Rare Honus baseball card sells for over $1.4 million at auction

Only 57 T206 Honus Wagner baseball cards are known to exist, and one just sold at auction for a record amount.

Goldin Auctions sold one of the rarest-ever baseball cards for $1,426,800 on Saturday, a record amount for a card like this.

A record amount for a damaged card

Honus Wagner T206 cards have sold for more than $1.4 million. Over twice that, in fact. But those were for cards in much better condition. This Wagner card was rated PR-FR 1, one of the worst grades a card can get. In the picture of the card the auction house tweeted, you can see a long crease that goes down the center of two-thirds, as well as scratch marks and other damage.

The final price of $1.4 million is the largest amount ever paid for a Honus Wagner T206 card in that condition. You know a card is rare and prized when even the crappy ones fetch well over a million dollars at auction.

Why are the Wagner T206 cards so rare?

Honus Wagner T206 cards, which were part of a set produced by the American Tobacco Company from 1909 to 1911, are considered rare because only 60-200 were made. Hundreds of thousands of the 523 other cards in the set were made and sold with packs of cigarettes, and a dispute between Wagner and the American Tobacco Company stopped production of his card and led to such a small number being produced.

A rare Honus Wagner card has sold for $1.4 million, a record amount for a card in poor condition. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
A rare Honus Wagner card has sold for $1.4 million, a record amount for a card in poor condition. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

We don’t officially know what the dispute was about. One theory is that Wagner, a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates and a member of the Hall of Fame’s first class of inductees, didn’t want his likeness used to sell tobacco products because that could encourage kids to start smoking.

However, since Wagner was a tobacco user, there’s a more likely theory. Joe Posnanski of The Athletic wrote in March that the American Tobacco Company didn’t obtain permission from Wagner before using his name and likeness on the cards. Wagner, who was known as a master negotiator who always fought for his money, likely turned down whatever offer the company made, and that stopped production of the cards forever.

Whatever that dispute was about, it led to an incredibly small amount being produced. That 57 of them have survived 110 years is pretty phenomenal considering that they were made out of early 1900s cardboard.

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