The famous T206 Honus Wagner card has become the baseball card to own because it's one of the rarest collector's items. On Sunday, one of the few remaining sold for $1.32 million at Robert Edward Auctions.
Chris Olds of Beckett.com reported that after 42 bids, the winning bid was for $1.1 million, which "excludes a 20 percent buyer's premium that raised the sale to $1.32 million."
Baseball cards have been collector's items for as long as they have been around, but the T206 Wagner stands above the rest because of its unique backstory.
There were only a couple hundred T206 Wagners made during the card's production run (1909 through 1911) because he either didn't like the company producing it and the marketing around it or wanted more money for his likeness, according to ESPN.com's Darren Rovell. Rovell outlined the history of the item in April 2013, when one of the cards sold for $2.1 million:
Legend has it that fewer than 200 cards of the Hall of Fame shortstop were produced because Wagner was not happy with the card's producer the American Tobacco Company and the smoking message it sent to children. Wagner, however, smoked and endorsed cigars, leading some to believe he was merely upset with not being paid for his image.
Given Wagner's status as one of the best baseball players in history and that there were so few cards produced, it's not hard to figure out why the T206 always commands such attention from collectors with a lot of money.
Despite the latest price tag, it's far from the highest total someone has paid for the card. In addition to the $2.1 million Wagner's card fetched in April 2013, Craig Harris of The Arizona Republic wrote in April 2010 that Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick bought a version of it for $2.8 million.
It's surprising this version sold for just $1.3 million because the Robert Edwards Auctions website notes it's one of the highest graded among those in existence:
This is a particularly strong T206 Wagner that far exceeds the condition and visual appeal usually found with T206 Wagners. This is very easily seen just by looking at the card, but it is further confirmed when one evaluates the known T206 Wagner population as documented by the PSA and SGC population reports. The offered card is one of only four examples graded at this level by PSA with three additional VG examples graded by SGC.
Wagner was a member of the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame Class in 1936, along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Babe Ruth. He played 21 years, 18 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and three with the Louisville Colonels.
Despite playing virtually all of his career from 1897 through 1917 in the dead-ball era, which ran from 1901 to 1920, Wagner was an offensive monster. He had 3,420 career hits with a .328/.391/.467 slash line and led the league in total bases six times.
Wagner's card certainly comes with a hefty price attached, but it's also fascinating to trace its evolution. For whatever reason the Hall of Famer didn't want more cards produced, it turned out to be a genius marketing strategy that he wouldn't be able to take advantage of.
Collectors continue to drop huge sums of money on the T206 Wagner and are likely to keep doing so as long as people are willing to sell the card.