LOS ANGELES – The "Holy Grail of baseball cards," the famous 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card once owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky, has sold for a record-setting $2.35 million, the seller of the card said Monday.
The buyer has only been identified as a Southern California collector.
There are about 60 of the tobacco cards in existence featuring the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop, one of the first five players to be inducted in Baseball's Hall of Fame.
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The seller Brian Seigel in 2000 paid a then-record $1,265,000 for the prize card, which is in better condition than the rest.
"This particular one was preserved in spectacular condition," said Joe Orlando, president of Professional Sports Authenticator of Newport Beach — the company that certified the authenticity of the card. "It's the Holy Grail of baseball cards."
Still, the Wagner cards are so rare that even those in much worse condition will sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, Seigel said.
The others "you could stick in middle of the street and let cars drive over it through the day, take it in your hand and crumple it up, and it still would be a $100,000 card," said Seigel, CEO of Emerald Capital LLC, an asset management company, who lives in Las Vegas.
The tobacco cards used to be included in packs of cigarettes. Collectors believe Wagner's cards are so rare because he stopped allowing a cigarette company to use his image, fearing it would encourage children to smoke.
Nicknamed the "Flying Dutchman," Wagner was the National League batting champion in eight of his 21 seasons and finished his career with a lifetime .329 average. He retired in 1917 with more hits, runs, RBIs, doubles, triples steals than any National League player.
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