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Written by David Rudd (Cycleback - September 20, 2000)

Steve Verkman Cards and Memorabilia, of Carle Place N.Y., has announced that the famed 1909 T206 Proof Strip, including the Honus Wagner baseball card, will be a part of its auction of 'Baseball Antiquities' ending October 11. The six-card proof strip, or pre-final run test print, also includes cards of Hall of Fame members Mordecai 'Three Fingers' Brown and Cy Young. The T206 Honus Wagner is widely regarded as the crown jewel of baseball cards. Only about fifty are known to exist, with the highest grade example recently selling for $1.27 million in July.

While other single card T206 Proofs exist, this is the only known strip, and certainly the only one with the Wagner. Each card on the strip has the border cross hatches used to align printing and blank back typical of proofs. The strip shows considerable wear, including a heavy crease along the right side of Wagner's face and body. The cards have retained the bright color that has made the set a hobby favorite. Cards are, from left to right, Brown, Wagner, Frank Bowerman, Young and Johnny Kling.

Along with antique coins, currency and other collectibles, the card was included in a State Fair display of unclaimed property collected by the Treasurer's Office. The exhibit is designed to get fair-goers to use computer terminals at the Treasurer's booth to see if they are among thousands of West Virginians entitled to file claims for unclaimed property, currency or stock certificates collected by the state agency.

The proof was most probably Wagner's personal copy. Wagner's former Pittsburgh home was sold in the 1970s, and the new owners discovered the strip along with a 1938 coaches uniform and important documents. Steve Verkman touts the strip as "Wagner's own Wagner".

There are disputes in the hobby why the Wagner card was removed so early in the print run. One theory is that he was anti-smoking and refused to have his picture included in a set promoting smoking. The cards were issued by the American Tobacco Company. Each regular card has a tobacco advertisement on back, and was distrubuted inside a pack of cigarettes. The other explanation of the rarity is that Wagner stopped production because he wasn't paid enough. Those who believe he wasn't paid enough point to pictures later in his life that show him chewing tobacco. Verkman, for one, believes that the cause was Wagner's anti-smoking stance. "Wagner is in most of the caramel (baseball card) issues of that period and it would seem unlikely that they would have the ability and desire to pay Wagner more for his image than the enormously rich tobacco companies of that era." Either way, it is believed that the proof was sent to Wagner in a futile attempt to get his permission to use his image.

When those manning the booth replied in the negative, the collector returned with a printout from a card-collectors' Web site detailing the planned eBay auction of a similar-looking 1909-11 American Tobacco Co. Honus Wagner trading card that fetched $1.1 million last month. That same card, once owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky, sold for $640,500 in 1996, making it the most valuable sports card of all time at that time, and earning it the nickname the "Mona Lisa of all trading cards."

The strip was originally part of the collection of famed collector Barry Halper auctioned by Sotheby's in 1999. Bidding will start at $60,000.


Gallery - T206 Honus Wagner Uncut Proof

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