Every baseball fan knows the name of Wade Boggs. And every baseball card collector knows the name Honus Wagner. Well, something happened in the aftermath of the 2022 National Sports Collectors Convention. This is a bit of a personal story and is part of a personal journey in collecting and for the sports collectibles industry. One day I got the chance to introduce Wade Boggs to Honus Wagner. Sort of.
How does a Honus Wagner tobacco card from more than 100 years ago tie into another baseball great from 1980s and 1990s? Wagner died in December of 1955 and Boggs wasn’t born until June of 1958. As you will see, the T216 set from People Tobacco Co., Ltd. was issued from 1911 to 1916 and the Honus Wagner tobacco card in that set is more scarce than the T206 Wagner cards. And you will no longer be able to buy a T206 Wagner for under $1 million in any condition.
The 2022 National Sports Collectors Convention in Atlantic City was packed full of sports collectors and the autograph pavilion was packed full of former great athletes who were there signing autographs. In fact, the National’s official release said it was the largest crowd attending (90,000) since 1991 and that the autograph pavilion was one of the largest groups ever. Wade Boggs was one of athletes there signing autographs.
Due to a return flight I was unable to make it through my full day on Saturday, July 30. So around 1:00 or 1:30 I piled into a taxi in Atlantic City and took my one-hour ride back to the Philadelphia International Airport. After going through the gate security, it was time for some food and a beer to just sit and reflect the buys and sells from this incredible show. And as I walk up to place an order there is a familiar face sitting down.
“Wow, you look just like Wade Boggs.”
“I get that a lot!”
“Yea, sure, because you are him!”
So I introduced myself by name for some reason. Athletes and celebrities probably hear names all the time. I tried to only take a minute of Wade Boggs’ time because I know these guys get hounded by fans endlessly. But he was a true gentleman. Smiling, Having a good time. Hanging out in the airport waiting for his plane just like anyone else.
I guess you were signing at the National?”
“You probably won’t believe this, but I bought an autographed rookie card of you today at the show.”
“Oh, ok, thanks…”
I got to ask about the story of Ted Williams showing him a swing. Boggs simply said “Yep, Ted was the greatest!”
I then said I wouldn’t take up any more of his time and thanked him for chatting. He was incredibly nice, smiling and much more approachable than some athletes and celebrities. I went to sit, my well deserved beer arrived and I began to look through some of my haul of purchases from the National. And yes, the Honus Wagner and Wade Boggs introduction is coming.
I had begun to show one of my T216 Honus Wagner cards to the dealer community for the first time. I had purchased three different graded examples of this card over the last decade. Many dealers and collectors are not that familiar with the card. Everyone thinks Honus Wagner hated tobacco so he wouldn’t allow his name and face to promote tobacco that would end up being sold to kids. Or so the story goes. There are many of us who believe that retort and reasoning may have actually been more tied to a contract dispute and the way the whole situation was handled by The American Tobacco Company in 1909. Honus Wagner could be a very difficult man to work with sometimes. Anyhow, a cigar box insert (Yes, I had to buy it! see image below) and a full lid here from a dealer helps to support the contractual issues theory (see images below).
Wade Boggs left, but something came to me in a short bit. Has he ever seen a Honus Wagner card? Would he even care? I wanted to know, and I can sometimes be less than bashful about asking things. So as he was walking away I went back to him and asked, “Wade, I have to ask you a question. I have this Honus Wagner tobacco card.”
“Wait, you have it here with you?”
“Yes, I was showing it to the dealer community here at the National. I have three of them and I am testing the waters about interest. So I have a question for you about photos…”
After a brief issue about terms and use, we took the T216 Honus Wagner our of my bag. I noted it had to be two photos because the front is the same art as used in candy cards from other sets and the back clearly shows the ‘Kotton’ tobacco back. Wade asked me how much it was worth.
“Well, I was starting around $50.”
After taking the photos and putting the card back into the case, that was that. A fist bump later, and Wade Boggs was on his way back to his plane and I was back to my beer and ordering some food. I was impressed enough that I have even purchased two more Boggs auto cards — a pre-rookie and a more modern card. And I didn’t even tell him the story about how he “accidentally cost me $30.00 or so” from when I was a teenage card dealer and someone was able to buy two of Topps rookie cards out of a box on my table. I had just opened the packs and cases and had not yet removed all the stars and rookies (…and had missed some new guys) — two mint condition Wade Boggs 1932 Topps cards, for a nickel each! I think they were selling at some dealer tables for about $10 to $20 even back then.
And these are my two photos of Wade Boggs with of the T216 Honus Wagner cards. And did I even notice Boggs’ rings? Not until after it all went down.
Several days after the National convention had ended, an announcement was made by Goldin that a prized T206 Honus Wagner set a new private sale transaction record at $7.25 million for an SGC 2 graded example. The last prior high-profile T206 Honus Wagner sale had been “the Charlie Sheen All-Star Cafe Honus Wagner” (with a meres PSA 1 grade) and after 45 bids and a minimum $300,000 bid its final gavel price through Mile High Card Co. was $3,136,500.00.
As for the T216 Honus Wagner versus the T206 Honus Wagner, the T216 is more scarce. The industry references for T206 Honus Wagner cards range from 60 to 70 known examples, but others state just 50 to 60 known T206 Wagner examples in their writing. What we know from the stated population reports, which can sometimes be fuzzy because of 20+ years of data (overlaps, cross-grading, regrading), is the following: PSA’s population report counts 36 graded examples; SGC’s population report show only 17 graded examples with the Sweet Caporal back; and Beckett’s population report counts 1 graded example. That’s a total of just 54 cards that are “known and graded” by the three top grading services.
The T216 Honus Wagner issued by the Peoples Tobacco Company in New Orleans from 1911 to 1916. The company touted that their tobacco and cigarettes were “Made by Union Labor” and “Not in a Trust” as the company was trying to be “Anti-Big Tobacco.” This set features big league players and Federal League players, and the artwork used is similar or identical to some of the cards in the E106 American Caramels, D303 General Baking, E90-1, and even in the E92 sets of cards. The whole set is listed as just 104 cards, but there are 4 variations of Wagner (versus just the portrait of Wagner in the prized T206 card).
The reality is that Peoples Tobacco Co., Ltd. failed almost as soon as it began. Its business failed. And baseball cards were not exactly the biggest thing in the world in New Orleans. And how many of these cards must have been lost to men drinking in New Orleans bars in those days? How many of the cards vanished due to storms and hurricanes in the area? And just how far did Peoples Tobacco reach around the United States (probably not very far considering its short life)?
Honus Wagner has four different cards in the T216 set. Two are batting and two are of him throwing, but the variations are because each pose can say “s.s.” or “2b” because they didn’t do a lot of factchecking and quality control back then. And as a Goldin Auctions description points out from several years ago — Honus may have never even known about these cards! And something else to consider would be that even if Honus ultimately found out about the cards the company might have already closed or was on its way out.
The known population of T216 Peoples Tobacco Wagners is, again, smaller than the T206 population. PSA’s population report shows 22 graded cards in any condition. SGC’s population report has a total of 21 T216 Wagner cards graded, and if Beckett (BVG) has any it was not able to be found. That makes just 43 known graded examples from the top grading destinations versus 54 known graded examples for the prized T216 card that sells for millions now.
There is another Honus Wagner card that is even more scarce than any of the tobacco cards that has come to auction in recent years. The 1912 E300 Plow’s Candy Honus Wagner was sold by Heritage Auctions and was listed as both the highest-graded example and the only known example to exist! That auction was for a PSA 7 example and after Heritage’s guide value or estimate of “$300,000 – up” the unique card fetched $312,000.00 in the end.
We now have a $12.6 million card of the best known example of the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. We now have a $7.25 million private sale of a T206 Honus Wagner, and it is assumed now that any of the higher-grade T206 Wagner cards would likely be the next $10+ million card sales if they come to market and if the high-end card market conditions remain the same. And there are many other cards that are now in-line to be the next $1 million cards — which means many more cards may breach the $100,000 level for the first time ever.
It is currently not known what the absolute highest T216 card sales are because some sales transact outside of auction houses and outside of eBay. One graded example was also at the National show and the dealer admitted he had no idea how to price the card — so his T216 Wagner in the throwing position had a $85,000 price tag. I began showing my card at $50,000.00 but it’s really the first time any dealers and collectors have ever seen the card. Along with the scarcity of these cards, they just do not come up for auction that often and those of us who have bought these are not exactly eager to part ways with them. If the card is a tobacco card (and it is) and if it is more scarce than THE Wagner (which it is) then what’s a fair price for the T216 Wagner cards?
PLEASE NOTE: Unless otherwise stated or credited, all images herein were taken by Jon Ogg and none of the images herein may be republished without written permission via Collectors Dashboard, Inc. (send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org email address). All images used herein are subject to copyright and may not be republished or reused for commercial use with written permission.
I am not sure about what a fair price is for a Honus Wagner tobacco card that is not the T206 Wagner. One auction house owner told me that he believes the card would fetch $25,000 or maybe up to $30,000 if the auction went as expected and under current conditions. There is just no way to know what the T216 Wagner is really worth until another example actually sells in an auction or in a public known transaction. But I can say this with absolute confidence about the price of this card in just a few years assuming that the market conditions remain similar to today:
I might be that guy who reminds the card collecting community that you could have purchased a real Honus Wagner tobacco card for under $100,000.00!
Heritage Auctions has sold a total of 56 lots that contain the T216 designation for any player. Here are the top four prices:
- 1911-16 T216 Peoples (Kotton Cigarettes Honus Wagner; Batting-2b) SGC 2.5 sold on May 7, 2020 for $14,400.00.
- 1911-16 T216 Peoples (Kotton Cigarettes Honus Wagner; Throwing-2b.) SGC 1.5 sold on May 7, 2020for $13,800.00.
- 1911-16 T216 Peoples (Kotton Tobacco Ty Cobb; Standing) PSA 1.5/MK on July 22, 2021 for $13,200.00.
- 1911-16 T216 Kotton Honus Wagner (Batting 2b.) SGC 45sold on November 5, 2015 for $7,170.00.
Another sale took place via Goldin Auctions in 2016:
- 1911-16 T216 People’s Tobacco/Kotton Cigarettes Honus Wagner (Batting, 2b.) PSA 3 sold for $12,250.00.
Love of the Game Auctions has also had strong T216 sales prices with auction timing:
- Rare 1911-16 T216 Kotton Cigarettes Ty Cobb (Standing) SGC 1.5 sold for $20,400.00 (spring 2021)
- Rare 1911-16 T216 Mino Cigarettes Honus Wagner (Throwing, 2b.) SGC 30 sold for $12,060.00 (Winter 2016)
- Rare 1911-16 T216 Kotton Cigarettes Honus Wagner (Batting, 2b.) SGC 45 sold for $9,000.00 (Fall 2016)
Mile High Card Co. has also had sales in its auctions for T216 cards:
- 1911-1916 T216 People’s Tobacco Ty Cobb Detroit Americans PSA 1 PR sold for $8,797 (December 2018)
- T216 People’s Tobacco/Kotton Cigarettes Honus Wagner Throwing PSA Authentic sold for $6,850 (November 2016)
Robert Edward Auctions also has multiple high-end sales in T216 cards:
- 1914 T216 Kotton Tobacco Ty Cobb (Batting) PSA EX-MT 6 sold for $13,800.00 (Spring 2020 Auction)
- 1914 T216 Kotton Tobacco Honus Wagner (Throwing, 2b.) SGC 30 sold for $10,800 (2018 Fall Auction)
- 1914 T216 Kotton Tobacco Honus Wagner (Batting, 2b.) SGC 50 sold for $8,813 (Spring 2010 Auction)
- 1914 T216 Kotton Cigarettes Ty Cobb (Standing) sold for $8,700 (2019 Fall Auction)