The Most Expensive Baseball Card in the World

atkins bookshelf triviaA cartophile is a collector of baseball cards. For dedicated cartophiles, the Holy Grail of baseball cards is the 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner Rookie baseball card. Having achieved almost mythical status, it is simply known as “The Card.”

From 1909 to 1911, the American Tobacco Company produced a series of baseball cards that featured colorful lithographic portraits of popular baseball players. The portrait was framed by white border that contained the athlete’s name and city of their team in black ink. On the back of each card, was an advertisement for one of 16 tobacco products. The T206 designation was assigned to the series in Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog published in the 1930s.

The Wagner card is extremely rare. Today, out of perhaps 200 cards printed in the first production run, there are only 57 known original baseball cards; few are in mint condition. The Card features a color lithograph of Honus Wagner of the Pittsburgh Pirates against an orange background. At the bottom of the card are the words “Wagner, Pittsburg” printed in black ink, centered in the bottom white border. The back of most of the Wagner cards features an ad for Sweet Caporal, a tobacco product. The card was pulled from production (thus the short production run) because Wagner did not want his likeness used to market tobacco and/or he was not being compensated for advertising.

The most valuable Wagner card is known as the Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner baseball card. Back in 1985, the card sold for $25,000 to Jim Copeland, the owner of a sporting goods franchise. In 1991, Copeland sold the Wagner card to Wayne Gretzky, ice hockey Hall of Famer, and Bruce McNall, an owner of the Los Angeles Kings, for $451,000 (thus earning the name “Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner.”) In 1995, Gretzky and McNall sold the card to Walmart for $500,000. The card was given away in a promotion, and that winner auctioned off the card in 1996 for $640,000. In the years that followed, the card’s value increased geometrically. In 2000, the Wagner card sold for $1.265 million; in 2007 it sold for $2.35 million; and in 2008, it sold for $2.8 million, making it the most expensive baseball card in the world.

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