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David Brown

Nuns stand to profit from auction of rare Honus Wagner card

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Other than the rare heartless scoundrel out there, everyone loves stories about regular folks who stumble upon rare baseball cards and stand to make huge profits from their sale.

Take, for instance, the Fresno, Calif., granny who found a card of the 1869 Cincinnati Reds, the first professional baseball team, in a box of antiques. She cashed in for nearly $65,000 and got to tell her story on Jay Leno.

[Rewind: Garage sale's alleged Ansel Adams negatives could be worth millions]

This might be better: An order of nuns in Baltimore stands to make $150,000-$200,000 from the auction of a 100-year-old (or so) Honus Wagner T206 card. And even better, the card was an unexpected donation.

It's expected to fetch that much, despite its beat-up condition, because only 60 of the T206 Wagners are known to exist. A contemporary of Ty Cobb and Cy Young, Wagner was a Hall of Fame shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

[Related: New rookie's baseball card sells for record price at auction]

Well, you could knock over Sister Virginia Mueller with a feather.

"It just boggles your mind," Muller told The Associated Press. "I can't remember a time when we have received anything like this."

The brother of a nun who died in 1999 left all his possessions to the order when he died earlier this year. The man's lawyer told Muller he had a Honus Wagner card in a safe-deposit box.

When they opened the box, they found the card, with a typewritten note: "Although damaged, the value of this baseball card should increase exponentially throughout the 21st century!"

The auction is being handled by Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas. At last check, the bidding was up to $65,000.

As Harry Caray (or Phil Rizzuto) might have said, "Holy cow!"

A near-mint Wagner at auction in 2008 went for $2.8 million, the highest price ever for a baseball card.

This particular card — apparently owned by the nun's brother since 1936 — is in relatively poor condition; three of its borders have been cut off, it has a large crease and it was laminated. It probably endured a few thousand revolutions in someone's bicycle spokes, too.

[Rewind: Bike bought for $5 belonged to Tour de France champ]

No matter. The T206 Wagner is in demand by collectors, says Chris Ivy, the director of sports auctions at Heritage.

"The T206 set is known as 'The Monster' among collectors. It's just really tough to complete the entire set," Ivy said. The Wagner card is "one of those that's always sought-after, always desirable, and there's not a big population of them. Even in a lower grade, they do have quite a bit of demand and command a strong price."

The proceeds will go to the School Sisters of Notre Dame, which has ministries in 35 countries around the world.

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