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Why are Honus Wagner baseball cards so valuable? T206 sells for $1.5m

Bruno Cooke April 26, 2022
Why are Honus Wagner baseball cards so valuable? T206 sells for $1.5m
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A Honus Wagner T206 baseball card with its sides cut off has sold for $1.5 million at an auction organised by Robert Edward Auctions. And it’s not the first time a T206 has fetched such a price. Who was he? Why are T206 Honus Wagner baseball cards so valuable, and how many of them are there?

Who was Johannes Peter Wagner?

Born 24 February 1874, Honus Wagner was a German-American baseball shortstop. He played 21 seasons in Major League Baseball between 1897 and 1917, mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

To this day, he holds the National League record for most batting titles. He won his eighth in 1911. Tony Gwynn is the only individual to match his record, which he did in 1997.

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Hans Wagner of the Pittsburgh Pirates

People affectionately (although falsely) nicknamed Honus Wagner “The Flying Dutchman” because of his speed and German heritage. Note: Germans come from Germany; Dutch people come from the Netherlands.

In 1936, the Baseball Hall Of Fame inducted Wagner – also sometimes nicknamed “Hans” Wagner – as one of the first five members. The others were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.

Why are Honus Wagner baseball cards so expensive?

Honus Wagner baseball cards – part of set T206 – have a habit of fetching extremely high prices at auction. 

Just three weeks ago, a rare Honus Wagner card sold for $3.13 million. That’s more than double yesterday’s sale. Part of the reason that one went for so much may have been that Charlie Sheen previously owned it

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And, almost unbelievably, a single Wagner card sold for $6.6 million in August last year. LeBron James and Mickey Mantle cards fetched comparable prices.

The reasons Honus Wagner baseball cards are so valuable – so expensive – are threefold: he was an elite player; the T206 series, or “white border set”, has a prestige of its own; and the number of them in circulation is very low. But how low?

How many Honus Wagner baseball cards are there in existence?

According to Draft Kings Nation, only 50 to 200 Honus Wagner baseball cards were ever minted. There are 47 graded copies in circulation, the outlet adds.

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Meanwhile, CBS Sports’ report on the February 2022 sale of half a Honus Wagner card (for $475,000) quotes the SCP Auctions website as saying that the exact number of T206 Wagners in the hobby today “is not known”.

However, “the common estimate is around 60”.

Wagner’s stats are readily available via the Baseball Reference website here

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.