The T206 Honus Wagner is the most expensive baseball card in history (complete history of the Wagner T206) - but why is it worth so much?
The card was created by the American Tobacco Company (ATC) between 1909 and 1911. ATC used the cards as a promotional tool to help sell their cigarettes. ATC required the permission of the players to create the cards and Wagner was highly sought after due to his status as one of the game's greatest players.
Wagner, however, refused to let the production of the card continue and only 50 to 200 of them were put into circulation.
According to an October 12, 1912 edition of "The Sporting News", Wagner responded to ATC's request by writing that "he did not care to have his picture in a package of cigarettes."He further threatened to sue ATC if they produced the card.
There are a few theories as to why Wagner pulled the plug on ATC. The two leading ones are that he didn't want children to buy cigarettes to get his card and that he wanted more compensation from ATC.
Theory #1 - Children Buying Cigarettes
Although Honus Wagner chewed tabacco himself, he cared for his young fans and did not want them getting hooked on cigarettes and having his name associated with ATC. According to his granddaughter Blair, "He loved children. He wanted to teach kids good sportsmanship. When it came time for that card to come out, it wasn't that he wasn't paid. He didn't want kids to have to buy tobacco to get his card."
Another supporting fact was that Wagner's manager, Fred Clarke, and Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss both hated cigarettes. Dreyfuss actually passed on signing Tris Speaker, a future Hall of Famer, early in his career because Speaker was a smoker. It therefore seems likely that Wagner would not want to be associated with the tobacco industry.
Theory #2 - Compensation From ATC
Others have speculated that ATC did not offer Honus Wagner enough money and he refused to go ahead with the card production. The theory has its flaws, however, as Wagner sent a check to the ATC representative, John Gruber, for $10, a substantial amount of money at the time, to compensate Gruber for the fee ATC would have paid him if Wagner agreed to create the card. Pundits ask why would Wagner have sent Gruber the money if he was holding out for more? Gruber, incidentally, never cashed the check and, instead, saved and framed it.
Whatever the reason for Wagner refusing to cooperate with ATC, the card certainly would not have been as valuable if it has been put into full production. The limited number printed combined with the popularity of Honus Wagner and the story behind the ATC / Wagner battle have made it the most expensive baseball card in history.