In terms of the true rarities of the T206 baseball card set, most collectors break down this issue as the ‘Big 4 and Everything Else.’
There’s certainly no disputing that there are four pretty rare cards here. But two more in the set probably don’t really deserve to merely be lumped in with the remaining 520 cards.
About the Big 4
If you’re unfamiliar with the T206 set, I’ve sort of written an FAQ article breaking it down a little. Much more in-depth information exists and there are websites solely devoted to this specific set. But if you’re new to it and want a place to start, here you go.
Don’t have that much time? Well, in a nutshell, the T206 set is arguably the most important and the most popular baseball card set of all time. While other sets such as the 1952 Topps issue or the 1933 Goudey set were important, I could give you an entire lecture of why the T206 far outclasses those in terms of importance and popularity. For now, just trust me – it’s kind of a big deal.
The set includes a total of 524 cards in the set, although many collecting a set generally stop at 520. That’s because on top of the significant amount of money it costs to build one, there are four rarities known as the Big 4.
- Honus Wagner
- Eddie Plank
- Sherry Magie
- Doyle N.Y. Nat’l
These are the four rarest cards in the set. The Doyle and Magie are simply error cards (or in Doyle’s case, more like a correction) while the Wagner and Plank are just really difficult to find and were shortprinted for reasons not completely known.
The cheapest of these cards is the Magie error (Sherry’s last name is actually spelled ‘Magee’) and even in poor condition, is still practically a five-figure card. One, for example, sold back in 2013 for over $8,500 and it would likely fetch more today. The most expensive, of course, is the Wagner – generally a seven-figure card these days.
Simply put, many people do not have the resources or the desire (or both) to chase these four rarities, which is why you see sets advertised as ‘520-card’ sets as opposed to the full 524.
Demmitt and O’Hara St. Louis T206 Cards
After those four, there’s a major drop off in price. But the next two rarest cards are distinctly rarer than anything else in the set.
Ray Demmitt and Bill O’Hara were both traded from New York to St. Louis. Somewhat ironically, many collectors do not know that they were not actually teammates. Demmitt went from the New York Highlanders (Yankees) to the St. Louis Browns while O’Hara moved from the New York Giants to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Demmitt and O’Hara, safe to say, weren’t stars. O’Hara’s first season was in 1909 with the Giants and the Cardinals would be his final minor league stop in 1910. He appeared in only nine games for them and his major league career was over after that. Demmitt had a much lengthier career. He also debuted in 1909 and then played with the Browns in 1910. He, too, barely played for his new team (the similarities between these two and those two seasons are striking) but at least got back to the majors. In 1914, he played with the Tigers and White Sox. He remained with the Sox in 1915 before playing for the Browns again from 1917 through 1919. Demmitt had a nice career but again, was no star.
The T206 cards were printed starting in 1909 and continued through 1911. Both players were in New York when they started to be printed but changed teams in the middle of production. T206 cards were printed for many different cigarette and tobacco brands, each with their own back advertisement to distinguish them from others. But while most brands did not bother changing their team name, the Polar Bear brand did. Thus, you will find their Polar Bear cards with their new teams, the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals, reflected.
Since Polar Bear was the only one to print cards stating those players were with St. Louis, as you can imagine, they are much harder to find than the New York versions, causing the shortage and higher prices. Even in poor condition, the Demmitt and O’Hara Polar Bear cards usually sell starting at around $1,000.
But while that’s a good sum of money, it pales in comparison to the Big 4.
Big 4 Comparisons
Of the four rarities, the Doyle is by far the most exclusive with only nine copies graded by PSA at the time of this article. It’s in another league. The Wagner isn’t as rare but, given its intriguing backstory (or, better stated, lack thereof), it’s easy to see why that card has gotten so wildly popular. The Plank, is easier to find than either of those cards but with only about 100 graded by SGC and PSA combined (and given that he’s a Hall of Famer), the high-dollar price that one commands is justified, too.
That leaves the Magie.
The Magie is a special card, don’t get me wrong. And given that he had a solid major league career, that certainly helps its cause to make it elite. But is it really that much more elite in terms of rarity than the St. Louis cards of Demmitt and O’Hara to justify the price? Let’s take a look at the pop reports.
PSA’s numbers certainly would say no. So far, they’ve graded 123 of them. That’s a pretty small number but is close to double the amount of Planks they’ve graded. And, for the purposes of this discussion, more importantly, it appears fairly close to the rarity of the Demmitt and O’Hara cards. PSA has graded only 153 O’Hara St. Louis cards and 170 Demmitt St. Louis cards.
Now, to be fair, the Magie is probably more known as a rarity than the Demmitt/O’Hara cards are. I’m fully convinced that some collectors are sitting on these cards unaware that they are the rarer variation and, thus, have not bothered to grade them. However, these variations are certainly well known in the hobby and, especially to pre-war collectors that have the bulk of these cards, anyway, pretty well known.
Some of the valuation also has to do with the status of the players. Demmitt and, particularly O’Hara, were nothing special. Magee isn’t a Hall of Famer but was an established star who won a batting title, was a career .291 hitter, and let the league in runs batted in on four occasions. In 1910, he led the league in runs, runs batted in, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and total bases. He was a much more established player.
Should the Magie error be more valuable than the Demmitt/O’Hara Polar Bear cards? Absolutely. To the tune of, like, ten times more valuable? Based on PSA’s pop report, I’d argue probably not. It’s certainly a rare card but not so much rarer than the two Demmitt/O’Hara variations to justify that big of a price difference between the three. And while rarity never drives the bus entirely, it should be a factor here. When you compare the rarity of those three cards, the Magie either looks overvalued or the latter two appear undervalued.
In my mind, it’s probably a little of both.