A look at the most valuable baseball card of all time, the Honus Wagner T206.
Nearly 200 Honus Wagner T206 cards were produced back in 1909 by the American Tobacco Company. Nobody could have imagined it would become the most expensive baseball card of all time. Honus Wagner, known as one of the greatest shortstops to ever play the game, was one of the first five players to be inducted into the baseball hall of fame. He’s part of a legendary crew along with side Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson, who were the other original members at Cooperstown. Wagner also takes the crown as the player on the most valuable baseball card of all time.
When the tobacco company decided to print cards featuring baseball players back in 1909, apparently, they didn’t approach Wagner beforehand for permission. When word got out that a collector card with his face would be distributed with the tobacco company name Wagner was not pleased. He ordered the company to halt all production of the card immediately. Some speculate that he was concerned with his image being tied to a tobacco product giving his young fans a wrong impression of him using tobacco products.
Others speculate that he was upset he was not sharing in the profit the company might make due to his card being distributed alongside the packs of tobacco. Whichever way the story played out, the company halted production of the Wagner card after only about 200 were produced. This is one of the significant reasons the Wagner card went on to become the most valuable baseball card.
Today only about 50 of those cards remain in existence. Of the 50 cards in circulation, there’s only a handful that has been examined and believed to be in the top condition. The ‘Jumbo’ is one of these few cards receiving a 5 out of 10 rating by the PSA baseball card grading company. Only three cards in existence received a 5 rating.
In October of 2016 the card sold at an auction for $3,120,000 making it the highest price ever paid for a baseball card.
The card is known as the “Jumbo” T206 because of its unusually large borders due to a miscut, which allows for a near-perfect card within the boundaries of the actual picture.
Goldin Auctions offered the card where the founder of the auction house Ken Goldin was quoted as saying, “serious collectors understand that every time a card like this is offered for auction, it may be the last time for a long time.” In 2016 baseball cards were experiencing a sort of comeback, “The excitement that the auction of a T206 Wagner generates, coupled with the current booming market for high-grade trading cards, creates the perfect storm for establishing a new standard for sports memorabilia.
With the tremendous increase in the value of key trading cards and the influx of new collectors, the market has been clamoring for a high-grade Wagner to come to market. We are pleased to offer one of the three highest graded examples and what many people consider the most desirable,” Goldin said of the upcoming offering. Previously the card had been sold again by Goldin Auctions in 2013 for $2.1 million.
Other T206 Intrigue
There’s another T206 that deserves some attention not only for its controversy but because the twists and turns of this particular card impact the value of the ‘T206 Jumbo’ and frankly all other T206 cards. This has become known over the years as the ‘Gretzky Wagner.’
In 1991 hockey legend Wayne Gretzky purchased a T206 Honus Wagner card at auction. The Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) company who grades all sports cards for their quality and authenticity, graded this particular Wagner card an 8 out of 10 or ‘near mint’ status. Later the card was proven to have been trimmed at the edges giving it a higher value. The PSA grader admitted he knew the card was altered when he gave the 8 out of 10 grade.
Since then, the card has been re-graded and does not receive the 8 score after the card has been proven to have been altered. The downgrading of the Gretzky Wagner now makes the Jumbo Wagner one of 3 highest rated cards with a 5 out of 10 score positively impacting it’s value once again.
ESPN did a 30 for 30 documentary on the Gretzky Wagner titled, “Holy Grail, the T206 Honus Wagner.” They give an excellent rundown of the controversy where the PSA graded the card at an 8 rating where later it was found to have been trimmed on the edges. Some argue the card is actually worth more having been altered because of the story and controversy behind the card itself.