If I was to sum up the Honus Wagner T206 baseball card as succinctly as possible, all I’d say is this: $3.25 million.
Anybody but a baseball card enthusiast might be asking “why so much?”. How could a measly piece of cardboard with some guy’s face on it be worth a literal fortune?
Got a few minutes? Let me explain.
What is the Honus Wagner T206 card?
The Honus Wagner T206 is a baseball card featuring Honus Wagner, a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates who was also known as The Flying Dutchman.
The American Tobacco Company produced the T206 set between 1909 and 1911. The set is also called the “White Border Series”, and was a promotional tool for cigarettes and loose tobacco.
How far baseball cards have come: from novelty promotions in packs of smokes to multi-million dollar investments.
The card’s dimensions are 2 5/8 inches by 1 7/16 inches. The Honus Wagner T206 is smaller than the trading cards of the modern era.
The card shows Wagner in a grey Pittsburgh uniform with a floppy blue collar. Wagner appears to look slightly to the side of the camera with a blank look on his face.
An orange background contrasts Wagner’s milky skin, which is rosy around the cheeks. A white border contains “Wagner, Pittsburg” at the bottom.
There is no fancy business to this card unless you count Wagner’s uniform collar. It’s a tangible testament of baseball cards‘ humble beginnings.
Why is the Honus Wagner T206 so valuable?
The Honus Wagner T206 has several things going for it, including:
- That Honus Wagner, despite being lesser-known among casual fans, was one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame
- The rarity of the card, which is due in part to Wagner (a non-smoker) demanding that his card be removed from the cigarette packs that they were sold in during that era
- Its age, as finding cards from 1909 in the acceptable condition is difficult
Honus Wagner’s T206 is the most in-demand card in the most popular set of the pre-war era. Collectors who want to complete a T206 set might pay a premium for this card.
Wagner’s push to take his card out of production makes it particularly rare. Some say that Wagner did not want American Tobacco to profit from his likeness.
Others believe Wagner had a problem with his image being so closely associated with cigarettes, despite him being a known tobacco chewer.
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Grassroots demand for the Honus Wagner T206 has morphed into something more. The card now has iconic status in collecting circles. The status alone is worth a pretty penny.
How much is the Honus Wagner T206 worth?
As previously mentioned, the most expensive Honus Wagner T206 sold to date is worth $3.25 million. The previous record sale for the card was $3.12 million.
Even poorly-graded Honus Wagner T206s command a fortunate. A copy with a PSA grade of 1 (the lowest grade) fetched more than $1.4 million in 2020.
There are several reprints and imitations of this card. However, legitimate Honus Wagners from the original T206 set is million-plus dollar assets.
How many Honus Wagner cards are left in the world?
While the American Tobacco Company printed tens of thousands of copies of other players’ cards from the T206 set, Wagner’s demand to halt production makes his card exceptionally rare.[irp posts=”15397″ name=”10 Most Valuable T206 Baseball Cards (Updated)”]
According to PSA, there is only one known Near Mint-Mint copy of the Honus Wagner T206. This is the highest grade that the card has received, making it the most in-demand copy.
PSA provides scores for 36 Honus Wagner T206 cards. The majority of those cards have a PSA grade of 2 or less, showing why collectors have paid so much for the Mint-Near Mint copy.
What are the most well-known Honus Wagner cards?
The Gretzky Wagner
Celebrities and the uber-wealthy have taken a liking to Honus Wagner.
Wayne Gretzky is one of the celebrities to invest in the iconic Honus Wagner T206. In 1991, Gretzky purchased the card for $451,000 through a Sotheby’s auction in New York City.
At the time, the price tag was four times higher than any other sports memorabilia sale in history. Interestingly, a Honus Wagner T206 had set the previous record.
Gretzky and co-owner Bruce McNall would sell the card in 1995 for a slight return. However, the card has garnered its fair share of controversy.
Bill Mastro, one of the earliest owners of the Gretzky Wagner, has admitted to trimming the edges of the card to improve its appearance and grade.
Related: Best Wayne Gretzky Rookie Cards
Arizona Diamondback’s owner Ken Kendrick paid $2.8 million for the Gretzky Wagner in 2007. He did so before Mastro confirmed the trimming of the card.
Despite the trimming revelations, Kendrick has reportedly turned down offers of at least $10 million for the card.
Charlie Sheen Wagner
Another celebrity owner of the Honus Wagner T206: Wild Thing himself, Charlie Sheen.
He was one of the stars of the Major League film franchise. Sheen is also a real-life baseball fan, though he roots for the other MLB franchise from Ohio, the Cincinnati Reds.
Fittingly for Sheen, his Honus Wagner T206 comes with quite a story.
Sheen lent out his 1910 Wagner, along with other valuable cards, to a celebrity-affiliated sports bar in New York called the Official All-Star Cafe.
“The bar had no alarms or any sort of robust security system. The case that held the card didn’t even have a lock. Naturally, All-Star Cafe employees stole the card.”
The FBI eventually recovered Sheen’s Wagner T206, and the card took on yet another grain of folklore-ness.
The Charlie Sheen Wagner (also known as the All-Star Cafe Wagner) has a PSA grade of 5. It sold for $1.32 million in 2015.
Its value is significantly higher today judging by sale prices for lesser-graded cards. Cards that were not owned by Charlie Sheen or involved in elaborate heists, mind you.
The Jumbo Wagner is named for an additional border on the bottom edge of the card. The additional 1/16th of an inch makes it a “jumbo” copy of the Honus Wagner T206.[irp posts=”5514″ name=”12 Most Expensive Baseball Cards 1970’s (Superior Investments)”]
Even with this imperfect cut, the card carries a PSA grade of 5. Aside from the Gretzky Wagner (which is intentionally altered), this is the cream of the crop for Wagners.
The Jumbo Wagner sold in 2015 for $3.12 million, a then-record price for all trading cards.
There’s no celebrity robbery storyline with this card, but that hasn’t hurt its massive value among collectors and investors.
The Wagner at The Met
The Met, more formally known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is home to a Honus Wagner T206. This card isn’t just memorabilia, it’s art.
The card is part of the Baseball at The Met exhibit, composed largely of cards from Jefferson R. Burdick’s collection.
Burdick’s life work was collecting baseball cards and other unique items. He has been dubbed “the father of card collectors”.
The Met’s Honus Wagner T206 is “the most magnificent card in the collection” held at The Met. Don’t plan on it hitting the auction market any time soon.
Wagner-related viewing: 30 for 30 Shorts – Holy Grail: The T206 Honus Wagner
ESPN’s 30 for 30 series is one of the most beloved programs by sports enthusiasts. If you haven’t already, check out Holy Grail: The T206 Honus Wagner.
Just short of 15 minutes, the documentary short focuses specifically on Gretzky Wagner.
If you’re wondering how a card that has been altered could continue to explode in value, this 30 for 30 Short is worth your time.
“The directors test the idea that “no matter what was done or not done to “The Card,” its value really does lie in the eye of the beholder.”
Nick and Colin Barnicle direct the short, which ESPN released in 2013.
Honus Wagners Cards Found:
If someone tells you that they own a Honus Wagner T206, you’ll inevitably want to know where, and how, they got it.
Over century-plus that the Honus Wagner T206 has been in circulation, we’ve heard some wild stories about how owners have come to own their card.
Let’s look at some of the coolest and most unbelievable discovery stories about the Honus Wagner T206.
Nuns sell Honus Wagner T206 for charity
It turns out that it pays to pray.
A group of Baltimore-based nuns received a legit Wagner T206 from a deceased nun’s brother when he passed away. A Honus Wagner T206. At no cost.
The donor had held the card since 1936, so the collecting community was completely unaware that it existed.
The nuns, led by Sister Virginia Muller, sold the card for $262,000 in 2010. In true nun fashion, they donated all proceeds to their ministries across the world.
A Honus in the Basement
When you buy a house, you know it comes with the walls, pipes, roof, and maybe some furniture if you’re lucky.
But what if you also discovered a rare Honus Wagner T206 in the recesses of your new (or old) home?
That’s what happened in Oceanside, New York in 2008. It was not the first time that the card had been discovered by an unsuspecting new owner.
In the early 1990s, Keith Pearsall discovered the card as he was moving a desk that belonged to his grandfather. An entire pack of T206 cards fell out, Wagner’s card included.
That card was apparently forgotten and left in the Oceanside basement until its re-discovery in 2008. It received a PSA grade of 3 and is considered a million-plus dollar card.
It feels like time to clean out your basement, doesn’t it?
What’s in your wallet?
In 2003, Leland’s advertised a “newly discovered” Honus Wagner T206. The way that the card had been kept safe seems highly unlikely, if not miraculous.
“The card’s owner had kept the T206 Wagner in his wallet for two decades between the 1920s and 1940s.”
Once he realized that it was a valuable keepsake, he and his family preserved it for future sale. It was passed through family generations until Leland’s sold it for about $64,000 in 2003.
What’s in your wallet? We’re going to guess that you don’t have a Honus Wagner T206, but why don’t you take a look just in case?
Honus Wagner Tobacco Baseball Card: Recap and Investment Outlook
The Honus Wagner T206 is a once-in-a-lifetime card. Even more, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime investment.
Investment Rating: Strong Buy (5 out of 5)
Ownership Disclosure: None
You’ll be hard-pressed to find another card that sells for more than $1 million in its poorest graded condition. With only 60 or so cards in existence, investors must pay big for the Honus Wagner T206.
The investment outlook for this card is extremely bright—perhaps brighter than any other card, all players and sports included.
Unless you stumble upon an undiscovered Honus Wagner T206 in a basement or attic, you’re going to have to pay the sky-high (million-plus) price of ownership. If you can afford that price, then you may also see a sizable return.
To invest or not to invest? The Honus is on you.
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