It’s hard to believe but we’ll soon be at the two-year mark of when a Honus Wagner T206 card sold for a record $3.12 million. The specific Wagner that achieved that mark is nicknamed as the ‘Jumbo’ Wagner because of its oversized bottom border. But despite the fact that the record has stood until now, it’s likely only a matter of time before it is broken.
Long-term, there are a few likely challengers for it. But in the short-term, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle cards are the others most likely to threaten it.
A PSA 9 Mantle 1952 Topps card sold in April for $2.88 million, coming close to the Wagner T206. It is currently one of six Mantle cards graded that high by PSA and any one of the six could make another run at Wagner in the near future. But it’s not those that would have the best short-term chance at eclipsing Wagner’s record. Rather, it’s the three PSA 10 examples of the card that could not only surpass the Wagner price, but shatter it.
With more than 2,000 graded copies of the Mantle card in existence, it’s a far more populous card and one that is much newer. But that hasn’t slowed the momentum and Mantle-mania, for now, anyway, continues to run crazy for a card that ultimately isn’t all that rare. And with a PSA 9 nearly catching the Wagner, there’s little doubt that a PSA 10 would dethrone it as long as prices continue to remain so high.
But while Mantle is grabbing all of the headlines, don’t forget about Babe Ruth.
Ruth’s earliest recognized card is his 1914 Baltimore News minor league issue. Unlike the Mantle, this one is pretty scarce. Heck, with only seven graded copies existing between PSA and SGC to date, it’s actually much rarer than the Wagner T206 as well. There haven’t been many recent reported sales for the card so it’s difficult to gauge where the market is exactly. But we know that it’s gone up in recent years.
That’s evidenced not only in the overall upward trend of pre-war cards themselves, but in specific sales of the card. PSA reported a sale of a PSA 4 example, the highest one graded, for $243,600 in 2005. But a ‘meager’ PSA 1 last sold in 2013 earned nearly double that, selling for over $450,000. A PSA 1 sold these days, five years after that sale, would almost certainly be more and it isn’t hard to imagine that PSA 4 threatening the Wagner if it surfaces for sale.
To a lesser degree, there are also the M101-4 and M101-5 Sporting News/Mendelsohn Ruth cards, which are considered to be his major league rookie cards. While that card is not nearly as expensive as the Baltimore News version (pound for pound), it has significantly higher graded examples, including a few PSA 8s. That card has a lot of catching up to do, though, to be in $3 million territory. A PSA 7 sold in 2017 at $600,000 so it doesn’t appear to be a short-term threat.
Finally, one other viable challenger exists to the Wagner T206 card – itself. All Wagners have gone up over time and they are routinely sold. It isn’t inconceivable in the slightest that the Jumbo Wagner would sell again in the near future, and for more money. If a PSA 10 Mantle 1952 Topps card doesn’t surface for sale, the Jumbo Wagner card could be the one to break its own record. That Wagner card, by the way, sold for nearly $1 million less in 2013. Nearly two years later, seeing another price increase would hardly be a surprise.
Whatever the case, the Wagner record is likely to fall at some point. Based on what some cards are selling for these days, it’s only a matter of when, not if.