REA Auction Preview: 1909-1911 T206 Honus Wagner – “The Connecticut Wagner”
Every T206 Wagner naturally has a great story, sharing the Wagner legend that is now part of classic American folklore, and every Wagner also has an additional story relating to its provenance. Collectors have always been fascinated with all aspects of the history of Wagners: how they were discovered, where they have been purchased, when, for how much, where they have been, how they have happened to survive.
This is a particularly interesting card in that it has never been up for auction, or been photographed, or even been seen before in the modern collecting world. To Wagner scholars, it would appear to be a newly-discovered card. That conclusion, however, would not be accurate in this case. Despite having never been seen before, this is not a newly discovered Wagner. It has been known for many decades and may even be one of the earliest known of all T206 Wagners. It has simply not had occasion to be seen or made its whereabouts known in any way in modern collecting times. It has been the prize possession of two private family collections going back many decades. We have taken the liberty of calling this example “The Connecticut Wagner” simply because that is the state in which it was long ago purchased by our consignor. The card has actually been consigned by a father-son collecting team, who had (and still have) a great interest in vintage cards, and were very active in the 1980s, even setting up at local card shows to sell new cards to make money to buy old cards for their personal collection.
In 1985 they were set up at a small local card convention in Connecticut when an older gentlemen came up to their table and asked if they would be interested in the complete T206 set. “With the Wagner,” he stressed. The father and son naturally found this to sound incredible, all the more so because they did, in fact, have a great interest in a T206 set. And they especially had a great interest in a Wagner! If the gentleman really had one. He did! The son, who was then just sixteen years old, vividly recalls, “He showed me the card. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest. It was in a simple lucite holder. From the instant I saw it, I knew it was authentic. Not in great shape, but not trimmed or cleaned up or anything.” The owner of the collection explained to our consignors that he not only had the Wagner, but he also had Plank, Magie, and every card and variation in the entire T206 set, all 523 cards, and he proceeded to show the balance of the set. (The rare Doyle was unknown at this time; in 1985 this was considered complete including all rarities). He was a very old-time collector, and he explained that he meticulously collected this set with his father! The Wagner and the entire set had been in their family for decades. He had come to the show to sell their T206 set, that they had meticulously checklisted and assembled with such great care over so many years, and he knew exactly what he wanted for it: $10,000 for the entire set including the Wagner.
While $10,000 today, of course, sounds like a very modest sum for a Wagner (let alone also including the balance of the entire T206 set), in 1985 this was real money. It was a reasonable price, it may have even been a good deal, but it was not a “giveaway” price. $10,000 was approximately what a reasonable person might think the set was worth at that time. Our father and son consignors looked at the set (most cards were circulated, in approximately Good condition, although condition was not the priority it is today); they then looked at each other, and instantly knew what they had to do: They had to buy the set. As the son fondly recalls today, “The gentleman who sold us the set – his name has been lost to me – he had made up his mind to sell it, and he happened to pick that particular day, that particular show, and our table. An incredible coincidence, one that I haven’t really stopped thinking about, even after all these years.”
The Wagner has been locked away, eventually put into a safe deposit box due to its escalating value, and has not seen the light of day for the past twenty-five years since purchased at that show in Connecticut. The card is not being sold because the owners don’t like it. They do! They are still collectors and are keeping the balance of their collection and the T206 set! But, as they have continued to see the card go up in value to stratospheric levels over the years, they think think the time has come for them to sell the single most prized T206 Wagner card. It is strictly an economic decision. While they are sorry to see it go, as the son communicated to us, for them it is just “the right thing to do.” As the son wrote us, “I will miss having the card, but like the man who went into the card show that day, I have made my decision. The only reason we are selling it is because I have a young family and I could use some extra financial breathing room. It’s just too valuable for us to keep. We can’t justify having a baseball card that might be worth as much as a couple hundred thousand dollars, or maybe even more. Whatever it sells for, we know we’re going to make out very well, and we’ll put the money to good use. Depending on exactly what it sells for, we may even take a small percentage to buy a few cards. That way we can have our cake and eat it too!”
The Card: This very attractive T206 Honus Wagner has bold colors, perfect registration, a bright orange background, and a crisp, bold portrait. It is also very well centered. The advertisement for Sweet Caporal Cigarettes is boldly printed on the reverse. Graded PR-FR 1 by PSA, the card naturally has various condition flaws, including rounded corners, creases, and a small area of surface flaking. Yet it also has a very pleasing overall appearance, with a central portrait image that presents beautifully, and is unaffected by the most serious creases of the card. It is a given that most T206 Wagners are in low-grade, so for a Wagner, the overall appearance is of greatest significance and cannot be communicated by just a numerical grade. Every card is different. No one is ever going to confuse this card with the famous Gretzky-McNall Wagner. But this card needs to make no apologies for its appearance. This low-grade example of the T206 Wagner compares very favorably with most other Wagner examples, and is a great-looking card that elicits a positive response from everyone who sees it. It has its condition problems, as do most other Wagners, but that is why it is graded PR-FR 1 and is not valued in the millions of dollars! The T206 Wagner is the one baseball card that generates the greatest interest wherever it is displayed. Kids and adults, and collectors and noncollectors alike, all know about the card, and want to see it in any condition.
Whether this card will be valued by collectors at more than “The All-Star Cafe Wagner” (graded PR-FR 1 by PSA, sold for $399,500 at REA in 2009), or a level lower than the SGC Poor 10 example that sold at Heritage for $227,050 in 2008 is completely unknown. Valuing Wagners is very subjective. That’s for the bidders to decide. Whatever they decide, it has been a great pleasure for us to properly document the history of this card, that for so many decades has been a “lost to the world” example of card collecting’s greatest treasure. Reserve $50,000. Estimate $150,000+
The Wagner is just one of over 1,500 lots of extraordinary lots of cards and historic memorabilia that will appear in the REA spring auction.
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