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On Feb. 24, 143 years ago in 1874, baseball legend Honus Wagner was born.
Wagner had a storied baseball career that lasted 21 years, including three years with the Louisville Colonels and 18 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, primarily playing at shortstop.
Over the course of his career he finished with a 328/391/467 batting line, and a 131 WAR. Routinely leading the National League in many batting categories each year, Wagner was easily voted into the Hall of Fame the first year elections were held in 1936, and he is often considered to be the best shortstop in the history of the game.
While Wagner’s storied career on the field was definitely legendary, there is something else that is special about him in the world of baseball – Honus Wagner’s face and name is found on the most expensive sports card in history.
The T206 Honus Wagner baseball card was issued in the T206 series by the American Tobacco Company (that’s right, a time when tobacco companies were the leading distributors of baseball cards).
What makes the Honus Wagner T206 card so special is its scarcity. It is estimated that only 50-200 cards were distributed, because as legend says, Wagner refused to have production continued because he did not like that children would have to buy cigarettes in order to obtain his card.
It is this incredibly low scarcity and the old age of the card that makes it so expensive. On Oct. 1, 2016, a Honus Wagner T206 PSA 5 card was auctioned for an astounding $3.12 million.
Because of the high price point of the T206 Honus Wagner, many fakes have recently surfaced, along with controversies about alterations performed to increase the card’s grade.
The most famous example is the “Gretzky Honus Wager T206.” This particular example was the card that really set the stage for the high profile card market. It was held by numerous individuals over the last few decades (including Wayne Gretzky), and would sell for over a $1 million in 2000.
In 2013, a former owner of the card was charged for altering the appearance of the card, including trimming the edges to improve centering, and removing discoloration and fraying of the edges.
The Honus Wagner T206 is a fascinating piece of history, and highlights many of the unique challenges that come with dealing with high value cards that are old and scarce. It is also a testament to the care and effort that some individuals have put in to preserve these pieces of history, and to professionals who authenticate and grade the cards.
It’s a mystery when the next sale of the Honus Wagner T206 will happen, and how high the selling price will be. What you can be guaranteed of is that whenever it happens, it will make news.