We have waited, and waited, and now the auction is here. SCP Auctions has launched the 2021 Fall Premier Auction and Grail hunters are going to get another opportunity to own a T206 Honus Wagner. While this T206 Honus Wagner is graded only as “Authentic” by PSA, and despite having been trimmed around its edges, the card’s visual presentation is better than others that would have the same graded.
The minimum bid was $200,000 and the current bid $389,745 is still listed as being below the reserve price. SCP Auctions has a $2 million-plus estimate on the T206 Wagner up for grabs. As for the $2+ million estimate, SCP has noted that an SGC “Authentic” example fetched $2.5 million earlier in 2021 and its back was noted as “practically falling apart.” And Honus did just break another all-time record recently.
Whether this appeals to investors or collectors, the answer is of course BOTH! The reality is that no one has ever seemed to lose money on buying and selling a T206 Honus Wagner. That is of course no assurance of profit (you will never get that assurance here!), and one day someone will lose money on this Grail card – at least that’s what a combination of card market and financial market history would dictate.
Wagner’s portrait image was based on a Carl Horner photograph taken circa-1902, and this was far from the only card that used an old photo in the T206 set and other tobacco and candy sets of the early 1900s. (Image below from SCP Auctions)
SCP Auctions also addresses the “don’t use my image to sell tobacco to kids” theory versus the “contract debate” theory. The write-up addresses that the T206 Wagner comes with its own tantalizing back story:
According to legend, Honus Wagner refused to allow his image to be used to promote tobacco products. The actual story is a bit more complicated. When the American Tobacco Company set about creating their baseball card set in January 1909, the company sent out representatives to secure permission from the game’s top players. Virtually everyone who was anyone in baseball ultimately appeared in the set, which would top out at over 500 players. However, Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner, the best shortstop in the game, was not one of them. According to an October 12, 1912, article in The Sporting News, Wagner was approached by John Gruber, a Pittsburgh sportswriter hired by ATC to secure the player’s permission to appear in their set. Wagner wrote a letter to Gruber stating he, “did not care to have his picture in a package of cigarettes.” The exact reasons have been lost to time. Some say he did not want children to buy cigarettes to obtain his baseball card. Another explanation is that Wagner did not think he was being paid enough for the rights to use his image. Whatever his reason, Wagner did give Gruber a check for $10 to compensate him for the commission he would have received had he been successful in securing the Pirates star.
Investors and collectors need to be honest about Honus Wagner and tobacco. It is a glorious story to have been anti-tobacco even 110 years ago, but that overlooks a lot of Honus Wagner’s own shortcomings in life like not doing outside contracts, drinking and tobacco use. Honus Wagner appears on on cigar boxes and on cigar labels (see my Wagner cigar images below from the #NSCC21) and check out the trio of T216 Honus Wagner cards from the People’s Tobacco effort in New Orleans that flopped about as quickly as it launched.
One remaining mystery trick for this Grail is that there is not an exact known quantity of these cards that slipped into circulation and which managed to survive the following 110 years or so to the modern era. The lower end of estimates is closer to 50 surviving examples and the upper-end guess is closer to 75. SCP Auctions has noted that the common estimate is “around 60” surviving cards.
As for the “Authentic” grade, the visually appealing nature of this card is due in part because SCP has shown that the card’s owner made the decision to have the card professionally restored. Restoration has definitely helped improve this Honus Wagner card’s eye appeal. SCP said:
The result is stunning. Without the previous crease, the Wagner portrait once again becomes the star.
And stunning it is… In just over two weeks the auction results will be known, and if that reserve bid is hit there willl be a new owner for the T206 Honus Wagner.