n every genre of collecting, there is an item or items that have come to be known as the Holy Grail. Some of those holy grails actually exist, either in private collections or by a government or organization. Some simply no longer exist. And others, such as the legendary chalice that Christ supposedly used during the Last Supper, are a mystery as to whether or not they are hidden somewhere on Earth, or have been forever lost to the ages.
For an autograph or document collector, the ultimate find would be a parchment that could be attributed to a Biblical figure or sonnets and plays actually penned by the hand of William Shakespeare. For a collector of items pertaining to the United States space program, the "big get" would be either the boot that Neil Armstrong wore when he took that one small step on to the lunar surface or one of the Moon rocks that he returned with. If you collect presidential items, perhaps that pinnacle piece would be one of George Washington's general uniforms, Abraham Lincoln's top hats or the limousine that John F. Kennedy was riding in on that fateful November day.
No matter what the genre, there would most likely be debate as to what would truly be the most important item.
When it comes to sportscards, there is little if no debate as to what is considered to be the Holy Grail. Ask any card collector, whether a newcomer or a lifelong devotee, and they will tell you the same thing – the Honus Wagner T-206.
The Wagner T-206 has become known throughout the sportscard hobby as THE card.
It would be rather unimaginable for a Sports Market Report reader to not be well aware of this card, but for the benefit of a rookie who is just starting out, the story of the legendary Wagner T-206 begins way back in the early years of the Twentieth Century.
The actual year was 1909 and the American Tobacco Company was issuing what would become their landmark T-206 set of baseball cards. One card would be packaged in with each pack of cigarettes as a way of encouraging folks to smoke and to be loyal to a particular brand.
The cards, which were issued over a three year period from 1909 to 1911, featured popular players of the era and ultimately included 523 different cards, one of which bore the likeness of Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner.
From a childhood in the coalfields of Western Pennsylvania, Wagner matured into a young man who was shy, quiet and kind. He loved baseball and with his bowed legs and large hands, he was capable of patrolling the shortstop slot with remarkable dexterity. He also proved to be an offensive threat and would go on to win eight batting crowns during his professional career. Affectionately known as The Flying Dutchman, Wagner was not flamboyant like Ruth. He was not well educated like Mathewson. Nor was he tormented and moody like Cobb. Wagner was a fellow who would have been described as a "regular guy" by those who knew him. He was not fussy about anything. He was immensely likeable and proved over and over to be a true friend to many and a loyal supporter of his teammates.
Legend has it that the reason the T-206 Wagner card is so rare was because The Flying Dutchman was concerned that including baseball cards in cigarette packs would encourage young people to smoke. There has been quite a bit of debate over that theory being as that Wagner himself was known to enjoy a chew and a cigar on a regular basis. One account says that the only reason he didn't like cigarettes was because he thought them to be to "lady like" for a man to smoke.
Whatever the reason, it is well documented that Wagner did demand that the American Tobacco Company stop using his image on their cigarette cards. The account of his refusal to be included in the set was carried in an article that was published in the October 24, 1912 issue of The Sporting News.
The article relays the story that a Pittsburgh sportswriter was hired by the American Tobacco Company to sign up players for the company's cards. Wagner had in fact signed up only to balk later. The article goes on to say that after Wagner demanded that his card be removed from the set. He sent a check for $10 to the sportwrirer which is what the writer would have received had he secured Wagner's participation. According to the article, the sportswriter refused the check due to his great respect for Wagner's decision.
There are other tales and legends associated with the Wagner T-206 card, but none as legendary and true as the one that gives account as to where the only PSA NM-MT 8 condition Wagner T-206 card is today – in the ownership of Brian Seigel.
Seigel bought the PSA NM-MT 8 Wagner T-206 in 2000, thus making him the man who owns THE card. So who is Brian Seigel, the man who owns the most revered piece of cardboard in our hobby?
Born in Toronto, Canada in 1960, Seigel's family moved to Southern California when Brian was 2 years old. The move to Santa Ana was the start of what would become Brian's lifelong love affair with the California (now Anaheim) Angels. After graduating from college, Brian began his career as an asset manager and, in 1985, joined a partnership with some colleagues to form an equipment financing business. Working predominately with clients to help them finance their medical equipment and computer needs, Seigel's company, Rockford Industries, began to branch out and soon had offices throughout the United Sates.
By 1999, the success of Rockford Industries was being noticed by big players and was ultimately purchased by the American Express Company. This lucrative transaction gave Seigel the financial wherewithal to return (in a big way) to his childhood passion of collecting sportscards.
"I loved collecting cards when I was a kid," said Seigel. "But, then there was a long lapse. In the mid-1980s, I started getting back into collecting cards. I started by collecting players who had been stars during my youth, mostly players from the 1960s. I liked those cards because they were players that I knew and they were affordable. That was the start for me. I then started working backward from the '60s, first with cards from the 1950s. By the 1990s, I was into pre-World War II cards."
A self-proclaimed history buff, Seigel says that it is the historical nature of the cards that has as much if not more meaning to him as the players do. "These cards really tell the history of America back to 1869," said Seigel. "They are a part of the fabric of Americana."
When it comes to his possession of the famous Wagner T-206, Seigel says that he is aware of all of the myths and legends surrounding the card. He believes the story that the reason the Wagner card has become so rare is because Wagner did not want to be associated with tobacco products. "There is a story out there that it had nothing to do with the tie in with tobacco and that Wagner, who was a very astute business man, just could not get his price. I think that theory has a lot of holes in it. The fact is that his image did appear on candy cards and on Cracker Jack cards so he was cutting deals with various companies for the use of his image. If those candy companies could have afforded him, the American Tobacco Company could have easily offered him much more than Cracker Jack so I really believe that he just did not want kids to have to buy cigarettes just to get his image."
By the year 2000, Seigel had put together one of the finest card collections in the world. That was when the PSA NM-MT 8 Wagner T-206 came up for sale.
THE card, which features an advertisement for Piedmont Cigarettes on the back, has a rather interesting history. Being as that it was originally packaged with tobacco, now known to cause damage to a card, it was destined to be a difficult card to find in high grades as the years went by. That fact, coupled with Wagner's demand to stop production of the card adds to its legendary difficulty. On top of that, one must remember that during World War I and World War II there were two national paper drives in which all matter of paper and cardboard were collected to be reused. Many cards fell to their demise during those drives. Thus, it is perhaps not surprising that almost 100 years later, only about 50 of these cards are known to exist with only a couple in respectable condition. Of those 50 or so that have survived, the majority of the cards have backs that advertise Sweet Caporal Cigarettes. Only two cards have the original Piedmont backs, one being the PSA NM-MT 8.
In 1991, this card came up at auction with Sotheby's and was purchased by hockey great Wayne Gretzky and L.A. Kings owner Bruce McNall for $451 thousand dollars. At the time, it was a record price to ever be paid for a card. Four years later, the card was privately sold for an undisclosed amount that has since been reported to be around a half a million dollars. The private party, who purchased the card from Gretzky and McNall, had a plan for the card – it would be used as the grand prize in a Wal-Mart national sales promotional contest. The names of all of the contest finalists were collected in a trunk that was once actually owned and used by Wagner during his playing days. When the drawing commenced, it was Patricia Gibbs, a postal worker from Florida whose name was pulled from the musty old trunk.
The Gibbs ownership of the card is nothing more than a footnote in history being as that she immediately sold the card – not so much because she wanted to but because she could not afford to pay the tax on such a valuable item.
Gibbs consigned the card to Christies who put it on the auction block in 1996. A frenzied bidding war erupted over the card and a collector named Michael Gidwitz finally won it. To take ownership of the card, Gidwitz's bank account was depleted by a whopping $640,500, a record that many thought would never be broken.
Ah, but as all of us know, records are kept for one reason – to be broken, and in 2000 Gidwitz tapped MastroNet, Inc. to represent the sale of the famous "Mint" T-206.
MastroNet put the card up for auction on eBay that was scheduled to end on July 15th.
Enter... Brian Seigel
"By that time, I had amassed a magnificent collection of T-206 cards," said Seigel. "But I had never really given much thought to getting either the Wagner card or the Eddie Plank in a high grade. I knew how extremely rare they are and, in my mind, they were just sort of the ungetables." The Plank card is considered to be the second most difficult card to find in the hobby, although no one seems to clearly know why the card is so scarce. The most adhered to theory for the Plank card's scarcity is that there were problems with its printing and thus, the company destroyed most of them.
When the Wagner card came up for sale, Seigel decided that he was gong to put in a bid, although he didn't believe he would truly be a contender. "I had come up with a figure that would be my limit and I had no thoughts of going over that limit," said Seigel. "On the last day of the auction, I was the top bidder and then the phone rang saying that I had been outbid. Up until that point in time, my wife had been very neutral about my purchasing the card. She really hadn't said anything one way or another. So, when I hung up the phone and told her I had been outbid, I thought she would just be neutral about it. Instead, she got all excited and said: 'Let's do this! Let's not lose this card!'. I was shocked, but she was adamant saying that she knew how much I wanted it and that the chance may never come up again. She pointed out that we had the financial wherewithal to go higher so why not go for it instead of losing it and then regretting it."
Seigel's wife "Let's do this!" cry was all he had to hear and when the auction closed, Seigel was the proud owner of THE card for a world record breaking $1,265,000 bid.
So, where does one keep THE most prized card in the world?
THE card is actually in the well-insured hands of Professional Sports Authenticators. It reposes in a green display case that looks much like a book that is kept behind the locked walls of a safe in an undisclosed location. But that's not to say that it doesn't get out and around. PSA has displayed the card at various shows on many occasions and it is scheduled to appear in the spring of 2003 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley for a fundraising event.
It is those appearances that have great appeal to Seigel who is desirous of sharing the card with collectors from cost-to-coast. "I had looked into touring the card at Major League Baseball stadiums throughout the United States," said Seigel. "But that did not work out for a multitude of reasons, from insurance problems to conflicts with various MLB franchises and their non-compete advertising agreements with corporate sponsors."
"Owning that card, along with all of my cards, is for me, a connection with American history," said Seigel. "As a kid growing up, I loved history and I still do. These cards are a major part of our history – they are a major part of our culture."
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