The 1909 T206 Honus Wagner card is the holy grail of baseball cards.
It's one of the rarest baseball cards in history, with less than 100 copies known to exist. And a key figure to the most well recognized tobacco card set of the pre-war era.
And it's also the most valuable baseball card in the hobby.
All of this rarity is also adding to its value on today's market. Investors have never lost money buying a T206 Honus Wagner card.
But does it have the potential for more growth in the future?
Read on as we discuss the history, rarity, values, and investment potential of the T206 Honus Wagner, the most incredible trading card in the hobby.
A History Of The T206 Honus Wagner Card
From 1909 to 1911, the American Tobacco Company (ATC) inserted baseball cards across its sixteen brand tobacco packs.
The cards were part of a promotion for ATC to keep customers loyal to its cigarette brands. Some believe the cards acted as an added 'stiffener' for the cigarette packs.
At the time of production, Wagner played baseball at an elite level and was sought after by many brands seeking to use his likeness.
The T206 Honus Wagner card story is folklore, but the summary goes something like this. The American Tobacco Company started producing the Wagner card early in their production run in 1909 but soon stopped making the card.
Many believe this was due to a cease and desist from Honus Wagner, ordering ATC to remove the card from the set.
Some believe Wagner wanted the card pulled since he did not want to be associated with a tobacco product and ruin his image. But many dispute this fact, noting that Wagner was a frequent chewing tobacco user, and it was more likely due to a contractual dispute.
Some advanced T206 collectors, such as Olbermann, have argued that Wagner’s withholding of consent had less to do with an anti-smoking bias than money. These critics of the anti-smoking thesis note that Wagner was featured in advertisements for tobacco products (including cigars) leading up to 1909, and was an admitted user of chewing tobacco. From this, they conclude that Wagner's pronouncements about moral objections to cigarette smoking were themselves, excuse the pun, a “smoke screen.” - Scott Reader, Inside T206
How Many Honus Wagner T206 Cards Exist?
Today the estimates are that roughly 50 to 100 Wagner cards have survived and are in circulation. It was also the lowest produced card in the T206 White Borders set.
While we can speculate how many Wagner cards exist, we do have SGC and PSA population reports, which at least provide concrete data on the graded population.
PSA has graded 36 T206 Honus Wagner cards, as shown in the chart below, with the majority graded a PSA 2 or lower.
Together, between PSA and SGC, there are 54 total T206 Wagner cards graded.
Beckett has graded none. GAI has graded one T206 Wagner card.
The T206 Wagner Was Only Issued With Three Advertising Backs
The T206 Honus Wagner card was only issued with the Piedmont 150, Sweet Caporal 150 Factory 25 and Sweet Caporal 150 Factory 30 backs.
The Sweet Caporal 150 Factory 25 version is the most common.
Many counterfeit T206 Wagner cards are found with an advertising back that was not issued. The most common fake is a T206 Wagner with a Polar Bear back.
We are then left to speculate how many Wagner cards exist outside the graded population.
Scott Reader's Inside T206 book from 2009 noted that he believed that between 50 and 75 copies exist, with the number of survivors in an excellent or better condition somewhere in the single digits.
However, since we now know of 55 total graded copies, there are probably closer to 100 T206 Wagner's in circulation.
There are likely ungraded Wagner cards in private collections.
How Much Is A T206 Wagner Worth?
A recent T206 Wagner card in Good condition sold for $7.25 Million via a private sale with Goldin auctions, a record breaking sale.
Other low-grade copies have also sold at auction, with Poor to Fair condition T206 Wagners in rough shape selling for between $1.5 Million to $4 Million.
For example, this Wagner with a significant crease, in Fair condition (PSA 1.5), sold for $3.7 Million at auction.
PSA's SMR pricing table is below, although SMR pricing is usually not reflective of the actual market values.
Has The T206 Wagner Been A Good Investment?
Over the last 20 years, investors in a T206 Wagner card have outperformed the S&P 500 stock market index, averaging about 17% annualized returns.
No one has ever lost money investing in a T206 Wagner card.
I've examined historical auction data for the T206 Wagner card, and one thing is clear; buyers that have sold after 10, 15, or 20+ years have done well.
Not earth-shattering returns, but excellent appreciation in value.
The same card was sold at auction back in 2004 for $101,000.
I can't confirm if it was the same buyer that sold the card this year, but that's good for a total 1300% return or, roughly speaking, a 17.3% annualized return over sixteen years.
Over the same period, the S&P 500 returned a rough 8.8% annual return. Thus a Wagner purchased in 2004 outperformed the stock market by nearly 9% per year over sixteen years.
A more recent transaction involving another PSA 1 Wagner saw the seller earning a 17% annualized return.
The card, purchased for $399,000 in 2009 was sold at auction in early 2022 for $3.1 Million at a Mile High Card Company auction.
In addition we looked at historical data for a PSA 3 Wagner, and while we didn't have enough sales data to look at identical cards, we compared similar condition PSA 3 copies.
A PSA 3 graded Wagner sold for $6.6 Million at Robert Edward Auctions (shown below) in 2021 and we discovered another PSA 3 that sold back in 2008 for $685,000.
Slightly better condition Wagner's with recent history have also earned nearly similar returns.
Over the past twelve years, an investment in a PSA 3 graded Honus Wagner T206 card would have resulted in an 19% annualized return, which still handily beat out the S&P 500, which returned 16% on an annual basis.
Given some of the auction activity of late, we can get a rough estimation of Wagner values. Here's my estimate.
T206 Honus Wagner Baseball Card Price By PSA Grade
What's The Future Investment Potential For The T206 Wagner?
Given the scarcity and the importance of the Wagner card throughout the hobby, I view it (for those with some very, very deep pockets) as an excellent investment.
If there is one card in the hobby that I could pinpoint as having minimal downside, it would be the Wagner card.
Even in deep recessions, vintage sports cards hold their value quite well, as collectors cling to their prized possessions in times of trouble.
The Wagner card is often compared to the 'Mona Lisa' for its one-of-a-kind importance and scarcity throughout the hobby.
Even if you thought we might be in a sports card 'bubble,' the Wagner card should continue to appreciate over time.
And we can see, based on past auction values of the Wagner card, it has been an excellent investment, outperforming the stock market over the last twenty or so years.
In addition, vintage cards have become an excellent diversifier for even non-collectors, with those investors looking to asset classes such as art, antiques, and collectibles as non-correlated assets.
I know that 99.9% of those reading might not be able to find or even afford a Wagner T206 card, but this article is just here to prove that over time, and let's say 20 years, the Wagner card is likely to be a wise investment from a return perspective.
Quick Note on T206 Reprints and Counterfeits
I've had quite a few inquires on fake T206 Wagner cards. Let's just start by saying that it would be highly unlikely for you to uncover an unknown raw, ungraded Wagner at this point in time. Not saying it is impossible, just highly unlikely. There are many reprints that are very obvious and sold on eBay.
Here's a fake we received that we posted on our Instagram account. Be careful! And send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have something you'd like authenticated.
View this post on Instagram
Lesson of the day. If it’s too good to be true, it nearly always is. A collector recently sent in this Honus Wagner card to us asking about authenticity. For novice collectors, many would see the grading label and suspect that they hit the jackpot. But unfortunately the card is an aged reprint, and “Sports Card Experts” is a defunct basement type grader. The clear indication this is a fake is in the text of Wagner’s name. Notice the dark bold colors. On a real T206 card the fonts are much lighter and a darker brown color. For anyone with experience on the T206 set, this would be very evident. #t206 #t206cards #honuswagner #vintagebaseballcards #t206honuswagner
Estimated Value of T206 Honus Wagner Cards in 2040
A Wagner purchased sixteen years ago has appreciated roughly 17% per year, while one purchased in 2008 has appreciated by nearly 12%.
If we split the difference and estimate that future returns for a Wagner card are 15%, this is ultimately what Wagner values would look like in 2040.
Be sure to come and see me in eighteen years to see if that PSA 8 Wagner has hit $370 Million!
Anything can happen in the future; that $3 Million Wagner in Poor condition might not increase precipitously in value over the next few years, but if it can attain similar past returns, it could ultimately be a $37 Million card in under twenty years.
Again, this is all speculation and an exercise done for fun, but the Wagner T206 card remains one of the best investments for deep-pocketed vintage collectors.
If you can't afford a Wagner, consider some of the other Hall of Famers from the T206 set, which should also be a good long-term investment.
The Wayne Gretzky T206 Wagner
The most controversial T206 Wagner card is the one that is recorded as having the highest grade in the PSA registry.
Known throughout the hobby as the 'Gretzky Wagner', the card was acquired by Gretzky and then LA Kings Owner Bruce McNall in 1991 for $450,000.
Gretzky sold it shortly thereafter to Walmart for a customer promotion. It later was sold for several million dollars to former Arizona Cardinals owner Ken Kendrick.
However, the card was later found to be trimmed by one of the original owners - a scammer known as Bill Mastro of Mastro Auctions.
Thus, PSA made a huge error in actually grading the card at Near Mint-Mint.
There's a great book that discusses the card in detail called, 'The Card'.
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