The 1909 T-206 Honus Wagner card has been called the “Holy Grail” of sports memorabilia. There are between 50 and 100 in circulation, and a Wagner graded PSA 5 sold for more than $2.1 million at an auction during the spring of 2013.
A Wagner card that was once owned by hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky once sold for $2.8 million, but it was later discovered that the card edges had been trimmed by memorabilia dealer Bill Mastro, who admitted last year that he altered the card.
More than a century after it was issued, the Wagner card still creates a buzz.
So imagine the excitement when SCP Auctions announced that the California-based auction house had secured a collection of more than 3,500 T-206 cards for auction this fall — including the elusive Wagner. SCP had a display showing off the “Chesapeake Wagner” during all four days of the 35th Annual National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland last week.
This particular Wagner card derives its name from the collector who owns it. While SCP marketing manager Terry Melia did not reveal the collector’s exact location, he did concede that the individual “lives on Chesapeake Bay.”
Geography students will tell you that means either Virginia or Maryland.
Students of baseball cards will tell you that the Chesapeake Wagner is an exciting find.
“Unveiling a fresh T-206 Honus Wagner card is a dream scenario for any hobby professional,” SCP Auctions vice president Dan Imler said in a news release. “And to have it be a part of such an immense and diverse find of previously unknown T206s, makes this one of the most exciting tobacco card finds in recent years.”
Larry Tipton, a collector from Hilliard in north Florida, can attest to that excitement. He got to hold the card during the National.
“I was so nervous I didn’t even look at it,” said Tipton, a longtime vintage card collector who began assembling a T-206 collection in earnest about 18 months ago.
Tipton was looking at some of the other cards in the collection, including the rare Eddie Plank and Sherry Magee (misspelled as “Magie”) specimens.
“A guy from Forbes magazine was asking about the card and wanted to get a picture of it,” Tipton said. “The kid behind the counter went and got the manager. The manager laid it on the counter and let me see it.
“I then asked if I could hold the card and he let me.”
Tipton had his picture taken with the card.
SCP had the card graded on site at the National, and it came back as a PSA 1. In addition to many creases on the front of the card, the back had an ink mark on it. Don’t be fooled by the card’s imperfections. When SCP conducts its Fall 2014 Premier auction from Nov. 19 through Dec. 6, look for it to fetch six figures. Easily.
In addition to the Wagner, Plank and Magee cards, the collection included cards of Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young and Walter Johnson. In its news release, SCP noted that there were “more than 50 different” Cobb cards, along with “rare backs and print variations.”
So far, only the Wagner card has been graded. But Melia said plenty of the other cards will be “very shortly.”
The collection “was really quite impressive,” Chicago-based collector Gary Mandell said, “including seeing my second Wagner up close.”
Mandell saw his first Wagner card several years ago in Chicago, also at an NSCC event.
“I believe it was the one Gretzky sold,” he said.
The Chesapeake Wagner is a nice, fresh rarity to discuss as SCP’s fall auction approaches.
“It’s not often you find a Wagner card that hasn’t been previously shared with the hobby,” Melia said. “We are extremely excited by its potential at auction.”