Big milestone…nice coverage below…Best, Matthew Roszak
A League Of His Own
Nina P. West, Artfact.com 08.25.08, 7:20 PM ET
Honus Wagner. Not exactly a household name, but among serious collectors of baseball memorabilia, his image is the hottest thing going.This month a Wagner card sold for $1.62 million in Chicago, a record price for any baseball card at a public sale. No one was surprised. The Honus Wagner card is one of the most coveted pieces of baseball paraphernalia available and often referred to as the “Holy Grail.”
The buyer, John Rogers, calls his purchase the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. A baseball card collector since childhood, the Arkansas businessman remembers cutting out a copy of the Honus Wagner card from a magazine and carrying it around in his pocket for years. Decades later, on the prowl for an original, he was ecstatic when he found one this month at Mastro Auctions, a leader in sports memorabilia sales.
With the encouragement of his wife, he fought a four-minute bidding war against another buyer and ultimately came out on top. His purchase was made sweeter by the offer he received after the auction for $100,000 more than his $1.62 million purchase price. He turned the offer down but felt validation, saying that it made him realize, ”I’m not a nut.”
Rogers need not fear that he made a mistake. Other examples of the Wagner card have sold for as much as $2.8 million, a price brokered in 2007 for a card owned at one time by hockey star Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, a former owner of the Los Angeles Kings. The card is so rare that even a tattered example can fetch $150,000.
A star shortstop for the 1900-1917 Pittsburgh Pirates, Honus Wagner’s card was issued in 1909. It was one of the first of hundreds of cards included by the American Tobacco Company in its packages of cigarettes. But Wagner demanded that his card be pulled after only 100 copies were made.
The exact reason for Wagner’s insistence upon the card’s removal has been lost in time, but the most widely accepted theory is that he disapproved of smoking and didn’t want to encourage kids to buy cigarettes. The other possible reason is that Wagner, who had a reputation as a tough negotiator, didn’t receive the compensation from the tobacco company that he thought he deserved.
Honus Wagner was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as one of five members of the inaugural class of inductees in 1936 alongside Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Yet the rarity of his baseball card and the record prices it has set have succeeded in immortalizing his name in baseball’s storied history far beyond the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.
Despite hitting its peak of popularity in the early ’90s, when the card industry set a record with $1.1 billion in sales, baseball card collecting remains big business. One reason for the relative decline in sales is a simple example of supply and demand. There are so many companies producing cards, some loading their packs with hot players to satisfy the buyers’ need for instant gratification, that they have diluted the cards’ values.
Another reason for the decline in sales is a lack of ”heroes.” Tarnished by tabloid tales of steroid abuse, unbecoming behavior and infidelity, many of today’s top players lack the aura and mystique that surrounded so many of the greats of the last century.
Two pieces of Babe Ruth memorabilia are among the most expensive–and famous–pieces of baseball memorabilia ever sold at auction. The original 1919 contract selling Ruth to the New York Yankees from the Boston Red Sox, allegedly dropping the “curse of the Bambino” on the Sox, sold on eBay for $996,000 in 2005. In December 2004, the bat Ruth used to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium in the third inning of a game against his former team was sold by Sotheby’s for $1.265 million.
In the baseball card trade, collectors tastes vary, but Mickey Mantle’s rookie card from 1952, the Topps Hank Aaron card from 1958, the 1971 Milk Duds Pete Rose card and the 1961 Post cereals Joe Cunningham card are eternal favorites.
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