Finding Honus: What are the Odds?

What are the chances of you finding an authentic Honus Wagner T206 baseball card? Not high.

The famous Honus Wagner T206 issue is the most famous of all baseball cards. It’s not only the most iconic but, with one selling for more than $3 million in 2016, the most valuable.

With such a high price tag, collectors have looked high and low for them. And if you’re a regular on eBay, you know that there is no shortage being offered there. eBay, however, is only one spot to find the elusive Wagner. Others are flea markets, Craigslist (is that still a thing?) ads, antique dealers, and that creepy neighbor you have that insists he’s had the cards since before World War II.

The problem is that, almost any raw, ungraded Wagner you come across in one of these venues will mostly likely be a fake.

That isn’t real news. At least it shouldn’t be to any card collector that’s been around for more than five minutes. But the reality is that fake Wagners are routinely peddled and stories that sound too good to be true are sometimes enough to sucker unsuspecting buyers.

Rule No. 1 when buying a Wagner (or any very expensive card worth five figures or more, really) is to understand that if it is being offered at a bargain basement rate and not graded that there is probably a good reason for that — and that reason is that it is probably not going to be real.

Raw, ungraded Wagner cards are offered with any number of descriptors:

  • The card was found in attic
  • The card was found in a basement
  • The card belonged to my grandparents
  • The card belonged to a really old collector who ‘knew his/her stuff’
  • The card was found at an estate sale or yard sale
  • The card was found in a really old Bible

FINAL Honus Wagner T206

These, of course, can all be valid statements. But even in those cases, a recently discovered Wagner is still not likely to be real just because there are so few of them.

That doesn’t stop collectors from trying to make a fast buck. Sellers offer them under the guise of ‘I don’t know what this is but do you want to pay $500 for it?’ And buyers routinely take their chances on them hoping to become a millionaire with a $100 ‘investment.’ Sound ridiculous? Sure. But there have been any number of eBay sales of these reprints. Sometimes for $10. Sometimes for $50. Sometimes for $100 or more.

I question just how many of these reported sales actually go through. But if you think that none of them do, you’re fooling yourself a little.

Another problem is that some Wagner cards even find their way into grading company slabs from less reputable businesses — some of which you are hard-pressed to even find any information on. So someone takes a flyer on it. Wagners that live in a slab, even if that slab is nothing more than created by a one-man outfit in a garage, will at least create an illusion.

Now, that might sound silly to long-time collectors. After all, who would buy a Wagner card in a slab of a company you’ve never heard of. But just take this example in a Reddit forum. This Wagner card, graded by something called ‘Sports Card Experts’ is certainly not legitimate. Yet, the discussion in the comments is such that many thought it could be.

Now, I don’t say this to unnecessarily dash any hopes. Many great finds of very expensive cards have occurred recently, such as the ‘many’ Ty Cobb tobacco cards with Cobb advertisements. But the odds of you finding a raw card of the most expensive card of all time in a flea market or elsewhere? Ridiculously small.

The reason for that is pretty simple. The card is very well known, even by many non-collectors these days. And even if a person couldn’t tell you its exact value, many know that it is valuable.

Even those that don’t happen to know its value can find out relatively easily these days with the help of the internet. And given that shows like Antiques Roadshow and such are constantly touting the value of old items, even someone not knowing a lick about baseball cards will be inclined to at least dig a little deeper rather than give the card away these days when that was more likely to happen before. On the rare occasion that a Wagner is discovered it generally finds its way into the hands of someone that knows what they’re doing and is promptly graded.

In other words, if you’ve think you’ve discovered a real Honus Wagner T206 card, you probably haven’t.

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