Famous Honus Wagner card sells for record $2.35M

Updated: February 27, 2007, 2:15 AM ET
Associated Press

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 $2,350,000, the seller of the card said Monday.

The anonymous buyer has only been identified as a Southern California collector. SCP Auctions Inc., a company that holds sports memorabilia auctions, said it bought a small share of the card. It is scheduled to be shown at a news conference at Dodger Stadium Tuesday.

AP Photo/Kathy WillensThe legendary 1909 Honus Wagner card was once owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

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.

The seller, Brian Seigel, paid a then-record $1,265,000 in 2000 for the prize card, which is in much better shape than the others.

"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 tattered ones will sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, Seigel said.

The others "you could stick in the 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.

Gretzky and Bruce McNall, former owner of the Los Angeles Kings, bought the card for $451,000 in 1991.

During his ownership of the card, Seigel displayed it at several sports collectible shows, showed it at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum and brought it to opening bell ceremonies for the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York.

"The Wagner card gave me a tremendous amount of pride, excitement and pleasure," he said. "I hope the new owner will have the same satisfaction I enjoyed over the years."

The tobacco cards used to be included in packs of cigarettes. Collectors believe Wagner's cards are rare because he stopped allowing the American Tobacco Co. 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 and steals than any National League player.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press