New record: Honus Wagner T206 card sells for $6.6 million

Honus Wagner T206 card sells for $6.6 million

Sports memorabilia is a booming market. Fans love to collect homages to their favorite athletes. Game-worn jerseys, sports cards, and in the past year, NFTs sell for millions of dollars. 76ers GM Daryl Morey has shelled out thousands of dollars on NFTs of his own players. In April, someone shelled out $5.2 million for a LeBron James signed rookie card, tying the previous record for a sports card (held by Mickey Mantle). On Sunday, August 16th, a Honus Wagner T206 card shattered the record by over a million dollars for the most expensive card ever.

The history behind the T206 Wagner record

To avid card collectors, the T206 requires no explanation. It is, and always has been, the gold standard of sports cards. However, to the casual sports fan, it might be an unfamiliar item. The nomenclature is simple. The “T” stands for tobacco, and the “206” indicates that it was from the 206th release of tobacco cards. The American Tobacco Company produced and sold baseball cards to promote their products. The T206 series are small 2×3 inch cards with a white border.

The record value of the Honus Wagner T206 stems from two principal factors. First, according to the laws of supply and demand, the card’s scarcity drives up the value. There are only 60 in existence. For reasons that remain unclear, very few Wagner cards were ever produced. Some theories include that Wagner refused to support the tobacco industry, that the Wagner printing plate broke, or that Wagner wanted more money for his likeness. Regardless of the actual reason, one thing is clear: these highly demanded cards are in short supply.

The second factor driving up the value of this particular card is its mint condition. The American Tobacco Company released the T206 collection between 1909 and 1911. And these cards are all made of thin cardboard. So naturally, they deteriorate pretty easily. Corners bend, or paper folds, or someone spills, or the print fades. Whatever the reason, it is hard to keep a card in mint condition. Of the 60 in existence, most are rated poorly by card-quality grading companies. However, the T206 Honus Wagner that sold for the record, while not in good condition, is one of the best available.

Honus Wagner’s career

1910s:  Honus Wagner of the Pittsburgh Pirates bats in a circa 1910s game.  Wagner played for the Pirates from 1900-17.  (Photo by National Baseball Hall of Fame Library/MLB via Getty Images)
National Baseball Hall of Fame Library/MLB via Getty Images

Honus Wagner is the greatest shortstop in baseball history, or at least in the debate for that title. Wagner is in the top ten all-time for career hits and holds a smorgasbord of other records and accomplishments. He had a batting average of .300 or above in fifteen straight seasons. 15!!! He also led the league multiple times in numerous other batting statistics, including on-base percentage and RBIs. As if his prowess at the plate weren’t enough, he also led the league in stolen bases multiple times and could reportedly throw a ball more than 400 feet. The so-called “Flying Dutchmen” was one of the most well-rounded baseball players the game has ever seen. Unsurprisingly, the baseball Hall of Fame inducted Wagner as a member of its inaugural class.

The 206 Honus Wagner legacy and the fragility of the record

And yet, despite his numerous career accomplishments, many know him only as of the guy on the expensive baseball card. The card itself has a history as rich and complicated as that of the son of German immigrants on the cardboard. And after Sunday’s record purchase, the legend of the T206 Honus Wagner is only going to grow. And while this purchase might seem crazy now, it is important to remember that the card’s value has only gone up to date.

Remember that this was a card that originally sold for $50. In 1972, Fred McKie bought the card for $1,100. And then he sold it three years later for $2,500. Now you might say that that’s a long time ago. But as recently as 2012, the card sold for $1.2 million. That’s right, and it appears that the value is growing exponentially. So next time it’s for sale, who knows what the price might be? Is $10 million off the table? Not if the right buyer is out there.

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