While every professional sport has its share of both great and legendary players, there is a very small, highly elite group of athletes that far surpass even those superlatives – Chamberlain, Jordan and Kobe on the court; Ruth, Gherig, Mantle, Mays and Aaron at the plate; Gretzky on the ice, and Montana, Payton and Rice on the gridiron.
Photo by Darlene Olafson
It is much the same in card collecting. While there are thousands of dedicated collectors who have amassed great collections, there are only a scant few who have assembled world-class collections. One of the hallmarks of making it into the upper echelon of card collecting is to have put together a full T206 set. Josh Wolf of Half Moon Bay, California has not only entered into that rarefied air in which the greats reside, he has done it at an age and in a time frame that is unheard of.
The T206 issue was released in cigarette packs from 1909 to 1911. The cards, which could be found in 16 different brands owned by the American Tobacco Company, have become one of the "holy grails" of card collecting. Today, it is a set that, due to its size, rarity, and the quality of its color lithographs, is highly desirable, hard to complete in high grades, and hugely expensive.
The set, aslo known as the "White Border" set because of the white borders that frame the lithographs, consists of over 500 cards. Over 100 of these are the cards of minor league players. The set also contains multiple cards for the same player in different uniforms being as that it was issued over a period of two years and some players changed teams. The cards are also much smaller than today's offerings, measuring one and 7/16 of an inch by two and 5/8 of an inch.
Within this set is the famous T206 Honus Wagner card, which is extremely rare. One sold at auction in 2000 for $1.265 million. It is widely accepted that the Wagner card's rarity stems from the fact that Honus objected to its publication because he did not want to promote cigarette smoking. In any case, it is believed there are only a few dozen of these cards known.
Photo by Darlene Olafson
Issued with 16 different backs that promoted various brands of cigarettes and tobacco, many of the cards have different backs. This fact opens the door for those who choose to argue that in reality there are far more than 500-plus "different" cards in a T206 set.
Today, as any card collector knows, the T206 is the most desired card set of the pre-war era. The historical significance of the T206s, coupled with its variations, gives it enormous appeal to collectors. On top of those factors, it also includes numerous Hall of Famers including Walter Johnson; Ty Cobb (who is offered on four different cards); Cy Young; Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson.
To compile a complete T206 set is regarded as the crowning glory of a collector's career, and usually takes a great commitment of both time and money. And while money will always be a consideration when it comes to putting together a set of T206s, 28-year old Josh Wolf seemingly never got the message that it is a challenge that is supposed to take the better part of a lifetime to complete. Josh, with the help of about a dozen well known collectors in the hobby, put together the fourth all-time finest 1909-11 T206 White Border set on the PSA Registry in record time – less than eight months.
"I started collecting when I was a kid – when I was about five-years old or so," said Josh. "Even back then I knew about Honus Wagner and Eddie Plank cards. I had read about them in hobby magazines. So, in 1987, with all of $20 in my pocket, I bought a Buck Herzog T206 card for $17 and, from that moment on, I was hooked."
An assistant manager for a well-known national nutrition center, Josh said he has always been fascinated by the rich history of baseball. "When I was a kid I really loved collecting all sorts of cards but mostly Oakland A's cards because I was a fan," said Josh. "But even back then, I was especially attracted to older cards. Maybe I got that from my father who had been a card collector when he was a kid. He used to tell me about some of the old Topps cards that he had that his mother threw away."
Going on to explain that he is most enamored by cards that are extremely rare, Josh recalled getting his first Eddie Plank card when he was 11-years old. "I was always good at saving my money to get the cards I wanted, and that has continued to this day," said Josh.
Photo by Darlene Olafson
Not only has Josh been committed to stashing away funds to support his card collecting hobby, he has been focused like a laser on getting the cards he really wants. "Being as that I'm single, I have the financial wherewithal to get the cards I want," said Josh. "Last year, I had sold off part of my collection to buy a card I really wanted – A 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card. When it became available at auction, I bid up to $200,000 but it went for more. I was really down because I wanted that card so much but then I started thinking – I have the money so, being as that I love the old rare cards so much, I decided I was going to put together a full T206 set."
Purchasing a large collection of T206 cards in a Mile High auction, Josh began working with guys such as Dan Bernstein; Bill Brodhead; Ryan Christoff; Howard Grossman; Bill Latzko; Rob Lifson; Lew Lipset; Bill Miller; Kevin and Derek Riker; T.J. Schwartz and Michael Wachs to round out the set. "Those people were not only helpful to me, they have also become great friends," said Josh. "I worked with many of them to make sure that when I was bidding on something, I wasn't bidding against one of them or visa versa."
Of all the people Josh praises for help, no one is further at the top of the heap than his father, Jeffery, who is in the real estate business in the exclusive Half Moon Bay area.
"Josh almost has a photographic mind when it comes to cards," said Jeffery. "He reads every catalogue front to back and can remember cards and descriptions from a Mastro Auction from four years ago."
"My dad has been great," said Josh who credits his father in getting him interested in cards by bringing him Pac Man and Garbage Pail Kid cards when Josh was a young boy. "I really owe him a lot for his help and inspiration. It was because of him that I was able to accomplish my dream and complete the long journey of building this set in just eight months."
"The Josh Wolf Collection", as it has been named on the PSA Registry, places him at # 4 on both the T206 set and T206 Hall of Fame PSA Registries. His set includes Donlin Fielding and Killian Port cards in PSA 8; 102 cards in PSA 7; 183 cards in PSA 6; 221 cards in PSA 5; 11 cards in PSA 4, and one in PSA 3. Josh's set also features a PSA 4 Magie and the only PSA 7 Frank Smith known to exist. Of the T206 HOFers, Josh has 73 cards that grade PSA 5 or higher (excluding the Plank and Wagner cards).
Josh, who also collects pins and signed baseballs, has now sold the set via auction. Why? Well, for him it is what he calls the journey that is exciting. "To me, the chase is the journey," said Josh. "I loved building the T206 set, and I especially loved all the great people I met along the way. I'm a collector in the truest sense. To me it is never about the money or the value – it is all about the challenge and the love of these historical cards. I want to sell this set so I have the opportunity to start something new. I loved the people I met while doing the T206 set so I am looking forward to meeting more new friends in whatever will be my new endeavor. Besides, a collector once told me that you never really own these cards, you are just the guardian of them for a time – a time that you own a piece of history."
Quiet and unassuming, Josh doesn't talk much about his collection with friends or co-workers and isn't at all flashy about showing it off. "Really, it is only within my family and with those who have helped me assemble the set that I have shared it," Josh said humbly. "For me, this is really just about the love of card collecting."
Photo by Darlene Olafson
So just what is he thinking of doing next? Josh thought for a few moments when the question was posed and then threw out a few ideas. "I'm not sure... I know there is another 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie out there that I would love to get... a T205 set maybe; a 1933 Goudey; a 1951 Bowman; a 1952 Topps... I would also love to do a E90-1 American Caramel set that was issued from 1909 through 1911."
Whatever journey Josh decides to take, he is just glad that he has PSA to guide him. "PSA is what has made this hobby fun, exciting and challenging for people like me who really have a passion for cards," said Josh. "They have set the standard by which every card is measured. I especially love the PSA Set Registry. It has energized collectors and I believe it has been the greatest thing to ever hit the hobby."
There is no way you can be around Josh and not be taken in by his passion for cards. "To me it's the memory of collecting as a kid, like the excitement of my dad bringing home new cards. It's the history that is connected with cards and the fact that I can actually own pieces of history," said Josh. I know I'll be involved in the hobby for the rest of my life."
As for the future, Josh said there are so many things he is looking forward to. "I'm into nutrition and fitness. I enjoy helping people stay healthy. I'm also really into politics. I'm very much in tune to what's going on around the world. As for my future in collecting – I hope I have the chance to become more involved in the hobby in some way. I would like to get involved in working with the auction process but frankly, I want to be involved in any way, shape or form – I just love being around the hobby and the people who share my passion."