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John McGraw (Portrait No Cap)

1909-1911 T206 White Border

The 1909 to 1911 T206 baseball card set has long been considered one of the most, if not the most, important issues in the entire hobby. The visual appeal of the cards, the immense size of the set, and the incredible player selection make this treasure a collector favorite. Along with the 1933 Goudey and 1952 Topps sets, the classic T206 set is one of “The Big Three” in the world of baseball cards.

You can easily make the argument that “The Monster,” as it is commonly referred to, is truly the pinnacle of all trading cards sets. It is much larger than the 1933 Goudey set, requiring more than twice the amount of cards to complete. It is also arguably more visually appealing than the 1952 Topps set due to the superb artwork used in the design.

Furthermore, the 524-card T206 set is home to the most valuable trading card in the world, the card that has become the symbol of the hobby itself. Of course, I am referring to the Mona Lisa of trading cards . . . the T206 Honus Wagner. The Wagner card shares the limelight with 75 other cards featuring members of baseball’s Hall of Fame, but it is worth more than the other 523 cards combined, assuming they are in the same condition. At the time of this writing (2009), the highest price ever paid for any trading card was $2.8 million, a Wagner example that was graded NM-MT 8 by Professional Sports Authenticator, the leading third-party authentication and grading service.

The Wagner card is so desirable that even low-grade copies that receive only a Poor 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 (the lowest possible grade on the PSA grading scale) have fetched $400,000 at auction. The card, like the set itself, has taken on a life of its own and become an iconic collectible. While Wagner was a true legend of the game and one of the greatest shortstops in baseball history, the card depicting this Hall of Fame member has certainly surpassed the man himself in terms of fame.

Yes, the T206 set may be the most significant release in hobby history. Yes, Honus Wagner was one of the most significant players ever to put on a uniform. Yes, after being pulled from production early on by the manufacturer, only 50 or so examples of this card are known to exist, making it one of the true rarities in the trading card world. All of these facts may be true, but the reason why the T206 Wagner has reached such lofty heights in value is the story behind the man and the card.

The most prevalent misconception about this great card is that it is the rarest of the rare, resulting in its staggering value. What may come as a surprise to most casual collectors or even noncollectors is the fact that the T206 Wagner is not nearly as scarce as some other notable trading card rarities. The number of surviving copies is only part of the story.

There is more than one theory behind the rarity of the card, including a simple contract dispute theory. Many people believe Honus Wagner wanted his card pulled from production because Wagner, though an avid user of tobacco himself, did not want to promote tobacco to children since the cards were packaged with various brands of cigarettes. Knowing what we now know about the dangers of tobacco, especially as it relates to cigarettes, this stance taken by Wagner over 100 years ago becomes all the more interesting.

As with most other great collectibles, such as autographs, game-used equipment, and original photographs, the stories behind the items make them interesting and desirable. Every collectible, in its own way, is a conversation piece. How were these cards distributed? What makes this game-used bat special? Why did Babe Ruth sign this particular document? Every collectible has a story.

This is also true of every figure the collectible relates to, and that is what makes this particular book different from so many of the published hobby guides released over the years. If Honus Wagner were a relatively unknown player, would his T206 card carry the value it has today? No. If a Mickey Mantle game-used bat was instead used by Mickey Vernon, would it be worth anywhere near the same amount? No. Would a baseball signed by Jackie Robinson and one signed by Jackie Jensen be valued the same? No. I think you get the point.

Above all, it is the story behind the person that drives the majority of the value. Otherwise, it may be just a card or just a bat or just a ball. More often than not, it is the sports figure’s name that makes the collectible special. This book takes a look at each individual pictured on the cards, from superstars of the day like Ty Cobb and Cy Young to lesser-known major and minor leaguers like Clyde Engle and Bill Cranston. Each player has a story and each player contributed to the game . . . and all of them are part of the “monstrosity” known as the T206 set.

Today, we see virtually everything and know almost everything about current players, both on and off the field. In some cases, I would argue that we are presented with too much information, but this is the culture we live in today. With the immense sports coverage on television and the multitude of Internet sites devoted to sports, it seems as if the modern athlete cannot move a muscle without being caught on camera.

We do not have that luxury when it comes to learning about baseball players who were active during the early part of the 20th century. We often have to rely on period photographs and statistical information, at least whatever statistics can be found, in order to paint the picture of a time long past, to tell the story of the players who made history before history was documented on film after every pitch, every swing, and every catch.

That is what this book is all about, the story behind each man found in this legendary set, men who put on a uniform during a time when the equipment was a bit crude and the game wasn’t plagued by performance-enhancing-drug controversies. The game of baseball, no matter the era, is a terrific sport. Somehow, it is complicated yet simple at the same time. Its combatants must use almost equal combinations of brain and brawn in order to defeat their foes, perhaps more so than in any other sport.

Like the game of chess, every move has an impact on the outcome. For the astute fan, there are many games within the game that go unnoticed by the casual spectator, but it is all part of what makes baseball so interesting. The subtle communication between defenders as they position themselves before each hitter, the tension between a base runner trying to steal a base and the catcher trying to stop him, and managers trying to outthink each other on every play are all part of the complicated dance known as baseball. Complexity defines the sport, and that term may best describe the iconic T206 set.

- Joe Orlando: The T206 Collection: The Players and Their Stories

John Joseph McGraw

Born: April 7, 1873 - Truxton, NY
Died: February 25, 1934 - New Rochelle, NY
Batted: LH
Threw: RH
Position: 3B
Career BA: .334
Managerial Record: 2,763–1,948

Baltimore Orioles AA/NL (1891–1898; player-manager: 1899)
St. Louis Cardinals NL (1900)
Baltimore Orioles AL (player-manager: 1901–1902)
New York Giants NL (player-manager: 1902–1906; manager: 1907–1932)

If you were to build a Mount Rushmore of baseball managers, John McGraw would have to be part of any foursome. McGraw managed the New York Giants from 1902 to 1932, winning ten National League pennants and three World Championships. Along the way, he influenced the game of baseball like no one before or since. At 5-foot, 7-inches, 155 pounds, McGraw was famously known as “Little Napoleon,” and the name fit like one of his trademark suits. McGraw was given to violent outbursts toward his players, the opposition, and, of course, umpires. He was not, however, all brimstone and no brains. On the contrary, McGraw brought a cerebral quality to managing, using his mind as much as his mouth.

Overshadowed by his amazing managerial record is the fact that John McGraw was one heck of a ballplayer. Some of his numbers are downright unfathomable. With Baltimore in 1898 and 1899, he led the league in runs scored, with 143 and 140, respectively. He also drew a league-leading 236 walks in those two seasons. McGraw had a ridiculous career on-base percentage of .466, and between 1899 and 1901, his OBP exceeded .500. He was a career .334 hitter, and a smart speedster with outstanding base running skills.

McGraw was as strong of heart as he was of body and mind. Over the course of his life, he overcame the deaths of his mother, three siblings, and later, his wife. As a child, McGraw was physically abused by his father and eventually moved to a neighboring inn. Despite these personal setbacks, McGraw’s focus was unshaken. His conservative, buttoned-down veneer aside, McGraw was a worldly sort, performing in Vaudeville shows and investing in pool halls, race tracks, and casinos.

First and foremost, however, McGraw was a winner. In 33 years as a manager with the Orioles and Giants, he won 2,763 games, second only to Connie Mack. Heed the words of the man himself, “In playing or managing, the game of ball is only fun for me when I'm out in front and winning,” said McGraw. “I don’t give a hill of beans for the rest of the game.” Although retired, John McGraw was selected to manage the National League team in the first All-Star game in 1933, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1937. 

– Tom and Ellen Zappala, The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball's Prized Players. For more information on their book and/or to order a copy at a special PSA discount, visit http://crackerjackplayers.com/PSA_order.html

Click link to see a complete population breakdown by tobacco brand/back.

Condition Census

Pos Grade Thumbnail Pedigree and History
1 MINT 9
2 NM-MT 8
2 NM-MT 8
2 NM-MT 8
2 NM-MT 8
2 NM-MT 8
2 NM-MT 8
3 NM+ 7.5
4 NM 7 (11)

Prices By Grade


Grade Most Recent Price Average Price SMR Price Population POP Higher
GEM - MT 10
MINT 9 $52,800.00
NM - MT 8 $6,500.00 3
NM 7 $2,000.00 6 3
EX - MT 6 $850.00 9 10
EX 5 $475.00 30 20
VG - EX 4 $330.00 $306.44 $275.00 31 52
VG 3 $165.00 40 85
GOOD 2 $110.00 35 126
FR 1.5 162
PR 1 $60.00 16 162
Auth 178

Auction Prices Realized

Date Price Grade Lot # Auction House Auction/Seller Type Cert
08/17/2020 $330 4 359 Robert Edward Auctions 2020 Summer Auction 30775298
08/12/2020 $283 4 143671120058 eBay pwcc_auctions Auction 31452053
04/17/2019 $87 2 312564125399 eBay mava_342 Auction 11858388
01/13/2019 $687 5 352559803438 eBay pwcc_auctions Auction 05027791
12/20/2018 $234 4 264085912156 eBay vettejayk123 Auction 90565029
10/27/2018 $368 7 (OC) 364 Goldin Auctions October Legends Closing October 27,2018 Auction 04002616
08/08/2018 $90 2 123261449465 eBay parlorcitycollectibles Best Offer 11506836
05/09/2018 $178 3 352341938128 eBay pwcc_auctions Auction 11419755
03/04/2018 $228 4 41008 Heritage Auctions Sunday Internet Sports Collectibles Auction Ended Mar 4th Auction 07156181
06/06/2017 $126 3 142396334763 eBay pwcc_auctions Auction 09036123
04/09/2017 $1,213 6 401300042153 eBay pwcc_auctions Auction 07000228
03/12/2017 $380 5 401284754158 eBay pwcc_auctions Auction 12251668
02/06/2017 $1,602 7 142259831788 eBay pwcc_auctions Auction 08170201
12/03/2016 $1,740 7 96 Greg Bussineau Auctions Fall 2016 Vintage Trading Cards Auction Auction 08170201
11/20/2016 $179 4 43016 Heritage Auctions Sunday Internet Sports Collectibles Auction Nov 20, 2016 Auction 31558574
11/08/2016 $136 3 142164483237 eBay pwcc_auctions Auction 60012820
11/05/2016 $198 4 366 Goodwin and Co. Auctions Masterpieces and Uncommon Commons LXVIII Auction 11808468
10/09/2016 $359 5 42012 Heritage Auctions Sunday Internet Sports Collectibles Auction Oct 9, 2016 Auction 40443202
07/28/2016 $777 6 80320 Heritage Auctions 2016 July 28 The 1909-11 T206 White Border PSA S... Jul 28, 2016 Auction 11676560
04/19/2016 $248 4 163 Mile High Card Company May 2016 Auction Auction 06487019
05/14/2014 $392 5 338 SCP Auctions Spring Premier Auction 2014 Auction 11692638
07/19/2013 $0 3 253 Goodwin and Co. Auctions Masterpieces and Uncommon Commons L Auction 90422091
01/28/2007 $203 4 12077 Heritage Auctions Monthly Internet Sports Auction Jan 28, 2007 Auction 04188347
05/28/2006 $203 4 12042 Heritage Auctions Amazing Sports Auction May 28, 2006 Auction 31558574
07/31/2005 $191 4 12007 Heritage Auctions Amazing Sports Auction Jul 31, 2005 Auction 12057534
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