The Honus Wagner T206 – The World's Most Valuable Baseball Card
Honus Wagner was the finest baseball player of his era. So it was no surprise that the American Tobacco Company (ATC) put him in their series of baseball cards. Wagner, on the other hand, observed to the use of his image. This disaggregation led to the his card becoming the most valuable baseball card in the world.
At the turn of the 20th century the ATC had a monopoly over America's tobacco industry. This all changed with Theodore Roosevelt's anti-monopoly legislation. The ATC found itself competitive with other producers and introduced the T206 series of baseball cards in 1909.
As the largest star in baseball at the time, the ATC naturally asked for permission to use his image. Wagner declined. His refusal is usually put down to him not wanting to encourage children to smoke. However, he himself was an enthusiastic chewer of tobacco and had promoted tobacco products earlier in his career. Others suggest that Wagner turned down the offer for financial reasons.
Whatever the reason for his refusal, the ATC were forced to stop production of his card. No one knows for sure how many Honus Wagner cards were produced before production was halted. But the highest estimate is 200. One of these cards in particular became famous.
The first major auction of a T206 Honus Wagner card occurred at Sotheby's in 1991. The card was the finest quality HONUS Wagner card in the world and was initially estimated at $ 114,000. But a bidding war ensued between two collectors (Mike Gidwitz and Mark Friedland) and an anonymous phone bidder. After a lengthy auction, the phone bidder triumphed with a bid of $ 451,000. The phone bidder turned out to be legendary ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky and the card then became known as the Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner Card.
In 1995, after Gretzky's financial backer was interrogated for fraud, the card was sold for half a million dollars to Treat Entertainment and Wal-Mart. They had purchased the card to give a way in a competition to promote their line of baseball cards. The winner, unsurprisingly, immediately put the card back up for auction at Christie's. The card was bought for $ 641,500 by Michael Gidwitz (one of the bidders in the 1991 auction). Gidwitz put the card up for auction once again in 2000. This time, however, he did not use a major auction house, but eBay. This proved to be a profitable decision as the card sold for $ 1.265 million (almost double what Gidwitz paid for it).
Since then, it has been announced that the card has been sold twice more in more secret agreements. The last value being $ 2.8 million.
Other Honus Wagner T206 cards have been sold but, as they do not have the same fame as the Gretzky, have not reached that much value (less that half a million dollars). Still, if you have some old baseball cards in the attic, it's worth checking to see if you have one of those missing Honus Wagner T206 cards.