The 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner card is considered the Holy Grail of sports cards, the Mona Lisa of sports collecting.
One of the most rare cards in the hobby, it used to be the most valuable and most expensive, topping out at $3.7 million. But over the past year, the Wagner has been surpassed by a wide range of cards. A 1952 Mickey Mantle card set the all-time record at $5.2 million, a mark 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.
But many long-time collectors would like to see the iconic Wagner card reclaim its rightful place atop the hobby. So would Robert Edward Auctions President Brian Dwyer.
REA has a T206 White Border Honus Wagner card graded SGC VG 3 with a Sweet Caporal back as part of its Summer Auction. It is one of seven Wagners with that grade, with only four graded higher among about 50 examples in existence.
REA is selling the card for a private collector, who Dwyer says is “a fan of the Wagner and everything it stands for, it’s appeal, its allure, its legend.”
The card has quite a backstory. It was discovered on Long Island in 1973 by noted dealer and collector Mike Aronstein 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.”
Recent Wagners have sold for $2.52 million, $2.28 million and $3.75 million. The REA Wagner opened at $1 million, quickly shot up to $4 million, and climbed to $4.8 while it was on display at the National Sports Collectors Convention.
Dwyer believes the card can reach a record $6 million before the auction closes on Aug. 15.
“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.”
With prices and values soaring in the red-hot industry, Dwyer believes a T206 Wagner 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. “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.”
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