graded T206 Wagner card was sold in an online auction last Friday (April 20), garnering interest from many potential buyers who never even owned a card before, the sale organizer said.
Bill Goodwin, the St. Louis collectibles dealer who ran the auction, said 14 bids were made since the auction begin last month. And the winner’s was the highest, obviously.
The buyer is still unknown, but is based in New Jersey. The seller, a Houston businessman, wishes to remain anonymous.
Wagner was a member of the first class of Hall of Fame inductees. He was a shortstop, nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman,” and spent most of his 21-year career (1897 to 1917) with the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning eight batting titles and hitting a career .327.
Known as the most famous card of all-time. It boasts a 2½- by 1½-inch demension, and was released in cigarette packs sold by the American Tobacco Co. from 1909 to 1911. Although Baseball Hall of Famers such as Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, and Christy Mathewson were also featured in the set, Wagner’s card is the rarest.
Why? Well, Wagner called for his card to be pulled from the set for either one of two reasons (as widely reported): he did not want to encourage smoking, especially among children; or because he wanted more compensation.
In all, it’s estimated that just 60 to 200 cards were ever distributed to the public. Today, it’s believed that about 60 still exist, many of which are in very poor condition. In 1933, the card was first listed at a price value of $50 in Jefferson Burdick’s The American Card Catalog, making it the most expensive baseball card in the world at the time.
Based on a rating system by Sportscard Guarantee Corp., the quality of the card Goodwin auctioned was better than all but five of the Wagner cards in existence.
Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick paid a record $2.8 million for the highest-graded Wagner card in existence in 2011.
Bill Shelton, who worked with Goodwin, told the AP that their auction suggests that people beyond sports memorabilia collectors are becoming interested in baseball cards. He said the winning bidder “came in completely off the radar,” later adding that a lot of those who expressed interest in the card had never owned a baseball card.
“A lot of people were talking about investment and return on investment,” Shelton said. “I think people are starting to see these high-end cards in the same terms as art and antiques.”
Due to the success of his current auction, which included other rare cards that fetched bids higher than expectations, Goodwin is already planning his next auction.
His next one will include a complete set of 200 baseball cards distributed through the Famous-Barr department store chain in 1916. The cards, including a Babe Ruth rookie card showing the baseball legend as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, and one featuring Jim Thorpe during his brief time as a ballplayer, will be sold individually.
Goodwin believes the Ruth card could bring up to $75,000. That auction begins in June.