Interview with $640,500 card owner Mike Gidwitz
Written by Dennis Purdy (VCBC - March/April 1997)
Mike Gidwitz, a 47 year old
investment adviser from Chicago, has been
a collector for 39 years. He began his
collecting career opening packs the same
way every other kid in little league did. He
stopped collecting at the end of the 1966
season because he had trouble getting the
1966 high numbers. At the time he had
just about every regular issue Topps
produced from 1958 up through trade,
purchase or opening packs. In 1996, he
paid $640,500 for the finest T206 Honus Wagner
The following is part of the interview Dennis Purdy (VCBC Editor and Publisher) with Mike Gidwitz.
VCBC: Okay, let's talk about the Honus
Wagner card. When did you decide that
you were going to go after it?
MG: Well, I always wanted a nice one, I
didn't want a beat up one. I tried to buy
another collector's once, offering him
$250,000, but he turned me down. He
didn't have a problem with the price, he
just didn't know where he would get
another nice one. I called Bruce McNall
once and I asked him if he'd take $1 million
for his Wagner card. He didn't even take
my name or phone number; he said that he
didn't want to sell it, and that if he did sell
it, he wasn't going to sell it to me, and he
hung up the phone on me. Later I heard
that he wanted to find out who I was, but it
was too late and he regretted not taking my
name and phone number. You know, you
have an opportunity at some point, and if
you don't take the opportunity when it
happens, that moment can pass.
VCBC: Did you bid on the Wagner card
when it was in the Copeland sale?
MG: Yes I did, and I was willing to go up
to $300,000 on it, which I did bid, but I
was outbid for it.
VCBC: How many bidders were there on
it at the Copeland sale?
MG: Several, I don't know. All I
remember is there were a lot of guys willing
to pay more than I was. I thought I could
buy the card that day for $300,000, and I
was willing to spend up to $300,000 on it
and that's all I had to spend. That's the
most I ever personally thought about
spending on the card.
VCBC: Was there more excitement at this
auction where you bought the Wagner card
than there was at the Copeland sate?
MG: That's a very good question. Let me
put it this way. I was willing to spend
$300,000 at the Copeland sale because
that's all I could afford at the time. I had
more discretionary income at the Christie's
sale than the Sotheby's sale. And it was a
better fit for my collection this time than
last. And not only that, there was more of
a history of the card. I think the card was a
better buy at $640,000 than it was at
$451,000 because if I had bought the card
for $451,000 it wouldn't have gotten the
notoriety that it got when Gretzky and
McNall bought it. That gave it some kind
of history, a story, it added to the legend
for this card. It added to the prestige of it.
And I thought it went for too much money
at $451,000 at the time. That was much
more than I wanted to pay. But as time
went on, things changed. When I was at
Christie's I felt the card would sell for a
million dollars some day. I never thought
it would when Gretzky and McNall bought
the card. I bought the card for a lot of
reasons. One of the reasons was I figured
if I bought it for under $1 million, I'd be
the first guy some day to sell a baseball
card for a million bucks. I knew that I
would never be under duress to sell the
card. That I would never be forced to sell
it. That I could keep it for the rest of my
life if I wanted to. Because it wasn't going
to alter my life. And some day that card
will sell for a million bucks if I feel like
selling it. Today I would sell it, tomorrow
I might not. You know, your feelings about
things change. If someone offered me $1
million for it today, I'd really have to think
about it. But today I'd be able to enjoy the
fact that I did something right, that I'd made
56% return on my money after the carrying
costs. And that I'd be the only person in
the world ever to sell a baseball card for a
million bucks. I mean, that's gotta be a
kick! Still, no matter what happens,
nobody can take away the fact that I owned
this card, even if it's only for a little while.
VCBC: It sounds like you've gotten some
excitement back into your collecting...
MG: Yeah! You know, we're just little
kids inside, and I'll always be just a little
kid, even if I'm 95. But that card's going
to sell for $1 million some day...if not
tomorrow, then the day after, or a week
later, or a month or a year...
VCBC: Were you of the mindset that you
were going to get that card regardless of
the cost, or was there a time when you were
worried you might not get it?
MG: Let me tell ya, I talked with some of
the guys at Christies and they told me they
thought it was going to sell for a million
bucks, and if it sold for a million bucks I
wasn't interested. I was only interested in
buying it if it was for under a million
dollars. And my limit was $800,000. And
that had to include the buyer's premium.
That was where I wanted to be at, so at
least if I held the card I could make a profit,
or at least get the money I lose from not
collecting the interest on the money. I
didn't want to pay a million dollars for it
because that would take the fun out of it. I
really just wanted to own the card and be
the first person ever to sell it for a million
dollars or more some day.
VCBC: That was your motivation ?
MG: Yeah. And the fact that I'd own the
best card in the world. I mean, I knew how
other people treated the owners of that card.
I'd get a lot of respect for the rest of my
collection, which I felt I deserved. It would
also make people aware of all the other
wonderful things I have. A lot of people
had no idea I even existed.
VCBC: The Wagner card then would make
your museum idea all the more credible.
MG: Yeah, but I wasn't really thinking
about that at the time. It entered my mind
later after someone contacted me and asked
if I would be interested in selling my entire
collection, not just the Wagner card. And I
started thinking about it. It was somebody
who wanted it for their own purposes, and
it is somebody who owns one of the
professional sports teams.
VCBC: What would you do tomorrow if
you sold your entire collection today?
MG: Well, first of all, I still collect other
things. And I'd still collect baseball cards.
I'd just start over and be more selective. I
would collect art. But I wouldn't sell it
unless I got my name associated with it. It
would be okay for someone else to own it,
as long as it was known as the Michael
Gidwitz Collection. I would want the
money and still have the notoriety of the
fact that I collected it. I would only sell it
to someone where everyone could get the
enjoyment out of it. If I could get the
notoriety for putting it together, I'd live on
forever in collecting circles. There's got
to be trade-offs for everything. I'd still be
able to get on a plane, stay in a hotel and
visit the Mike Gidwitz collection.
VCBC: How can you guarantee that the
collection remain intact? How can one
foresee the possible financial troubles in
ten years of a struggling sports franchise
that might own the collection?
MG: Well, that's just a risk I'd have to
take. God loves a trier. Right now I feel
like a prisoner of my collection. It rules
my life. Some day I'd like to have the
freedom to do other things, and not be so
concerned and worried about it.
VCBC: I noticed that your Wagner card is
slabbed. Part of the fun of collecting is to
be able to touch your cards, feel the texture,
even smell them. Obviously you can't treat
your Wagner card the same way, so how
does it make you feel to have to keep it
tucked away in a safe deposit box?
Well I don't like having to keep it in
the safety deposit box, but I will tell you
this: I like it in a slab because it protects it
from me. I have such a heavy investment
in the card that I don't want to become
known as the guy who bought it and
creased it. Or, "Oh no! I spilled Coca Cola
all over it!" (Laughs) To me, I don't like
having it in the safety deposit box, I think
it shouldn't be my card, it should belong
to all collectors and they should all have a
chance to see it. I think I'd get a lot of
enjoyment if other people could enjoy it,
too. You know, part of collecting is sharing
with others, and this card should be shared
with the hobby, and that's another reason I
VCBC: And the fact that you now can say
you've filled in one last set.
MG: (Laughs) Yep.
This finest T206 Honus Wagner PSA-8 sold for $1,265,000 on July 15, 2000.
Gallery - T206 Honus Wagner
Periodicals - T206 Honus Wagner