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Restoration Reversed Honus Wagner sold for $219,225

Legendary Auction (March 3, 2010)

Encapsulated and assessed "Authentic" by PSA. The T206 Wagner in any condition has since the genesis of the "insert card" concept been considered the most desirable card ever produced. Even back in the 1930s, when The American Card Catalog became the first major reference work to address cards, the Wagner was listed as having a value of $50. Not only did this ascribed worth exceed that of any other card known, but, by way of contrast, all of the other T206 cards were listed by the same source at just a dime apiece. Although speculators have pegged the number of surviving Wagner examples at various quantities across an optimistic range, most knowledgeable hobbyists now agree that, in fact, there are less than a hundred authentic examples known to exist. Simply stated, the piece is one of the most recognizable icons in any hobby. The appealing example offered here concedes visible creasing and has severely rounded corners, but its color and portrait continue to support a rich appearance. Perhaps the greatest strength of this card is that Wagner’s face has been left mostly unsullied by the vagaries of time and circulation.

The century-long path from this card's moment of issue to its appearance in this catalog is distinguished by a couple of unusual detours. This Wagner emerged and first came to the attention of the organized collectibles industry in the mid-1990s. At that time, its condition approximated today's Good standard, as decades'-worth of private handling – doubtless incurred during the fulfillment of the card's role as a prized family heirloom – took a natural toll on sharply cut edges and deeply inked surfaces.

More than ten years ago, when a trading card's aesthetic was the overriding factor in determining a rarity's desirability, the item underwent a measure of careful and professional restoration. Third party grading services had not yet reached today’s levels of sophistication or respectability at that point, and their prospective assessments of this restoration were, evidently, a less important consideration than the much-improved physical state of the card that would be experienced from a collector's standpoint. The restorer’s work consisted primarily of inpainting to hide paper loss, subdue creases, and compensate for the erosion of ink pigmentation. Soon after, while clearly described as "restored," the card was sold at public auction.

The buyer of the card in its "restored" state – hoping to return the piece to its "original," as-found condition -- almost immediately sought to have the recently accomplished work reversed. A conservator's earnest attempt to bring back the card’s signs of aging resulted in the sight one sees, today, when viewing it. The card was sold, once again during the 1990s, in the same condition as it retains in its current PSA Authentic/Altered encapsulation.

Throughout the latest period of its life, then, the card has undergone several changes. Of greatest importance to most, however, is where it stands, now. Under close examination, this Wagner still shows vestiges of inpainting, particularly in the area of a single heavy crease that lies in the top-right quadrant of the illustration’s orange background. The subject's torso and face remain fundamentally unaffected, although the right ear is once again visibly impacted by wear. The Sweet Caporal advertising on the card’s back looks and is presumed to be wholly original. Overall presentation quality is, once more, about Good.

An image of the card's one-time status as a "restored" copy is available on our website. This precise view of a segment of the rarity's past provides illumination about the card's journey, and can contribute significantly to prospective bidders' understandable wish to know as much as possible about the piece's unique story. The future centerpiece of an advanced collection, this Wagner offers a tantalizing past to complement what is sure to be an abundance of appreciation in the future.

Disclosure: It must be clarified that, although past restoration has been largely reversed, as described, under no circumstances would a qualified grading service or knowledgeable collector ever deem this card to be anything but a restored or altered example. In no way does our description intend to imply that this collectible should be regarded as anything but an authentic "altered" card.

Final Bid with Buyer's Premium: $219,225

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