Published: July 18, 2000
California Collector Pays $1.1 Million
“There ain’t much to being a ballplayer, if you’re a ballplayer.”
If Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner really thought that was true, he probably would think that there’s not much to owning a baseball card. He would be wrong, however, in the case of the recent auction of a near-mint-condition 1909 card bearing his own likeness: Brian Seigel, a private collector in California, placed the winning bid of $1.1 million Saturday in what was quite possibly the priciest auction in eBay’s history.
“I’m really glad that a collector like him got the card,” said Rob Lifson, president of Robert Edwards Auctions, Watchung, N.J., which offered the card through eBay. “He’s a guy who really enjoys collecting the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed. He’s really a terrific ambassador for card collecting.”
This card, the finest of about 50 known existing Wagner cards from a 1909 set distributed in packages of American Tobacco cigarettes, broke its own record of $640,500 for a sports card at auction set in 1996 by Chicago-based investor and collector Michael Gidwitz.
Although the value of the card is based on the greatness of the “Flying Dutchman,” as Wagner is one of five inaugural inductees into the Hall of Fame, its rarity has always driven its price considerably higher than the others in the T206 series. In 1930, when the others were selling for five or ten cents, his was appraised at $50, according to Lifson.
“Collectors have been collecting this set for a long time, and they always end up needing one card: the Honus Wagner,” he said. This, he explains, is because Wagner denied permission for the cigarette company to produce his card in the series.
How many of the Wagner cards in this series were produced before the player’s word was honored?
“Nobody knows.” Lifson said. “They weren’t supposed to produce any. There are maybe 50 or 60, and most of them are very beat up.”
Any existing Wagner cards from the series are valuable, he noted, so “even if it looks like it was run over by a truck, it would be worth $50,000.”
Seigel will pay a 15 percent buyer’s premium on the sale, bringing the final price tag to $1.265 million. The bidding had begun at $500,000 on July 5. Although eBay doesn’t keep a list of its top auctions, spokesman Kevin Pursglove told the Associated Press that “it’s safe to say that this Wagner card is in the top two or three.”
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