The T206 Big Four: Sherry Magie Error (Part II of IV)
The T206 release has become the most popular baseball card set of all time. There are many rare and valuable cards in it but the keys to the complete set are undoubtedly what are collectively known as ‘The Big 4.’ The Big 4 is comprised of the four most valuable cards in the set and also the toughest ones to obtain. In this series, I’ll take a closer look at each of the four cards.
Sherry Magee, the Player
Most collectors could tell you that Honus Wagner was a star player and most pre-war collectors, I suspect, could confirm the same about Eddie Plank — two of the players found in the T206 Big 4.
Many, however, have underlooked the career of Sherry Magee and have confined this card to merely being an error of a common player. That isn’t really the case.
The fact is that Magee was a bit of a star himself. No one would confuse him with Wagner or even Plank, obviously. But Magee was a very good player and his cards sell at above the common level, even if only slightly.
Magee’s career lasted 16 years. He spent the majority of his time with the Philadelphia Phillies but also played a few seasons with both the Boston Braves and Cincinnati Reds. During that time, Magee was regarded as a star. His 1910 season stands out as his key one when he led the league in runs, RBI, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, total bases, and OPS. But that was hardly his only good year. Magee led the league in RBI in three other seasons. One of those years was 1914 when he also led the league in hits, doubles, and slugging percentage, finishing 7th in the Most Valuable Player race.
Five times, Magee batted over .300 and two other times, he came close, hitting .298 in 1918 and .299 in 1905.
As stated, Magee does not carry the name recognition of Wagner or Plank. But he was an incredibly talented player.
About Magee’s (er, Magie’s) Card
Of the Big 4, Magee’s error card is the most attainable from a price standpoint. It is not abundant in nature but is the easiest target in the Big 4. For those that have collected a ‘near set’ of T206, consisting of 520 cards, his is often the next one on their list.
Magee’s card, like Plank’s and Wagner’s in the grouping, is a portrait card. Unlike those two players, though, Magee has more than one card in the set. His does not carry the same level of controversy as those two cards do and Magee, very clearly, was to be included in the set.
Magee’s other card pictures him wielding a bat. However, it’s the portrait pose that draws the most attention. Most of Magee’s portrait cards have his name spelled correctly, as is the case of the card shown here to the left. However, a small amount have his name spelled incorrectly as ‘Magie’ (on the right). The latter is the one in the Big 4 and, quite simply, it is one of the most famous error cards of all time.
Interestingly enough, the card gives us an idea of just how much quality control was an issue for early baseball cards. As we covered, Magee had a heck of a career and was a star player. Despite his stature, his card still managed to contain a spelling error.
Largely, the fame that the card has garnered is because of the set in which it resides. T206 elevates ‘everything’ and if the card was in a different set, it almost certainly would not have achieved the level of fame which it has.
When the error was discovered, exactly, is unclear. But we know that it was not incredibly early as a good amount of the error cards were printed. We’ll get to the populations of them in a bit but there is little doubt that a good number of them were printed. That number is small in comparison to the overall T206 print run, of course. But this is a not a card printed only 100 or 200 times. A great deal more than that were printed. But the error was caught fairly quickly during the initial 150 Series of printing. All of the known errors have a Piedmont 150 back and legitimate ones with other advertisements are not believed to exist. Thus, if you ever see one with a different back, it is almost certainly not authentic.
Another consideration for this card is if it even should be required for a complete T206 set. The card is an error that was later corrected. But while error cards are typically required to complete a ‘master’ set, I’m not sure it is necessary for the completion of a standard set as long as one has a version of the corrected card. I dove into that topic a little bit here.
Finally, because of its value, this card has been heavily faked. Sometimes a complete illegitimate card is pushed and those are often easy to spot. However, other more complicated forgeries have involved taking an authentic Magee portrait card and altering it to make it appear to read as ‘Magie.’ Collectors should always be incredibly wary when considering a Magie purchase — even ones authenticated by grading companies.
Rarity and Value
So, how rare is the card and how valuable is it?
The card is actually not quite as rare as some people might be inclined to think. To date, PSA has graded 131 of them and SGC has graded 68. It is not an easy card to find, exactly. However, with about 200 graded copies between those two companies, it is far more plentiful than both the Wagner and Plank cards. That number is about double the number of Planks graded and more than four times as large as the graded Wagner figure is. And based on what we know about survival rates of cards, there is little doubt that thousands of these error cards were certainly printed.
So, we know how many Magie cards have been graded by PSA and SGC. But how does that compare with how many of the corrected Magee portraits there are? Unfortunately, SGC’s reports do not identify all of the portrait vs. all of the bat poses, so their numbers can’t be relied upon. However, PSA’s report still gives us a good idea. PSA has graded 131 of the error portrait as opposed to 440 of the corrected versions.
That does not seem terribly impressive on the surface. After all, that suggests that there are only a little more than three times as many as the error. But remember how population reports work. Not everyone with a less valuable corrected Magee card will have it graded. By comparison, most of the legitimate Magie error cards out there will be graded.
The card is a desirable one, without question. However, as I wrote here, its rarity is not much more significant than two other rare cards outside of the Big 4 — the St. Louis versions of Ray Demmitt and Bill O’Hara cards. Despite that, right or wrong, the Magie card is much more valuable. And, as this article points out, the Magie card’s rarity does not even come close to approaching the rarity of other non-error Magee portrait cards with tough back advertisements.
Speaking of value, if you want a Magie card, it’ll cost you. The good news is that you can still find them under five figures in low-grade condition. A PSA 1 sold in 2018 by Goldin Auctions for $6,600. However, most examples in better condition typically are into five figures.