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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 10/31/2021

Every hobby has its ultimate prize, something so rare and beautiful that every collector dreams of owning their own example. Numismatists pursue the 1804 Silver Dollar; philatelists have the “Inverted Jenny” 24 cent air mail and comic book connoisseurs seek the Action Comics #1. For card collectors, that ultimate prize is the T206 Honus Wagner.

And like the other hobby’s most desirable prizes, the T206 Wagner comes with its own tantalizing back story. According to legend, Honus Wagner refused to allow his image to be used to promote tobacco products. The actual story is a bit more complicated. When the American Tobacco Company set about creating their baseball card set in January 1909, the company sent out representatives to secure permission from the game’s top players. Virtually everyone who was anyone in baseball ultimately appeared in the set, which would top out at over 500 players. However, Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner, the best shortstop in the game, was not one of them. According to an October 12, 1912, article in The Sporting News, Wagner was approached by John Gruber, a Pittsburgh sportswriter hired by ATC to secure the player’s permission to appear in their set. Wagner wrote a letter to Gruber stating he, “did not care to have his picture in a package of cigarettes.” The exact reasons have been lost to time. Some say he did not want children to buy cigarettes to obtain his baseball card. Another explanation is that Wagner did not think he was being paid enough for the rights to use his image. Whatever his reason, Wagner did give Gruber a check for $10 to compensate him for the commission he would have received had he been successful in securing the Pirates star.

From here the legend picks up speed. ATC had actually begun production of the Honus Wagner card before the ballplayer’s consent was secured. The pose used for the card is a stately portrait of Wagner based on a Carl Horner photograph taken around 1902. ATC’s artist added the striking orange background which compliments the grey flannel jersey Wagner wears, in the process creating the most striking image of the future Hall of Famer ever rendered. Looking at the rest of the 500-plus cards in the set, it becomes obvious that the Wagner has the most eye appeal. But despite its visual allure, the card would never be released to the general public. Once it became known no permission was forthcoming, the card was removed from circulation – however some had already slipped into circulation. How many, no one knows; some say 50, others upwards of 75. Whatever the number, once collectors realized the scarcity of the Wagner card, it became the hobby’s “Holy Grail.”

The exact number of T206 Wagner’s in the hobby today is not known, but the common estimate is around 60. Besides the PSA NM-MT 8 (in)famous “Gretzky Wagner,” most of the surviving examples are in poor to good condition, with substantial creasing or other physical imperfections. This example, too, once suffered from a surface crease which detracted from the beauty of the card. Because the hand-cut white border already present on the card precluded it from receiving any grade other than “Authentic,” its owner made the decision to have the card professionally restored to improve the card’s eye appeal. The result is stunning. Without the previous crease, the Wagner portrait once again becomes the star. A SGC Authentic example that had the back practically falling apart fetched $2.5 million on May 1, 2021 so we anticipate a seven-figure result on the offered specimen.

The card has been encapsulated by PSA and given the grade of “AUTHENTIC RESTORED,” a designation instituted by PSA for use on higher end vintage treasures such as the Wagner. And a treasure is exactly what this card is.  

Current Bidding (Reserve Has Been Met)
Minimum Bid: $200,000
Final prices include buyers premium.: $1,102,806
Number Bids:12
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