Honus Wagner card sells for $6.6M, obliterating record for most expensive card

Honus Wagner card sells for $6.6M, obliterating record for most expensive card

August 17, 2021

For the second time in 2021, there's a record for most expensive trading card ever sold. 

A sparkling example of the famed T206 Honus Wagner card sold at auction early Monday morning for a massive $5.5 million. Once you add the 20 percent buyer's premium charged by Robert Edwards Auction, you get a $6.6 million sale price. 

That beats the previous record for a baseball card, which was set in early 2021, by over $1 million. That was held by another holy grail of baseball card collecting, a Mickey Mantle rookie card, which sold for a total of $5.2 million in January.

BREAKING: This Honus Wagner baseball card just sold for $6.6 million at @REAOnline — shattering the record for most expensive trading card of all time. pic.twitter.com/obmXdRQRJs

— Boardroom (@boardroom) August 16, 2021

This is the third time in the past calendar year that the record for most expensive baseball card has been broken. In August 2020, a Mike Trout rookie card sold for $3.93 million, taking the top spot from what else but a Wagner card, which had held the record since 2016 with a sale price of $3.3 million.

This Wagner card is the most expensive baseball card ever sold and the most expensive trading card of any kind ever sold. A LeBron James rookie card sold in April 2021 was tied with the Mantle card for most expensive trading card, but now they're both relegated to second place as the Wagner card again reclaims the top spot. 

Why is the Honus Wagner card so rare?

Wagner, who was part of the Baseball Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1936 (along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson), played from 1897-1917. That was a time when baseball cards were being produced en masse and inserted into cigarette packs by companies like the American Tobacco Company (ATC). That's the company that produced the T206 Wagner card.

While the vast majority of ATC cards were produced in huge numbers — for example, over 4,200 ATC Cobb cards still exist — only a minuscule fraction of Wagner cards were produced. They are extremely hard to find, especially in good condition, which is why they're so expensive. 

Why were so few Wagner cards produced? 

We don't know the reason, but there are a few theories. One is that the printing plate broke shortly after the card started being produced. Another is that Wagner got into a copyright dispute with ATC over how much he was being paid to appear on the card. Another popular theory, which has been put forward by Wagner's family, is that Wagner had his card pulled from production because he didn't want to promote tobacco to baseball-loving children. 

While that last theory is heroic and more than a little romantic, it's also the least likely to be true. At that time, Wagner's image appeared on cigar bands, which he apparently had no problem with. He was also quite the businessman, putting his name on things like chewing gum and gunpowder. He also became the first player with his own line of Louisville Slugger bats.

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