The 1909 T206 Honus Wagner is the most famous and expensive baseball card, trading card and perhaps even collectible in the world. Though the exact count is unknown and new examples are discovered from time to time, it is usually roughly estimated that about 50 to 80 of the cards exist. While that’s a limited number, this article lists eight sports trading cards–and one ghost– rarer than the Wagner. While you may have heard of a few of them, most are unknown to the general collecting public. This list is hardly complete and there many cards and even entire sets rarer than the T206 Honus Wagner.
#1) 1927 Honey Boy Ice Cream #14 Babe Ruth
This card comes from a set rare enough that it wasn’t officially cataloged until 2001. As printed on the backs, a full set of 21 cards could be redeemed for a brick of Honey Boy brand ice cream. While the collector got to keep the cards, every card was punched with a small hole so they couldn’t be redeemed again. Thus, the hole in the Ruth card. The set also includes similarly rare cards of Tris Speaker, George Sisler, Edd Roush, Grover Alexander and several other Hall of Famer.
#2) 1930’s W467 Exhibit Supply Company Bronco Nagurski (wrestling)
Widely considered the Holy Grail of wresting cards, I am aware of only one example of this card in existence. While Nagurski is best known for his career as a football star for the University of Minnesota and Chicago Bears, he was later a successful wrestler becoming the world’s heavyweight champion. This card was only recently discovered, but wresting card catalogers had earlier suspected it might exist because the original art for the card had been seen in the Exhibit Supply Company’s archives. There is no Exhibit Supply football card of Nagurski and his 1935 National Chicle issue is often called the Holy Grail of American football cards.
#3) 1948 Leaf Boxing #50 Rocky Graziano
The most fabled and sought after Post World War II boxing card depicts popular knockout artist and former world’s middleweight champion Graziano. Accordinging to Robert Edward Auctions, fewer than ten of of this card exist. One of them, a PSA 4, sold for over $27,000 in 2007.
#4) 1919 Zeenuts Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Atbuckle
Smaller than a credit card, this West Coast candy card is one of the most desirable baseball cards of a non-player. The Zeenut cards were issued annually from 1911-38 by the Collins-McCarthy Candy Co. of San Fransisco. Zeenuts was one of Collins-McCarthy’s brands of candy. The cards depict players in the Pacific Coast League, a prominent minor league. Numerous future stars appeard on these cards, including Joe DiMaggio, Ernie Lombardi, Paul Waner and Lefty Gomez.
At the time of issue, Arbuckle was one of Hollywood’s leading silent movie comedians. He was also a sports fan and part owner of the Pacific Coast League’s Vernon Tigers baseball team— thus, his inclusion in the Zeenut set. The card shows him, in sunny days, goofily pretending to eat a baseball.
Arbuckle’s career was soon after ruined by scandal, after being tried for and acquitted of murder. He died in 1932, at the age of 46.
#5) 1923 Maple Crispette #15 Casey Stengel
Maple Crispette was a Canadian candy and the 1923 baseball cards were sold in packs of the candy. As described on the backs, a complete set could be redeemed for a baseball, bat or a glove. To make the redemptions difficult and sell more candy, card #15 of Casey Stengel was made almost non existent. Kids kept on buying the candy to try and finish the card set but could never find Casey. Today, you can usually find several cards from the set on eBay, but only one example of the Stengel card is known to exist.
#6) 1921 Frederick Foto Babe Ruth
From a large and scarce regional issue of minor league and major league players issued by a Sacaramento, California photography studio, the tobacco-style card has a real photo of Ruth pasted to cardboard backing. The image labels Ruth as a New York Yankee but pictures him in his earlier Boston Red Sox uniform. Only a few Ruths are known to exist, and all of the cards in the set are rare. You can buy a reprint for a couple bucks.
#7) 1975 Hostess George Brett Rookie Card
Hostess produced cards from 1975-79. Color separation proofs of this card have been seen and sold, but, for whatever reason and despite the 1975 set containing a card of fellow Hall of Fame rookie Robin Yount, the finished Brett card was never issued in packages of the cream-filled treats.
#8) 1912 H813 Boston Garter Christy Mathewson
All of the cards in the 1912-14 Boston Garter issues are rare, though this one of Mathewson is perhaps the most desirable. Only one example is known to exist. The oversized cards were inserted one per box of twelve Boston Garter men’s sock garters. Each large and brightly lithographed 1912 card shows a player in the locker room, sometimes in his underwear, showing off his snazzy sock garters. In the background, a large open window shows a game in progress. Some collectors say the Boston Garters were intended as store display advertising pieces, so don’t count as traditional trading cards but they sell for big bucks at auction.
#9) 1956 Bowman Set
This set was planned but doesn’t exist.
Bowman Gum Company of Brooklyn, New York had a brief but important career as issuers of baseball cards. Their 1948 issue was the first major issue after World War II. During the early 1950s they were worthy competitors to the powerful Topps Chewing Gum Company, also of Brooklyn. Bowman produced some of the classic cards of the era, including the only true rookie cards of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and the popular 1954 Bowman Ted Williams short print. Many collectors consider the 1953 Bowman Color set to be the most beautiful of the era.
Following the 1955 set, Bowman was planning its next set for 1956. The above shows the artwork for the potential designs. The upper left design is much like the Bowman Color set. The upper right ‘knothole’ design was later possibly borrowed for the 1958 Hires Root Beer Set. The bottom design is similar to the 1957 Topps football set.
Which design they would have used, we will never know. Topps bought out its bubble gum competitor and the cards were never issued.