The legendary Honus Wagner was very famous on his own right as a player long before the 1909 to 1911 T206 Honus Wagner became one of the most sought after baseball cards of all-time. He was one of the original 5 inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. There has been a longstanding dispute about why the T206 Wagner is so rare, and that dispute has only added to the allure of the card’s soaring value. Collector’s Dashboard is going to try to declare an official end to this dispute. Honus Wagner’s low population of T206 cards has to be over a contract dispute rather than his anti-tobacco stance.
The 2021 National Sports Collectors Convention has been an incredible event for collectors, dealers and those who are somewhere in between. There were several sports cards and other sports memorabilia valued above the $1 million mark.
Collectors Dashboard evaluates high-end collectibles as an alternative asset class. Collectibles are now competing for the same capital that would have otherwise been invested in stocks, bonds or real estate. If a card or a piece of sports memorabilia is at the $1 million mark like Honus Wagner, this is an investment even if it is owned by a pure collector. That does not come with any assurances of a profit.
There was a T206 Honus Wagner card on display at the National Sports Collectors Convention by Robert Edwards Auctions. This Wagner is currently in auction and the 18 bids to date have already ticked above $4 million with 14 days to go. Collectors Dashboard has already put this in context against other T206 Honus Wagner sales. This is already a new record for the card but is not yet a record sale price for all sports cards.
It’s time to end the T206 debate over whether or not Honus Wagner was truly against tobacco or whether this was a contract dispute. Wagner would have certainly not wanted young people and kids being encouraged to smoke.
There is Willian Hageman book titled Honus: The Life and Times of a Baseball Hero, where the author specifies that Wagner routinely turned down outside income sources and that he had later said he did not want younger fans spending money on cigarettes. Still, the author noted Honus was a tobacco user and also pointed out that he had declined for his photo to be used and the American Tobacco Company’s final withdrawal was after hundreds of his cards had already been printed and released. Shortly after this the book also noted about Wagner’s drinking getting out of hand.
Wagner’s portrait or pose does appear on other tobacco cards like the T216 Peoples Tobacco set. It is quite possible that Wagner may not have known about the Peoples Tobacco cards being made as they were in New Orleans. Still, Wagner’s portrait was used for very limited runs of cigar boxes and we even saw some examples of the cigar bands. Some of those cigar bands were obviously wrapped around cigars as well.
The reality is that collectors are likely going to debate the absoluteness of the moral dilemma or a contract dispute no matter what is said or written. We have included some pictures below for you to decide on your own visually. Here are some of the credits and disclosures about the matter. The image of the actual Robert Edwards Auction T206 Wagner was taken (of yours truly) on Saturday at the 2021 National Sports Collectors Convention. The T216 cards are personal collection cards (of yours truly). And the cigar box/band photos were at the booth of Mechanick’s Historical Gallery owned by Glenn Mechanick and Lisa Mechanick.
Also worth noting is the SABR’s baseball card research committee post from 2017. This is a Sporting Life advertisement which includes Wagner and other players being inside Sweet Caporal, Piedmont and Sovereign brands of cigarettes. And to add one more photo proof into the mix from basic web searches, the Bing “Honus Wagner Tobacco” shows a photo of an older Honus Wagner caught red-handed using chewing tobacco. That was also used as the photo for his 1948 Leaf card. Maybe you can make the argument that it could have been beef jerky or a spinach.
Here you go.
ROBERT EDWARDS AUCTIONS
MECHANICK’s HISTORICAL GALLERY
PERSONAL COLLECTION T216 CARDS
Some of you will absolutely carry this debate on in the future. That is certainly to be expected. Going forward, even if more evidence would have pointed to a moral dilemma, our view is that Wagner and The American Tobacco Company were at odds over terms.