For years, the 1909 T206 Honus Wagner has been the most famous cards in the hobby. Now, it’s once again the most expensive ever sold.
One of the rare Honus Wagner baseball cards — you know the one — graded in “very good” condition and sold on Monday for $6.606 million, making it the most expensive sports card ever sold. The final sum blows past the previous recorded all-time mark of $5.2 million.
The final price includes a 20% buyer’s premium and the card received a grade of 3 from Sportscard Guaranty Corporation (SGC), higher than what’s been typically seen for this specific card over the years The precise distribution history of what’s known as the 1909 T206 Wagner is unclear, but only about 60 such cards are confirmed to exist according to Robert Edward Auctions president Brian Dwyer, who brokered the deal.
As a condition of the transaction going final, the identity of the buyer is anonymous.
The exorbitant price tag surpasses a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle and an Upper Deck LeBron James Exquisite Rookie Patch Autograph card, both of which went for $5.2 million. As noted by Darren Rovell of The Action Network, four of the top 10 most expensive cards ever sold are editions of the T206 Wagner.
In fact, the T206 Wagner has a more impressive history of jaw-dropping sales than any other card in the hobby — and it’s not even close. The first known valuation of the card comes from 1939, when the United States Card Collector Catalog placed it at $50, or about $982 today. Collector Bill Mastro bought one in 1985 for $25,000, and that became the most controversial T206 around. He later pled guilty to mail fraud for altering the edges of the card in an attempt to increase its value.
Mastro sold that card in 1987 for $110,000.
The card was later sold to NHL icon Wayne Gretzky for $451,000, who flipped it for $500,000 a few years later. The “Gretzky Wagner” went for $1.27 million in 2000, and since then, the sale prices for all T206 Wagners have skyrocketed. Million-dollar transactions include:
Why The Price Tag?
The Wagner card comes from the T206 set, which was a series of tobacco cards issued from 1909-11. But as Dwyer noted, fewer than 100 are confirmed to exist. There are several theories as to why that is — each adding to the card’s legend.
The leading theory has persisted for over a century and states that Wagner objected to his likeness being associated with cigarettes. While that theory may be commonly accepted, ESPN points out that Wagner was known as a major figure in the early days of brand and product endorsements in sports, striking deals with companies ranging from soft drinks to gunpowder.
Another possibility? That Wagner simply wanted more money from the American Tobacco Company for use of his image.
In any event, the ATC halted production on the card for the future Hall of Famer who would lead the National League in batting eight times, accumulate 3,420 hits, win a World Series, and played well into his 40s.
And while he may have played his last professional game in 1917, his legend lives on into the 21st century as powerfully as ever.