It’s been tucked away in a private collection for many years, but now a unique example of the famed T206 Honus Wagner card is returning to the marketplace, bearing a one-of-a-kind stamp on the back that connects it to a singular moment in baseball history, when two of the game’s most iconic players collided in a hard-fought battle for baseball supremacy.
The PSA graded and authenticated icon bears a purple date stamp on the back. This one isn’t just some arbitrary marking, however. It actually matches the final day of the 1909 World Series when Wagner and the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers, four games to three.
Was it stamped in celebration by a Pirates fan; an indelible mark to remind him of a glorious player’s remarkable exploits on a hotly contested World Series? Was it inked at a later date by a fan/collector doing some research on the Series? Or was it actually the date on which the card was discovered in a pack of Sweet Caporal cigarettes and marked for posterity; a serendipitous collision of occurrences marrying baseball and baseball card collecting history?
No one will likely ever know. But it’s about as cool as they come.
The card isn’t a new find. REA sold it in 1997 for $119,310, at a time when it was headline news for a piece of sports memorabilia to sell for six figures. It has been unseen in the collecting world ever since. It wasn’t until recently, however, when the card was consigned to the spring REA auction, that the auction house discovered the date actually matched Game 7 in ’09.
The “World Series Wagner” was once part of a collection of cards that were stamped by their owner. After sending a picture of it to an advanced T206 collector, REA received an image of another card with an identically stamped back, this one dated October 5. Clearly, the two were once part of the same accumulation of the hobby’s most well-known pre-War baseball card set.
“Thousands of T206 and other 1910 era cards have ink stamps,” said REA President Rob Lifson. “It was just a popular thing to do at the time. There’s a huge variety in the ink used, the color and what’s actually stamped. Sometimes it’s a name. Sometimes it's a design. In this case it's a date. To the best of our knowledge, this is the only T206 Wagner known that has a period ink stamp. We don't think one could even hope for a more significant and interesting ink stamp on a T206 Wagner.”
Graded PSA 2, this copy of card collecting’s ‘Holy Grail’ displays much better than many other Wagners. It has vibrant colors, a bright orange background, and a crisp, bold portrait. It’s corners are evenly rounded with a very light, almost undetectable surface crease to the right of Wagner’s cheek and a stray purple ink mark on the border in the upper left that owes itself to the original stamper’s work. The image is centered towards the bottom right borders. The reverse has light soiling and a few minor surface abrasions (mostly on the left portion of the card). In short, it looks vastly superior to most other Wagner cards, regardless of the numeric grade.
All Wagner cards were produced in 1909. Not long after their release, Wagner requested that the cards be pulled from circulation for reasons that have been lost to time. Based on a newspaper note from that season, however, it’s believed that he simply didn’t want children to have to buy tobacco products to get his picture.
Grade aside, the stamp is what gives the card character.
There was no bigger star in baseball in 1909 than the man who played shortstop for the Pirates. Period photographs make him look old and that year he was indeed on the back side of his career at age 35. But make no mistake. Johannes Peter Wagner was a player.
He led the National League in hitting with a .339 average. He led the league in slugging and RBIs, too. Cobb, the young buck at age 22, hit .377 and led the American League in every meaningful offensive category.
The proud veteran and the cocky, brash Georgia kid would lock horns as America watched however it could. Newspapers. Manual scoreboards posted on busy street corners in big cities. Telegraph dispatches.
The average attendance for each game was less than 20,000. What a series they saw.
The Tigers had Cobb. The Pirates had Wagner. In this series, both played well but Wagner had the upper hand. He hit .333 with 7 RBI and six stolen bases. The Pirates also had a rookie of their own who complemented Wagner’s hitting with mound dominance. Babe Adams started three games and won all three including that October 16, 1909 finale with a six-hit shutout.
It was one of the greatest World Series of the first half of the 20th century.
A few seconds of surviving film of the Series show Wagner and Cobb, the two batting champs sharing a smile before the showdown. It got a little testier when the action commenced.
One of the signature moments occurred in game one when legend has it that Cobb was on first base and shouted down to the shortstop with the German heritage: “Get ready, krauthead, I’m coming down!” Wagner is alleged to have responded “I’ll be waiting.”
Cobb took off.
Wagner applied a hard tag, cutting the young whippersnapper’s lip in the process. Wagner later claimed the bloodshed wasn’t on purpose, but rather part of a message that the Pirates were ready for Cobb’s aggressiveness on the basepaths.
The demand for T206 Wagner cards remains high among advanced collectors and it’s expected there will be considerable interest in this particular card, for its strong visual appeal and the connection to the last time two of the game’s brightest early 20th century stars would meet on the field. Bidding will start at $100,000 and the card will carry an estimate of $300,000+ when bidding begins April 15, 2012. The auction closes Saturday May 12.
To learn more about Robert Edward Auctions, receive a complimentary copy of the catalog or inquire about consignments via their website or call 908-226-9900. To see a complete catalog description of the T206 "World Series Wagner, click here.