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T206 Wagner back on the block

Written by Mike Jaspersen (Beckett - June 7, 2000)

Auction giant eBay will be offering the most famous baseball card in the world. The fabled card, once the property of Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, will go on the block in July. The card in question, a 1910 T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card previously sold at New York’s Christies auction in 1996 for a staggering $ 640,500.

“We wanted to be the beginning of a new trend,” says Robert Lifson, a sports-memorabilia consultant who is brokering the card on behalf of its owner, Chicago investor Michael Gidwitz.

Money is a major motivator for the offering too. Mr. Lifson, who will take a flat fee of $25,000 from the sale of the card, says eBay’s sales commissions made it an attractive choice of venue. eBay charges sellers roughly 1.5 percent of the sales price - less than the 2 to 20 percent that traditional auction houses charge.

The Wagner card will be the marquee item in this, the first Internet auction of Lifson’s company. "I would really be surprised if the high bid on the Wagner card does not break a million dollars," says Lifson. “After all, it’s in a league of its own.”

With respect to opting for eBay, the choice seemed to come easy for Lifson.

“There will be a link on eBay to the other 1,000 or so lots in our auction,” he says. “What we have done is create an Internet event. Never before have we been more accessible with just a simple click. Also, the media loves eBay. eBay is a big part of American culture and the media, whether positively or negatively, loves to report on it. It’s a win-win situation."

Lifson has also convinced eBay to add a 15 percent buyer’s premium to the final bid price, something he says his own auction company, Robert Edward Auctions of Hoboken, N.J., a unit of MastroNet Inc., routinely charges. “This is a special auction and therefore special rules are going to apply,” an eBay spokeswoman says.

The card unveiled Tuesday at a news conference at Mickey Mantle’s restaurant in New York will go live on eBay beginning July 5. The minimum bid that Mr. Gidwitz will accept will be $500,000. The PSA8 graded near-mint-to-mint card is one of only 50 or so Wagner’s known to exist with the Gidwitz card being the best conditioned example known.

To lessen the possibility of bogus bids, potential buyers must register bids through Mr. Lifson’s company and establish $100,000 in escrow accounts.

The success of the sale, as measured by a record price, isn’t assured. The card has had eight owners since 1987, including Gretzky.

Already interested is a leading sports-memorabilia collector, Marshall Fogel, a Denver attorney who says he hopes to place the first bid, for $500,000, on the card. Mr. Fogel owns the original photograph used to make the card and now wants the card itself. “I’m prepared to go to the wall,” he says. “I think there’s going to be baseball players, movie stars and groups of investors bidding on it.”


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