It’s been a wild year for sports cards, with numerous cards in almost every sport setting astounding records.
The record for the highest-selling sports card of all time has been broken or matched multiple times in the past 14 months, rising from $3.1 million to more than $6 million.
While the record sales have been fueled by the star power of such legendary athletes as Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle and LeBron James, there is one card that continues to carry the most mystique, and it’s one of the oldest in existence.
The 1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal Honus Wagner card has long been considered the Holy Grail of sports cards. It was the first card to sell for more than $1 million, and then $2 million, and then $3 million. It held the all-time record at $3.2 million until a signed 1-of-1 Trout card eclipsed it in August 2020.
Trout’s card was soon surpassed by a 1952 Mantle ($5.2 million), and then matched by a special LeBron rookie card.
You knew, however, that the rare, iconic Wagner card would not go away. With the trading card market booming like never before, it was only a matter of time before Honus regained his rightful place atop the hobby.
That happened in August, when a SGC VG 3 version of the card sold for an astonishing $6.6 million at Robert Edward Auctions. The card was one of only seven with that grade, with only four being graded higher.
With only about 60 Wagner cards known to exist, they rarely come up for sale, and when they do, they almost always top $1 million.
The card doesn’t even have to be fully intact to command a high price.
SPC Auctions has a Wagner card in its upcoming Winter Premier Auction that is torn almost in half, yet still carries an opening bid of $25,000 and is expected to attract much more.
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The card, which had been in the collection of an unnamed collector since the 1990s, is graded “PSA Genuine” and is believed to be one of the first cards ever graded by PSA. It remains in the original holder PSA used to encapsulate cards more than 25 years ago and carries a PSA certification number of 00000002.
Though only slightly more than 50 percent of the damaged card remains — Wagner’s face and part of his name are still visible — SCP believes it is still worth more than 90 percent of all sports cards. It recently sold a Wagner graded PSA Authentic for $1.1 million.
It is not unusual for a rare card to still command a high price despite being damaged and carrying a low grade. We reported earlier this year on a ’52 Mantle that had been stuffed inside a cereal box and found in an old Mennonite barn in Canada. It had a crease down the middle, pencil marks on the front and was graded PSA 1, yet it still sold for $35,000. An even worse ’52 Mantle, graded PSA Authentic, was listed on eBay in December for $60,000.
SCP’s Wagner card, which is being auctioned Jan. 19-Feb. 5, is further proof that even half of the most famous card in the world is still extremely valuable and worth owning.
— Jeff Owens is the editor of SCD and sportscollectorsdigest.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jeffowens_jeff.