Strrrrike!! Why Honus Wagner is still a big hitter in the collectibles market

Legendary baseball player Honus Wagner was born on this day in 1874 - and to mark the anniversary of one of the most famous faces in the sport, we thought we'd have quick look back at his life and legacy in collectibles.

Born Johannes Wagner, Honus was a super-quick German-American shortstop, nicknamed the 'Flying Dutchman'.  He played in the National League between 1897 and 1917, primarily for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

Wagner won an incredible eight batting titles and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.  After retiring from the game, he remained in Pittsburgh for the rest of his life coaching for the team until three years before his death.

His dedication to the Pirates and legendary ability on the diamond were not his only legacy - Wagner also caused a sensation in the collectible trading card market, his T206 baseball card being the rarest and most valuable trading card in history.


Honus Wagner card
The coveted T206 Honus Wagner card

Between 1909 and 1911, the American Tobacco Company issued its T206 series, which included a Wagner card.  However, the company did not seek the player's permission; Wagner forced them to withdraw the card, in a bid to prevent children from buying tobacco to obtain it.

Because of this, very few were ever distributed to the public, estimated to be somewhere between 50 and 200.  It is now thought that only 57 survive, making it one of the scarcest trading cards in baseball or any other sport.

Described as the 'Mona Lisa' of the trading card world, the most famous example is the 'Gretzky' T206 card, so called because of its famous purchase by hockey star Wayne Gretzky in 1991 for $451,000.  This amount was dwarfed when the card sold again for a staggering $2.8m to E.G. 'Ken' Kendrick in 2007.

Other less pristine Wagner cards have brought some amazing prices.  Several low-grade copies have sold for between $75,000 and $317,250.  In 2008, a card in fairly good condition realised $1.62m at auction.

The card has also generated controversy.  In 2002, John Cobb and Ray Edwards attempted to sell a T206 Wagner card on eBay; the police launched an investigation into whether it was a fake.  After murky claims of reprints and racism, experts were split on whether it was genuine.  It remains unsold.

On a lighter note, in 2010, we reported on a group of Baltimore nuns found a low-grade T206 in a box, which they sold at auction for $262,900 - which was then distributed to ministries across the world.   Honus Wagner can therefore be considered a giant of both the baseball and the collectibles world, with an impact that continues today.


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