Wagner card sells for record price
Feb. 27: The famous 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card sells for $2.35 million. MSNBC.com's Dara Brown reports.
LOS ANGELES - The “Mona Lisa” of baseball memorabilia, an almost mint condition 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card, arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday in the company of an armed guard but without its new owner, a mysterious Southern California collector who shelled out most of a record $2.35 million for it.
The tiny scrap of colored cardboard, barely 2½ inches tall and not quite 2 inches wide, made an auspicious arrival at a Dodger Stadium news conference, carried to the podium in a formidable-looking black valise by a grim-faced, equally formidable-looking armed guard.
As SCP Auctions officials removed and opened a small red case to reveal the card’s cover — one featuring a youthful and handsome Wagner in his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, his hair parted down the middle — camera flashes popped and heads craned for a better look.
Even the guard, the burly off-duty Lt. Michael Florio of the Los Angeles Police Department, cracked a smile. As a baseball fan, he said afterward, he rated the opportunity to hold the card right up there with his other great sports memory, having seen Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax pitch.
“The T206 Honus Wagner card has long been recognized as the most iconic, highly coveted and valuable object in the field of sports memorabilia,” said Dan Imler, managing director of SCP Auctions. “Its legacy has transcended popular culture.”
He and SCP’s president, David Kohler, went on to rattle off a raft of facts and figures about the Wagner card, omitting only the name of the person who bought it.
Although SCP acquired a minority stake in the card, the two said, the principal buyer has insisted on anonymity.
“He said, ’Hey, let’s let the world know and have a news conference, but I don’t want my name out there,”’ Kohler said. “We have to respect that.”
The previous owner, Brian Seigel of Las Vegas, told The Associated Press he sold the card to a Southern California collector who approached him, unsolicited, last year. They closed the deal last week.
Seigel, the CEO of an asset management company, paid a record $1,265,000 when he bought it in 2000. Previous owners have included hockey great Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, former owner of the Los Angeles Kings, who paid $451,000 for it in 1991.
“Some people have referred to it as the Mona Lisa of baseball cards,” Imler said. “Somebody who desires to own the very best of something, this is it.”
Adding to the card’s value is that only 50 to 60 Wagner cards are believed to exist and none of the others in circulation are close to the quality of this one, which has been encased in protective sheeting for decades.
Wagner’s was among the first of hundreds of cards of major league players produced by the American Tobacco Co. and included in packages of cigarettes.
Unlike other players, however, Wagner quickly demanded that his card be withdrawn. Theories vary as to why, with one being that he didn’t believe American Tobacco paid him enough.
“The most accepted theory,” Imler said, “is that Wagner objected to his likeness being used to entice kids to use tobacco products.”
A nonsmoker, the Pittsburgh shortstop was arguably the second greatest baseball player of his era, behind Ty Cobb.
He hit .344 during his rookie year of 1897 and batted over .300 for 17 consecutive seasons, winning eight National League batting titles. One of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Wagner retired in 1917 with more hits, runs, RBIs, doubles, triples and steals than any NL player.
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