The 1909-11 T206 white border set is arguably the most famous baseball card issue of all time. Driven by massive popularity, it’s a set that has been widely pursued by collectors for more than a century.
Among the 524 known cards, four stand out among the rest. To the hobby, these are known simply as ‘The Big Four.’
Honus Wagner T206
The biggest of the big is the easily the shortprinted Honus Wagner. Wagner’s card is not only the most expensive in the set but the most expensive in the entire hobby of sports card collecting. A PSA 5 (MC) sold for more than $3 million in 2016 and while others are challenging that mark, the Wagner remains king of all cards.
The card is valuable mostly because of its extreme shortprinting. Early in the three-year print run for the set, the card was pulled from production.
The exact reason has never been 100% confirmed with thoughts ranging from Wagner’s objection to marketing tobacco (not likely as he appeared in other tobacco issues) to simply wanting more money to participate in the set. A letter from Wagner to an American Tobacco Company representative would indicate he didn’t want to be in the set so kids wouldn’t be tempted to buy smokes. But whatever the reason, there aren’t many of them around – the grading companies have authenticated only about 50 of them.
Joe Doyle N.Y. Nat’l T206 Error
While the Wagner card is undoubtedly rare, a much tougher card actually exists in the set – the Joe Doyle N.Y. Nat’l error. At the time of production, Doyle pitched for the New York Highlanders, an American League team. However, on his earliest T206 cards, he was credited as pitching for the Giants, which was New York’s National League franchise.
Printers likely covered or removed the ‘Nat’l’ from the printing plate very early in the process because cards bearing that text are rarely found. A few made their way out into circulation, though, and today, the card is highly coveted.
To date, only about ten of this rare card have been graded by PSA and SGC (combined). The card isn’t in Wagner territory but generally sells for six figures when offered.
Sherry Magie T206 Error
Another error card is found in the set’s Big Four. This one involves former star Sherry Magee.
Magee is one of the more underappreciated players in the T206 set. He was a career .291 hitter and, in 1910 (arguably the height of popularity for the set), he led the league in batting average (.331), OPS (.952), slugging (.507), total bases (263), RBI (123), and runs (110). The MVP award wasn’t given out until 1911, but had there been one in 1910, you have to figure he would have done okay in the voting.
Magee has two cards in the set – a batting pose and a portrait but it’s the latter we’re concerned with here. While most of Magee’s portrait cards have the correct spelling of his last name, some are found with his name spelled as Magie.
Nearly 200 have been graded among both PSA and SGC, so the card isn’t nearly as rare as the first two. An argument, in fact, could be made that it does not belong in the Big Four at all since it isn’t nearly as tough to find as the others. But the card is still one that attracts a lot of attention and, even in low grade, usually sells for more than $10,000. A PSA 3 sold for nearly $20,000 in 2016.
Eddie Plank T206
Like the Wagner, there is a true scarcity on Eddie Plank cards in the set. Plank’s card was not an error but was produced in very small quantities for reasons still unknown.
To date, only a little more than 100 Plank cards have been graded by PSA and SGC.
Plank was one of the top pitchers of his era and a Hall of Famer. Given the shortages of it, his card would be desirable, anyway. But the value of it has certainly been aided by the fact that Plank was no slouch as a player. Pitching primarily for the Philadelphia Athletics, he boasts a 326-194 record and he led the league in various categories throughout his career, including games pitched, complete games, shutouts, and saves.
When offered, Plank’s card always sells for big money, even in low grade. A PSA 1 sold earlier this year for more than $51,000.