The Honus Wagner T206 is considered by collectors to be the "Holy Grail" or "Mona Lisa" of all baseball cards. There are only 50 to 60 believed to be in existence and the card has broken a number of records including:
- First baseball card to be professional graded by the PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator). The card shown on the left is marked #00000001
- First baseball card to sell for over $1 million
- Highest priced baseball card available, currently valued at $2.8 million
Here is a history as to how the Honus Wagner T206 PSA 8 came to be worth so much money.
Summary: Honus Wagner T206 Price History
- 1930: $50
- 1985: $25,000
- 1987: $110,000
- 1991: $451,000
- 1995: $500,000
- 1996: $641,500
- 2000: $1,265,000
- Feb 2007: $2.35 Mil
- Sept 2007: $2.80 Mil
In the 1930s, according to baseball card catalogues, the Honus Wagner T206 cards were listed at a value of $50. Other T206 cards were valued at 35 cents making the Wagners a premium. Nobody, however, could have predicted that the card would come to be worth millions over 70 years later.
Alan Ray and Bill Mastro
The Honus Wagner T206 made its first appearance in the modern world of sports card collecting in 1985 when Alan Ray, a small time card collector, went to see Bob Sevchuk who owned a New York based sports memorabilia store where Ray was a regular customer.
Ray was hoping to sell his Honus Wagner T206 for $25,000 to Sevchuk. Bill Mastro, another sports memorabilia store owner and future founder of Mastro Auctions, caught wind of the card's availability and expressed an interest in buying it. He drove to Sevchuk's store and agreed to buy the card from Ray but only if he threw in the other 50 to 75 T206's that Ray had brought along as well. Ray made the deal, later saying "I had a money situation. I had to sell the card"
The origins of the card still remain a mystery and have never been disclosed. Ray has only said in 2001 that he received the card from a relative, whose name he did not divulge.
In 1987, Mastro contacted Jim Copeland, a sporting goods chain owner in California, and sold him the card for $110,000, realizing a $85,000 profit in under two years. "I called from the airport in California," Mastro says, "and ordered a Mercedes Benz."
The sale sparked a renewed interest in baseball card collecting and created an incentive for people to find and sell their cards from the T206 series.
Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall
In 1991, Copeland decided that he wanted to sell his collection of 873 pieces in a single sale. He contacted Mastro to help him sell the card. Mastro contacted Sotheby's, one of the most well known auction house in the world, to arrange the sale. Over 800 collectors showed up and the Honus Wagner T206 was expected to go for $114,000 according to pre-auction estimates.
Within minutes of opening the card soared past $228,000, double the original pre-auction estimate. There were three bidders for the card: Mike Gidwitz, Mark Friedland, and an unknown phone bidder. Gidwitz dropped out when the price hit $300,000. Friedland pursued and found that with each successive price increase he made, the anonymous phone bidder would further raise $5,000 or $10,000. Friedland finally called it off when the price hit $410,000. Sotheby's took at 10% buyer's premium on the value of the card so the final sales price was $451,000.
It was later discovered that the anonymous phone bidder was none other than NHL hockey great Wayne Gretzky who bid on the card with the financial support of Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall. Mastro continued to work for Sotheby's for the next 5 years to facilitate the sale of expensive sports memorabilia and thereby establishing himself as the expert in the industry.
Gretzky, not known at the time for being a card collector, thought it would make a good investment and that "the market would remain strong. Still, my dad told me I was an idiot for paying $450,000 for a baseball card." According to his co-owner McNall, "If you buy something that is absolutely the best in the world, you'd be okay because there is always another buyer for something at the top end."
The record-setting purchase made headlines and the card quickly became known as the "Gretzky T206 Wagner." To validate its authenticity, the Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) chose the card to be the first that it would grade. The card received a PSA 8 - NM-MT (near mind to mint), the highest grade so far awarded to a Honus Wagner T206 baseball card. PSA President David Hall called it "superb" and a "fantastic card in every way."
Wal-Mart and Patricia Gibbs
Shortly after the PSA graded the Honus Wagner T206, Bruce McNall became the subject of a federal investigation for fraud. He was later charged in 1994 for defrauding 6 banks of more than $236 million. With his partner off to a start a 70 month prison sentence, Gretzky decided to buy him out for his share and put the card back on the auction block.
In 1995, the Honus Wagner T206 was sold to Wal-Mart and Treat Entertainment for $500,000. The companies wanted to use the card as the top prize in a promotional campaign to raise awareness about the baseball card products that Wal-Mart was selling. As part of the contest, the card traveled all across the United States and on February 24th, 1996, the 122nd anniversary of Honus Wagner's birthday, the T206 prize winner was chosen in a random draw made by Brooks Robinson on an episode of CNN's Larry King Weekend. The winner was Patricia Gibbs, a postal worker from Florida.
Gibbs could not afford the taxes on the Honus Wagner T206 so she put it up for auction with Christie's, another New York auction house. Wal-Mart benefited heavily from the exposure and sold more than 30 million packs of baseball cards in a matter of months.
The Honus Wagner T206 went to auction in 1996 and the top bidder was a familiar name, Michael Gidwitz, one of the men who battled Wayne Gretzky for the card in 1991 and lost. Bill Mastro was also bidding for the card but lost out this time to Gidwitz. According to Mastro, "No one ever wants to separate themselves from the crown jewel of the hobby."
Gidwitz, a Chicago based collector, had to pay a significant premium over the $451,000 1991 price tag. He ended up spending $641,500 to acquire the card in 1996.
Brian Seigel, Anonymous, Anonymous
After owning the Honus Wagner T206 for four years, Gidwitz decided it was time to sell. Instead of approaching a brand name auction house, he used technology to his advantage and made a deal with the largest online auction company in the world: eBay.
Gidwitz partnered with Robert Edwards Auctions, a division of MastroNet, to create a 10 day auction for the card. Prospective bidders had to wire a $100,000 deposit to iEscrow.com to be pre-approved to enter the auction. According to Robert Lifson, director of Robert Edwards Auctions, "I was thinking how could I leverage the publicity value of this card. I thought it would be really something if I approached eBay with this idea."
On July 15th of 2000 the Honus Wagner T206 was sold on eBay to Brian Seigel, a California collector for a record $1,265,000. This was a the first time that a baseball card had sold for more than $1 million. At the time Seigel said "Some day I'll sell it. I guess when I get tired of it. But this was not a business move. I am a collector."
In February 2007, however, Seigel decided that it was indeed time to move on and the card was sold again, this time to an anonymous California buyer via SCP Auctions for $2,350,000. According to SCP President David Kohler, the new owner said "'Let's let the world know and have a news conference, but I don't want my name out there.' We have to respect that."
Finally, on September 6th, 2007 the Honus Wagner T206 it was sold most recently to another anonymous collector for a record $2,800,000. It is rumored that the card will be put on display at a number of upcoming conventions and events.
Who the owner is and when the famed card will next go on sale is anyone's guess. Only time will tell how high the price Honus Wagner T206 can go.
October 2008 Update: It was recently revealed that the current owner of the famous Honus Wagner T206 is E.G. "Ken" Kendrick, managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. Kendrick is a veteran collector and is believed to be creating a sports museum at Chase Field where the card will be put on display.