It was once owned by Charlie Sheen, then stolen from its display inside a New York restaurant by workers, triggering an FBI investigation. Now, one of the hobby’s most famous copies of the rare T206 Honus Wagner card is coming back on the auction block for the first time in nine years.
Mile High Card Company will offer what’s known as the “All-Star Café Wagner” in its next catalog auction, set to open Thursday, March 10. It’s expected to sell for a seven-figure price tag.
Though approximately 60 to 65 T206 Honus Wagner cards are known to exist, it’s hard to top the story behind this one.
The All-Star Cafe was a restaurant chain that mirrored The Hard Rock Cafe but with an homage to sports rather than music. As such, many athletes became heavily invested in the project, names like Agassi, Griffey, Gretzky, Montana, and Woods, as well as Sheen, the star of Major League, among other films and an avid baseball fan and collector.
The premiere of the first All-Star Cafe in New York City’s Times Square was attended by the most well-known athletes in the world as well as Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Stevie Wonder, Cindy Crawford, Brooke Shields, New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani and then-real estate magnate Donald Trump. Serving “stadium-style” food at a considerable markup, the cuisine was an afterthought as the restaurant’s appeal was the display of sports memorabilia and the ballpark atmosphere.
Sheen “loaned” some of his prized possessions to the restaurant, which were displayed under plexiglass in “The Sheen Room” near the bar. The Wagner was among them.
One night in 1998, the restaurant’s executive chef and maintenance manager hypothesized over a few drinks, “What if we just took the card and sold it?”
Odd as it may seem, especially today, the Cafe had no security, no cameras, and no alarms. The plexiglass case that housed the card wasn’t even locked.
A nephew of one of the men, having overheard the conversation, suggested replacing it with a fake and created a duplicate Wagner card using a photocopy and a cardboard mount.
The switch was made.
Thousands of patrons came to the business to dine and view the rare pasteboard over the next few weeks … and no one noticed. While the plan was working, the card had yet to be sold. The nephew approached prominent sports card dealer Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen in New Jersey, with a dubious story about finding the card in his grandfather’s closet. Sheen had acquired the card at auction for $200,000. According to Mile High Card Company, Rosen got it for $18,000.
Now the story could have ended right here, but it doesn’t. Adding a fourth co-conspirator, an assistant chef swiped more of Sheen’s collection. Among the newly missing items was an uncut sheet of 1934 Goudey cards, including the extremely rare Nap Lajoie issue. But the newest member of the heist cracked one of the plexiglass cases in his haste and, upon discovery, the police were notified. The criminal consortium cut up the Goudey sheet, damaging some of the cards in the process, and went back to Rosen to unload the loot. Once again, Rosen bought the cards for mere pennies on the dollar. The NYPD was now on the case, and shortly afterward, the FBI joined in. Here’s where the story takes a turn.
The Bureau sent a letter to the most prominent dealers on the East Coast to see if they had made any purchases that might be suspicious and Rosen responded, offering to return the cards and help identify the seller. The men were arrested for the theft of the Goudey sheet but no one, including the FBI, knew about the Wagner card. As far as anyone was concerned, the T206 Wagner was still on display at the All-Star cafe. That is until the nephew began cooperating with the authorities about the theft of the Goudey sheet and casually mentioned, in essence confessed, to the theft of the Wagner card.
All four men were convicted of theft in federal court since the cards were transported across state lines, and three of them were sentenced to probation. The maintenance manager, who physically took the Wagner card and replaced it with the fake, was sentenced to four months in prison. As for the damaged Goudey cards, the four men were ordered to pay restitution to Sheen.
Having served his probation with no further incidents, the nephew who had voluntarily, and unwittingly, cooperated with the FBI, was given a presidential pardon.
The card, graded Poor-Fair 1 by PSA, has changed hands, legally, several times since that event. The last sale took place through Robert Edward Auctions in 2013 at $402,900.
A PSA 1 Wagner sold at auction in 2020 for $1.39 million and a 1.5 went for $2.28 million in May of 2021. A PSA 2 also sold around the same time for for $3.66 million. An SGC 3 copy–one of the best known examples–netted $6.6 million in August of last year, the most ever paid for a baseball card to date.
The All-Star Cafe Wagner’s bizarre history was the subject of a Sports Illustrated article in 2020.
According to MHCC, the consignor has designated proceeds from the sale of the card for the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma.
The auction will also include another holy grail card from the same set: the T206 Joe Doyle “NY Nat’l” error.
Bidding will run through March 31.