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A Fake Honus Wagner Tobacco Card With An Interesting History

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From time to time one will see for sale a Freeman Cigar Co. 5-Cent Cigar card depicting Hans (Honus) Wagner. Though almost always advertised as vintage, the card is a modern computer fake concocted in recent years.

Hones Wagner Freeman Cigar Forgery

Hones Wagner Freeman Cigar Forgery

There are authentic early 1900s Hans Wagner tobacco labels, printed on white paper and intended to be stuck to tobacco boxes. The labels are rarely seen and come in various designs. The most expensive examples will most likely be offered by major auction houses or top dealers. One of these labels has a close design to the fake card.

About 1993, a manufacturer of collectible tin signs (those Ted Williams Moxie and Joe Jackson H & B reprints) made a sign based on the design of just mentioned tobacco label. This man marketed the tin signs as modern collectables, not representing them as vintage. The sign was not an exact copy of the label. The tin sign maker added the 5 cents sign at the bottom for artistic balance. He also he used a different text font in parts as he could not find a modern duplicate of the original.

The 1990s Han Wagner Cigar tin sign

The 1990s Han Wagner Cigar tin sign

Several years later a different, dishonest man used a computer printer to reprint the tin signs and created fake tobacco cards.  He scuffed and dirtied the cardboard to make them appear old. He sold them at flea markets to unsuspecting people who knew little about baseball cards but had heard of the legend of Honus Wagner and figured they had struck cardboard gold.

 When shown a picture of one of the fake cards, the tin sign maker said it was impossible for the card to be vintage as it used his 1990’s design.

 So, when you see one of these Hans Wagner 5-Cent Cigar cards for sale, treat it as a modern fantasy card in bad condition– worth two bucks at very most. If you like the design–and it is an interesting image of Wagner–you can go out and buy one of the ‘original’ 1990s tin signs.

About David Cycleback

David Cycleback is an art and artifacts historian and an internationally known authentication expert. He has authenticated artifacts for major institutions, was a writer for the standard academic reference Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography, and teaches courses in art authentication. Reprinted by Beijing's Three Shadows Art Center, his guides "Judging the Authenticity of Prints by the Masters" and "Judging the Authenticity of Photographs" were the first comprehensive books on the subjects published in China. He can be reached at [email protected].