Error cards and corrected errors may often seem like a modern baseball card phenomenon but in reality printers have been fixing mistakes for a century.
Proof of that is exhibited in the T206 set, where a mistaken identity turned New York Americans pitcher Joe Doyle into a National Leaguer.
The mistake was understandable.
American Tobacco Company, maker of the T206 cards, put Doyle in the NL by the use of a "N.Y. Nat'l" label team identifier at the bottom of the card. In 1909, there was a Larry Doyle in the majors, pitching for the New York Nationals. Made aware of the mistake, printers of the T206 tobacco cards wasted little time removing the "Nat'l" from the typeset of the Joe Doyle. A few did make it into circulation. Fewer still survived the decades that followed.
One of those was in the collection of long-time hobbyist Charlie Conlon, who passed away suddenly this fall. The collection has been consigned to Robert Edward Auctions and Conlon's SGC 50-graded Doyle error is scheduled to be sold by REA next April. Company president Rob Lifson says it's the first time in five years a Doyle error card will be offered at public auction.
Minimum bid is $25,000 but it's likely the card will sell for significantly more, considering the grade and the simple law of supply and demand among collectors of the iconic T206 set, many of whom have never had the opportunity to buy one until now.
"I think the appreciation for the rarity of the Doyle card has grown over the years," Lifson told Sports Collectors Daily. "The market has realized that is even rarer than ever thought, and an understanding of what the card is all about has increased."
The Doyle card is actually much harder to find than the legendary T206 Honus Wagner card, considered the 'holy grail' for the vintage baseball card set collector. While somewhere between 50 and 100 Wagner cards are believed to exist today, Lifson believes there may be only six Doyle error cards. While the PSA population report lists nine Doyle rarities, Lifson so strongly believes the report is inaccurate, he's offering a $1 million reward ($111,112 per card) if the nine PSA-graded Doyle cards can simply be presented and verified as legitimate error cards.
While a supporter of the report in general, Lifson believes "the rare Doyle is an easy card to confuse with the common Doyle if one is not aware that the rare Doyle exists. Being a card that is so impossibly rare, if the rare Doyle T206 was not on the radar of a grader years ago, it would be very understandable that common Doyle cards could have long ago been mistakenly identified on some labels."
The Doyle error was discovered in the 1970s by the first full-time sports card dealer, Larry Fritsch, who died earlier this year. Fritsch sought the Doyle error card extensively in his early advertising and purchased one in 1987 for $10,000. It was his second and Lifson says Fritsch never sold either card.
Ron Oser Enterprises sold a PSA 2 (good) Doyle in August 2000 for $178,598. In August 2000. Three years later, MastroNet sold a PSA 3 for for $55,739.
As one of the "Big Four" scarcities in the T206 set, the Doyle joins Wagner, Eddie Plank and the Sherry "Magie" misspelling as the most sought after cards in the series. Like Doyle, the "Magie" error was corrected to reflect the correct spelling of the player's name ("Magee").
Because of its extreme scarcity, the Doyle card has been the target of card doctors who attempt to add the "Nat'l" wording. Lifson says he has seen two non-genuine Doyle errors, but maintains that the card is very difficult to counterfeit.
"Doyle needs typeset to be added to create a fake," he explained. "This is very difficult to do in a manner that cannot be easily detected. Like any card, making a fake is easy but making a fake that would fool a knowlegable collector that is looking for it is very difficult. Maybe impossible. That is why no one actually buys a fake Wagner for big money, even though there are thousands of them out there."
So if the Doyle error card is so scarce, why aren't more people calling it the Holy Grail instead of the Wagner card?
"Honus has a better press agent. And he's a star with a great story. Doyle is so rare he is just never offered. So he doesn't get a lot of press. That said, Doyle's fame is actually pretty great considering he is not a star and his card is basically never offered for sale."
The final selling price will depend on how many collectors with deep pockets are willing to bid. Lifson knows first-hand the market for truly rare baseball cards has increased since the last Doyle sold and continues to thrive in a tough economic market.
"The T206 Doyle doesn't have a big track record for previous sales, but that is only because the card is so rare. That's a pretty positive reason in terms of value. I think this card will probably sell for somewhere between the 2000 sale price of $178,598, which I think was an extremely strong price for the time, and the 2003 sale price of $55,739, which I think was an extremely weak price for the time. Both auction results were extremes in my opinion. This card is much better condition than both of these examples. It's really hard for me to predict. I'd be surprised if it didn't sell for at least $100,000 but anything could happen."
T206 cards for sale on eBay now