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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 cards.

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 bought it.

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.


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