The 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner card has long been considered the Holy Grail of sports cards, and now it has reclaimed its rightful place atop the hobby.
A T206 White Border Honus Wagner card graded SGC VG 3 with a Sweet Caporal back was sold over the weekend by Robert Edward Auctions for a record $6.6 million, making it the highest-selling sports card of all time. The card, which was sold during REA’s Summer Auction, is one of seven Wagners with that grade, with only four graded higher among an estimated 60 examples in existence.
The card was expected to attract plenty of action, with REA President Brian Dwyer predicting it would set a new record. It opened at $1 million on July 23, quickly jumped to $2 million and was at $4.8 million when it was on display at The National July 30-Aug. 1.
“We do think it will end up selling for more than $6 million and we do believe that it will very easily be the highest selling trading card ever sold,” Dwyer said at The National. “It is already at the record for the Wagners sold publicly. It has a lot going for it.”
The card attracted 26 bids before the auction closed Sunday night. The winning bid was $5.5 million, with the standard 20 percent buyer’s premium taking it to $6.6 million.
The previous record for a T206 Wagner was $3.7 million. It had been surpassed numerous times over the past year, with a 1952 Mickey Mantle card setting the all-time record at $5.2 million in January, a mark later matched by a 2003 LeBron James rookie. A Luka Doncic rookie card sold for $4.6, while a Patrick Mahomes rookie just set the football card record at $4.3. That came a few weeks after a 1933 Babe Ruth Goudey card fetched $4.2 million in the Thomas Newman auction.
REA sold the card for a private collector who Dwyer said is “a fan of the Wagner and everything it stands for, it’s appeal, its allure, its legend.” The identity of the buyer has not been disclosed.
“This is an incredible result that speaks to this card’s status as one of the world’s most iconic collectibles,” Dwyer said in a statement after the sale. “The rarity and the legend of the T206 Honus Wagner, coupled with the quality of this example, excited bidders who recognized it may be a very long time before an opportunity like this came around again.”
The card was originally discovered in 1973 on Long Island by Mike Aronstein, a dealer and collector from Westchester, N.Y. It later sold at a public auction in Detroit, where 26-year-old New Jersey collector Fred McKie bought it for $1,100. Three years later, McKie sold the card to noted collector Barry Halper, whose historic baseball collection included two T206 Wagners. Halper later traded the card to a Texas collector, where it was the centerpiece of an ungraded T206 set for more than 30 years.
In 2012, the card entered the population of known Wagners when it was graded SGC VG 3. It was sold at another public auction that year for $1.23 million, a then-record for the grade. The card was sold again in the last two years at a “significant premium” to its 2012 sale price, according to REA.
“It hasn’t had many owners in the last 50 years, and likely didn’t have that many owners before,” Dwyer said. “It’s a pretty special card.”
Though the T206 Wagner had been surpassed by Mantle and several modern cards, Dwyer said the card deserves to be back on top of the market.
“I think it is no less iconic and no less revered and no less of a holy grail even though these other cards have surpassed it,” Dwyer said at The National. “But to take that rightful spot would definitely be special.
“I think the fact that it has gotten surpassed by LeBron or Mantle or Luka kinda speaks to how rare it is and how infrequently they come up. We’re very excited to put it back on top.”