In recent news Karl Kissner, from Ohio, found a Honus Wagner baseball card (not card above) along with a dozen other Hall of Famer baseball cards dating to the early 1900’s, in the attic of his grandpa’s house. They were expected to bring in a total of $500,000, but at auction this past week they sold for $566,132. Of course I’ve heard of Honus Wagner and the rarity of his baseball card before. But what caught my attention and the thrill is the Honus Wagner T206 baseball card, and why it’s worth so much. The cards Kissner found were part of the E98 series, that they are ranked a 9 or 10 for how great of condition they are in. With that being said this lucky discovery has been stated as the greatest find of baseball cards ever. So lets find out about Honus Wagner and why his baseball card is the most expensive in history. To Read the Kissner article click here.
A Brief History on Honus Wagner
Johannes Peter “Honus” Wagner Was born on February 24, 1874, to German immigrants in the Chartiers neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was called “Hons” by his mother, which later turned into “Honus” and was also picked up as his Major League nickname. He was one of nine children and dropped out of school at the age of twelve to help his family in the coal mines. In their spare time, the siblings would play sandlot baseball, this is where they tuned their skills. Honus and three of his other brothers went on to sign professional contracts in later years.
It all started for Honus because of his older brother Albert “Butts” Wagner. Butts convinced his baseball manager to take a look at Honus. In 1895 Albert had Honus play on his Inter-State League team, due to it needing help. Ed Barrow of the Atlantic League liked what he saw in H.Wagner and signed him. In the next couple of years Honus hit .313 and .375. With those high averages it would only be a matter of time until he broke into the Major Leagues. The following year Ed Barrows recommended Honus to the Louisville Colonels. In those days Honus was an oddly shaped individual that got him a lot of attention during his life. He was almost not signed due to his stature. He was known to be Bow legged, barrel chested, long limbed and hands there were gigantic. People thought he looked like an octopus. However he was signed, and and hit .330 for the remainder of the season for the Colonels.
The following season, Honus was known to be one of the elite hitters in the game, however he finished hitting .299. That year the National league was cut from 12 teams to 8. The Louisville Colonels was one of the teams that were eliminated and Honus was then owned by the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he spent the remainder of his career. In 1900 he went on to hit .380 and led the league in doubles (45), triples (22) and slugging percentage (.573) all were career highs. Honus hit .330 for many seasons to come, solidifying him as one of the greatest hitters if not the best of all time.
Honus went on to win 8 batting titles, he led the league in slugging percentage 6 times and stolen bases 5 times! Ty Cobb stated that he was the best player that anyone has ever seen during the dead ball era. Babe Ruth also mentioned that Honus Wagner was the best shortstop and hitter he had even seen, and at that point Honus was in his forties. That is pretty amazing coming from those two guys!
Honus Wagner retired in 1917 at the age of 45, he was the NL All Time hit leader with 3,418 hits. Until Stan Musial broke it 45 years later. He was one of the first five members elected into the Hall of Fame, and receiving the second highest vote behind Ty Cobb. Honus Wagner has gone down as the best all-around player of all time.
Career Stats Of Honus Wagner
The T206 Honus Wagner Baseball Card, “The grail of baseball cards.” (also shown at top of page)
This baseball card was produced by the American Tobacco Company in 1909-1911 under the T206 series. The card came with a white border and had the dimensions of 1 7/16″ in width and 2 5/8″ in height. They would use the cards as promotional pieces to go along with their cigarettes. When Wagner heard of this he put a stop to it immediately, either because he did not want kids to by cigarettes for his card, or he wanted to get compensated if they were going to use his card to make money. When the ATC ended production on the Honus Wagner baseball cards, there were only 60 to 200 cards made. Making it a very rare card. In 1933 the card was listed in the Jefferson Burdick’s – The American Card Catalog for $50. Making it the most expensive card at the time. In 1985 a small time card collector named Alan Ray sold his mint condition T206 Honus Wagner Baseball Card to Bill Mastro for $25,000. Bill then sold a different T206 Honus Wagner Baseball card from his personal collection to his friend Rob Lifson, telling him he could sell it for around $30,000. Rob that sold it to Barry Halper from New Jersey recently after for $30,000 to make a quick profit. In 1987 Bill Mastro sold his mint T206 Honus Wagner card for $110,000 to Jim Copeland. That transaction sparked a buzz among card holders and collecting nation wide. There was interest again in trading baseball cards.
In 1991, Jim Copeland went out to sell his entire card collection including the T206 Honus Wagner Baseball card . The auction was called “Copeland memorabilia collection of Important Baseball cards and Sports Memorabilia.” There were 800 collectors that showed up to purchase the various cards. When it was time for the T206 Honus Wagner Baseball card, the pre-auction estimate was at $114,000. When the auction was over the card went for a record setting $451,000. It went to the world known hockey player Wayne Gretzky, who bought it for an investment. Copeland ended up making around $5 million for his entire collection.
In 1995, Gretzky sold the card off to Wal-Mart and Treat Entertainment for $500,000. The two companies decided that they give the card away as a grand prize for a promotional contest. The card was passed around the United States to popularize the baseball market again. The winner was then announced on the Larry King Show on February 24, 1996. Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson pulled out the winning name from the drawing and it was Patricia Gibbs. Once Gibbs was verified, she found out that she could not afford the taxes on the famous card. She then cosigned the card with a famous auction house in New York. Once word got out that there would be another auction, the same man Michael Gidwitz who battled Gretzky in the previous bidding war, won it in auction for a total of $641,500.
Four years later on July 5th, 2000, Michael Gidwitz teamed up with ebay and Robert Edwards auctions to start a 10 day auction for the card. On July 15th the card was sold to Brian Seigel for $1.265 Million! In February 2007, Siegel sold the card to a private collector for $2.35 Million! Less than 6 months later the card was sold again for $2.8 Million.
There you have it, the popularity, collectors and this very rare card made it the most expensive in card in history. There are around 50 to 100 of the Wagner cards left. However, not one meets the great condition as the T206 Honus Wagner Baseball card that has passed through Gretzky’s hands. So check your grandpa’s attic you never know what treasures may be hiding up there.
This would be a great topic for econ 101, supply and demand.
- Matt Ingle