Restored Honus Wagner T206 Fetches $420,000 … But What Does It Mean?

A heavily restored Honus Wagner T206 card recently sold for more than $400,000

For a long time, restorations have been accepted in various forms of collectibles such as vintage automobiles and artwork. Now, they could be finding their way into card collecting.

Now, restorations have been present for a while in the card market, obviously, with some cards exhibiting things like the addition of color, addition of paper, etc. However, those types of restorations have historically been frowned upon to a large extent with the cards not considered all that collectible. Many times, in fact, they have been performed in an effort to fool unsuspecting buyers and not forced under a spotlight.

But could the recent sale of a Honus Wagner T206 card mean the game is changing?

In case you missed it, a poorly trimmed and very low-grade Wagner made its way into a Memory Lane auction recently. Thing is, the card doesn’t present that way anymore. The card, as admitted by the auction house, was heavily restored. As declared in the auction listing, $14,000 was spent on the restorations to add borders to the card and clean its appearance up dramatically. No effort was made to deceive prospective buyers, which is how it should be.

Restored Honus Wagner T206 CollageIn the end, the process resulted in an incredibly appealing card that has been properly deemed as merely ‘Authentic’ by PSA. And for those concerned with full disclosure methods, PSA indicated the card was restored on its label.

The card went to auction and recently sold for $420,000. Pictured here are photographs of the card before and after the restorations. The original photos shown are from while the pictures of the restored card below are from the card in the Memory Lane auction.

Many collectors are already losing their minds over this card and what it could mean for the industry. That isn’t surprising, really, as the hobby finds ways to lose its collective mind over far less offenses. However, in this case, I’m not entirely sure I understand the particular outrage.

It’s not that I’m particularly crazy about this card. I’m not and, personally, I’m not a fan because I think it diminishes the quality of nicer, unaltered cards. Those cards suddenly become a tad less special as a result and that’s kind of unfair.

That said, if the card is fully disclosed as restored and there’s a market for it, I don’t honestly care all that much. Let someone pay what they want to pay for it. But furthering that point, the angst over this card isn’t even worth it from a financial standpoint.

Selling for a mere $420,000, the card’s value clearly did not skyrocket. Yes, it is the highest known sold price for an Authentic grade Wagner but I believe that is more about the card simply increasing over time and less about the restoration work. The selling price for half-decent Wagner cards tops $1 million and $420,000 is about as bottom-of-the-barrel as you can get based on the current market.

And here’s the thing. Realistically, my guess is that if the card had remained unaltered, it would have sold for roughly that amount, anyway.

A good measuring stick can be found by a famous Wagner card that was given to the School Sisters of Notre Dame. It is often referred to as the ‘Nuns Wagner.’ That Wagner was, like this one, a heavily trimmed down version and it sold originally for $262,900. The original buyer did not pay for it and it sold shortly thereafter for $220,000. However, another prospective buyer came along and actually offered a $60,000 profit for it, which was turned down by the new owner. In other words, an offer for $280,000 was on the table for it.

The $420,000 paid for this card, obviously is significantly more than $280,000. But keep in mind that sale of the Nuns Wagner took place way back in 2010 – eight years ago. If offered today, it would surely fetch more. In fact, my guess is that it could command a price somewhere in the neighborhood of what this one did.

How can we say that? Because other T206 Wagners have been on the rise.

The famous PSA 5 (MC) Wagner card sold in April 2013 by Goldin Auctions for $2.1 million. The same card went up for auction in November 2016. This time, it sold for $3.1 million – the highest price ever paid on the record for a baseball card. Effectively, the card sold for about 1/3 more than it previously did and that was over a span of only about 3 1/2 years. Thus, it isn’t far-fetched at all to suggest that a Wagner that had an offer price of $280,000 in 2010 could rise to the likes of $420,000 eight years later.

In other words, I don’t believe the restorations drastically added to the card’s value. They could have helped a little and the card certainly looks better. However, the price paid for it was more based on what the actual, unaltered card should have sold for – not what it looks like now. What we saw here is merely a card that is very popular and has steadily risen in value. Even without the alterations, I expect it could have sold for close to this much.

Overall, we’re still left with a somewhat unclear picture of how altered cards will be accepted. But the final sale price for this card makes it clear that collectors are still not ready to pay through the nose for those types of cards. There may come a time when altered cards are more accepted by collectors but this sale tells me that time hasn’t yet arrived.

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