CHICAGO – An Arkansas man bought a 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card for $1.62 million at a memorabilia auction in Chicago, a sports auction company said Saturday.
The record price for a baseball card is $2.8 million — paid in 2007 for a near-mint condition Wagner card released in 1909 by the American Tobacco Company.
John Rogers, 35, of North Little Rock, Ark., said his winning bid for the T206 Wagner card is the realization of a decades-long dream.
"I call this the holy grail of baseball cards," Rogers said in a phone interview. "I've looked at a number of other specimens, sat in a few other Wagner auctions. But this is the one that makes collecting worth while."
Rogers has collected baseball cards since he was 6. When he was in the second grade, he said he cut out a copy of a Wagner card and carried it around in his pocket.
"Since I was 8 years old, I've hoped and dreamed that one day I'd be able to get one," Rogers said.
Bidders at the Friday night auction also spent $42,000 on Ken Griffey, Jr.'s 600th home run ball and $240,000 for a 1938 Lou Gehrig Yankees road jersey, said Doug Allen, Mastro Auctions chief operating officer.
The T206 cards are from a series issued between 1909 and 1911. Allen said the card was in excellent condition, and said the next highest bid, $1.3 million, was placed on behalf of a client who wished to remain anonymous.
Wagner's card was among the first of hundreds of cards of major league players produced by the American Tobacco Co. and included in packages of cigarettes.
Unlike other players, however, Wagner quickly demanded that his card be withdrawn. Theories vary as to why, with one being that he didn't believe American Tobacco paid him enough.
A nonsmoker, the Pittsburgh shortstop was arguably the second-greatest baseball player of his era, behind Ty Cobb. Wagner hit .344 during his rookie year of 1897, and batted over .300 for 17 consecutive seasons, winning eight National League batting titles.
One of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Wagner retired in 1917 with more hits, runs, RBIs, doubles, triples and steals than any NL player.
There are fewer than 100 Wagner baseball cards in existence, said Julie Stoklosa, a spokeswoman for Mastro Auctions, and less than ten are in excellent condition.
Allen said even the lowest graded Wagner baseball cards can fetch more than $150,000.
"The mystique and allure of the T206 Wagner card continues to grow," Allen said.
Among the previous owners of the card sold in 2007 were hockey great Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, former owner of the Los Angeles Kings, who paid $451,000 for it in 1991.