Wikipedia wrote that T206 is a tobacco card set issued from 1909 to 1911 in cigarette and loose tobacco packs through 16 different brands owned by the American Tobacco Company. Collectors refer to the set as “The Monster” since it’s a 524 card set, but with 36 different backs advertising different Tobacco brands, an enormous number of cards are needed for a “complete” collection. The most famous (not rarest) card from the set is the Honus Wagner because of its limited distribution numbers and Wagner’s popularity as a player and Hall of Famer.
I was listening to The Monster Podcast, Episode 12, an interview with Keith Olbermann, in which they posited a few new theories about why the card is so rare. Some believe that the printing plate broke early in the printing process, others suspect a copyright issue, and others think Honus Wagner pulled the card because he objected to its printing (maybe not wanting to encourage kids to smoke). Olbermann proposed that perhaps the Wagner card was a mail-in giveaway, and that’s why only between 50 and 200 cards were ever potentially distributed. Estimates today are that less than 60 of the cards exist to this day of the original 200.
The T206 Wagner currently occupies 3 of the Top 10 highest sports card sales of all time. And Goldin Auctions recently sold a PSA 2 variant for $3.66M. If more of them came to market, I suspect they could occupy many more places on the Top 10 list.
The news of this sale and the timing of the Podcast motivated me to learn a bit more about the T206 Wagner. And then I started to wonder how many ungraded Wagner cards may still be out there. I ran a quick poll on Twitter asking just that.
However, after a bit of research, I realized I framed the question incorrectly. I should have asked how many ungraded, AND unknown Wagners may still be uncovered because I found the T206 Resource with a great Wagner Gallery and a Wagner Sales history. And the site tracks a few known ungraded Wagner variants. In addition, both the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have ungraded Wagners in their collections.
What makes me think there are still a few more Wagners to be discovered is that big lots of ungraded T206 cards with other high-dollar cards keep being uncovered and sold. For example, Heritage just posted this collection of 800+ raw T206 cards with a few Cobbs.
Some may argue that any variant of the card is now over $1M, so it would be silly for people to be holding raw copies. But if a person has had the card for 50+ years and has no intention of selling it, why would they need to authenticate it? I suspect they could insure it either way. Plus, a Premium Walk Through service at PSA for a Wagner would cost $10,000, which is a lot of cash to grade a card someone might not be looking to sell. Raw 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle cards keep popping up, and that card MAY be more recognizable to some. I don’t think it’s silly to think that 10-20% of the population may still exist in people’s collections. I’ve seen some amazing raw set runs from collectors who aren’t into 3rd party authentication and have no reason to share what they have and deal with the attention it would bring.
My gut tells me around a dozen T206 Wagner’s are still to be “discovered” in the coming years as collections are passed down to future generations. How many T206 Wagner’s do you suspect are still to be shared? Let me down in the comments or over on Twitter.
PS: If you want to learn more about the card, the T206 set, or pre-war cards in general, I highly recommend the Pre-War Cards Blog.