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Wagner Card May Fetch $1.5 Million at Auction, Dealer Says

March 27, 2012

A rare baseball card of Honus Wagner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, considered to be the best all around player in baseball history, is displayed at a preview of a sports memorabilia sale. Photographer: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

A rare baseball card of Honus Wagner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, considered to be the best all around player in baseball history, is displayed at a preview of a sports memorabilia sale. Photographer: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

The trading card that the National Baseball Hall of Fame calls the sport’s “most famous collectible” might fetch up to $1.5 million in an online auction that begins today, according to the dealer handling the sale.

The 1909 card of Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner should sell for between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, said Bill Goodwin, president of St. Louis-based sports memorabilia auctioneer Goodwin & Co. Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick purchased a version of the same card with a higher grading for $2.8 million in 2007, making that the most expensive baseball card ever sold.

The Wagner card is part of Goodwin & Co.’s “Masterpieces and Uncommon Commons XL,” an auction of 528 baseball cards from the T206 series released in 1909 by the American Tobacco Co. for distribution in cigarette packs. The lots opened today and close on April 19, and may fetch more than $2 million total, Goodwin, 64, said yesterday in a telephone interview.

“I’ve been doing this for 26 years, and it’s got to be the highlight of my career,” he said. “It’s very exciting, and I feel very fortunate to be able to handle it.”

All 528 cards are owned by a man in Texas whom Goodwin declined to identify. A longtime business associate of Goodwin’s, the seller acquired the Wagner card in 1985 and approached Goodwin in December to discuss auctioning off the entire collection. Goodwin didn’t say how much the seller originally paid.

Other lots in the auction include a card of former Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Eddie Plank that Goodwin said might be sold for around $500,000, and cards of Hall of Fame players Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and Cy Young.

Minimum Bid

The Wagner card began with a minimum bid of $300,000, the highest in the set, and reached $363,000 after three bids this morning, according to the auction’s website.

It is graded a 3 by Sportscard Guaranty LLC. A similar card with the same grading sold for $145,000 in 2000 and another in 2008 went for around $950,000, according to Goodwin, who called it the “holy grail of baseball cards.”

“Grading companies have graded 43 Honus Wagners, but only five have been graded in higher condition,” Goodwin said.

Wagner batted .329 in 21 seasons, winning eight National League batting titles and five stolen base crowns. The second player behind Cap Anson to reach 3,000 hits, Wagner was part of the inaugural 1936 class at the Cooperstown, New York-based National Baseball Hall of Fame, and died in 1955.

The Hall of Fame has a T206 Honus Wagner available for public viewing in its museum. A plaque beneath the card reads, “Wagner’s fame, the scarcity of the card and the story behind it make this baseball’s most famous collectible.”

Unique Plank Card

The Plank card is graded 5.5, also by SGC, and has a unique “Piedmont 150” back. All other known Plank cards that feature the rare backing were cut from the original sheets, Goodwin said.

“The theory was that this card never reached the cigarette packs, but this particular one obviously has,” Goodwin said. “It’s the only one with this back to receive a numerical grade.”

Plank, who died in 1926, won 284 games with the Athletics from 1901 to 1914, and World Series titles with the team in 1911 and 1913. He joined the St. Louis Terriers in the Federal League in 1915, a year before moving to the American League’s St. Louis Browns. The first left-handed pitcher to win 300 games, Plank was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.

The auction lots close at 10 p.m. New York time on April 19, when those who placed a previous bid can continue to increase their offer. Each lot officially ends when there have been no bids for 15 minutes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New York at enovywilliam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net


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