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T206 Honus Wagner PSA-4 (The Dreier Collection)

Legendary Auctions (Dec 22, 2011)

The Dreier Collection’s Wagner ranks firmly in the Top 10 of the 50 to 100 such Holy Grails in existence. Thus, it belongs to that supremely prestigious Million-Dollar Card Club that began with the famous seven-figure sale of the so-called Gretzky Wagner back in 2000.

More definitively, if we trace the hierarchy of all prominent, documented T206 Wagners according to their grades and lineage, we believe the Dreier Wagner unquestionably positions itself as high as Number 8:

    1. PSA NM-MT 8: Bill Mastro -> Jim Copeland -> Wayne Gretzky/Bruce McNall -> Mike Gidwitz/Rob Lifson -> Brian Siegel -> Private Investor
    2. Borderline NM (and oversized): Lew Lipset -> Mastro -> Barry Halper -> Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown
    3. EX+ or slightly better (with strong corners): Richard Gelman -> Corey Shanus
    4. PSA EX 5: Leland's -> Mastro -> Scott Ireland
    5. PSA EX 5 MC ("jumbo"-sized): Mastro -> John Rogers
    6. EX: Mastro -> Dr. Robert Goode -> Mark Macrae
    7. EX: Larry Fritsch
    8. VG-EX 4: The Dreier Collection
    9. EX appearance (but adhered to an album page): Jefferson Burdick -> Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It's no overstatement to fully credit the T206 White Border Honus Wagner with the status of modern-day legitimacy enjoyed by the baseball-card-collecting market. Were it not for Wagner, baseball cards might have remained in the company of other childhood pastimes that became collector’s items (toys, model trains, lunch pails, etc.) instead of joining the elite echelon of coins, stamps, documents and fine art. Yes, this diminutive tobacco insert—the backbone of our entire hobby—is the cardboard equivalent of the 1804 silver dollar, the Inverted Jenny, Christopher Columbus’ signature, and the Mona Lisa.

Experts agree that the American Tobacco Trust halted the printing of Wagner’s card early in the set’s three-year production period. Theories about as to why the card was removed, but the prevailing notion—that Wagner found the endorsing of cigarettes to be morally objectionable (even though he himself chewed tobacco)—originates from an article published in an October 24, 1912, issue of The Sporting News. So the story goes, American Tobacco had hired a Pittsburgh sportswriter to broker Wagner’s endorsement deal. The Pirates shortstop promptly refused the financial arrangement, but not without sending the representative a $10 check to compensate the man for the amount he had been promised by his employer. (Reportedly, the sportswriter reciprocated Wagner’s kind gesture by never cashing the check.)

That article notwithstanding, other theories hold firm to the idea that Wagner was hardly an anti-tobacco crusader. Rather, as arguably the game’s biggest star at the time, he was simply unhappy with the royalties (or lack thereof) for the use of his image and nixed the deal. “If so,” writes Dave Jamieson in his 2010 book Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, “[Wagner] would have been a visionary of a different sort, given that professional athletes of his era generally had no inkling of their true publicity value.” Either way, the mystery and folklore have only added to the ambient mystique, leaving us all to search Wagner’s seemingly stoic expression for answers—the same way viewers analyze if, and why, Mona Lisa smiles.

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