Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2016 Issue

Baseball Card Sets New Record Price at $3.12 Million

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Honus Wagner, the baseball card.

Rising prices in paper ephemera were confirmed once again last month with another new record set for the price of a baseball card. And once again, the honored ballplayer was the man they called "Honus," Johannes Peter "Honus" Wagner. This time the price was $3,120,000. Once again, it was not just any Honus Wagner card, but what is known as a T206 "Jumbo" card issued circa 1909 by Sweet Caporal Cigarettes. Sweet Caporal, on the card's back, claims to be "The Standard For Years." Not, obviously, for cigarettes, but for baseball cards, yes they are.

 

Honus Wagner was in his seventh season in the major leagues in 1909. Even by then, he was one of the oldest players in baseball. He retired in 1917 at the age of 43. Along the way, Wagner compiled eight batting titles, while also being a consummate slugger, base stealer, and defensive shortstop. It is ironic that Wagner, though being one of the greatest to ever play the game, is better known today for his baseball card than his play. Then again, Wagner himself never made anything like the $3.1 million his card just made. His maximum salary was $10,000.

 

Only about 200 of these cards were issued by Sweet Caporal. Wagner objected, ordering them to cease and desist. Why he objected is not certain. One explanation is that he was not paid by Sweet Caporal. That would certainly be grounds for an objection, though baseball players were not routinely paid for promoting products in that day. The other possible reason, cited by Wagner's granddaughter, is that Honus did not want to encourage children to smoke. You had to buy cigarettes to get these cards. Wagner was himself a smoker and chewer, but that doesn't mean he would not have objected to promoting tobacco to children. Whatever the reason, printing of the cards was discontinued after a short run. Today, a little over 50 of these cards are known to survive.

 

However, most are not worth $3.1 million. Along with this being a rare "Jumbo" card (wider margins), it is one of only three Wagner cards with a PSA rating of 5 or greater. Unlike books, with a somewhat vague poor/fair/good/very good/fine scale, baseball cards are rated 1-10. There is one other Wagner card rated 5 and another rated 8. The one rated 8, which might bring more than $3.1 million at auction today, is known as the "Gretzky" card because it was once owned by hockey player Wayne Gretzy. While the Gretzky card is better, it is believed a later owner trimmed the edges to remove some rubbing or curling that would have lowered the rating. Gretzky bought the card in 1991 for $451,000 and sold it in 1995 for $500,000. The Gretzky card was privately sold in 2007 for $2.8 million, previously the highest price paid for a baseball card.

 

The new record setter, which was sold by sports memorabilia specialist Goldin Auctions, is in the records for at least two previous sales. In 2008, it was sold at auction for $1.62 million. The same card came up again in 2013 and this time was sold for $2.105 million. If nothing else, this recent sale for $3.12 million proves that Honus Wagner and other significant baseball cards make a great investment. Even substantially lesser grades on the Wagner card easily climb well into six figures.

 

As remarkable as that price is for a baseball card, this one may be even more so. At the same auction, Goldin sold a signed rookie Lebron James basketball card for $318,500. $318,500? This card is barely 13 years old. Lebron is alive and well and can still sign as many more cards as he feels like. Moneyed collectors are evidently alive and well too, and items in the field of collectible works on paper are getting their share of the money, even if sometimes it is non-traditional forms of paper.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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