Honus Wagner’s E90-1 American Caramel Throwing Variation is an Underrated Rarity
Forget Honus Wagner’s T206 card — this caramel card of the Hall of Famer is one of his most underappreciated issues
Forget Honus Wagner’s T206 card? Okay, maybe not. It is, after all, the most recognizable and most valuable baseball card on the planet. But one of Wagner’s most underrated cards just might be a caramel card from the same time period.
The E90-1 American Caramel baseball card set is one of the most popular caramel card issues. Issued from 1909-11, it has numerous Hall of Famers in it — including Wagner. Like the T206 set, some players actually have more than one card in the set and Wagner is one of those. One features him as a batter and the other, a fielder.
Both Wagner cards are very valuable and both are tough to find. But it’s his fielding pose that is the real gem in the set.
So, full disclosure here. I’ve had this card on my radar for some time and had this article written a while back. I often don’t like to spotlight cards until I can actually get one for myself because, well, I don’t want to make it harder to acquire said card. Now that I’ve safely got one, I wanted to share this article that really speaks to the rarity.
This isn’t some self-serving rambling because, well, I’m not trying to sell the card as it’s going in my set. But I do want to bring attention to it because, I’ve always been kind of surprised at its relative affordability given the perfect storm of the card’s rarity and the fact that it depicts a superstar player.
That said, let me explain why, in my opinion, the card is undervalued.
We know the throwing variation Wagner card is rare but the population reports really give us a glimpse at how rare it is. To date, PSA has graded only 16 of them. How does that stack up against the others?
Well, if you look only at the lesser names in the pop report, you might not be too impressed. After all, some other cards have similarly low quantities that have been graded. But as we know, it’s the star cards that are graded more often. And there is where we get a much clearer picture of just how rare the Wagner throwing version is.
See, while only 16 of the throwing Wagner cards have been graded by PSA, a total of 40 of the batting cards have been graded by them. In short, it’s much rarer than his already rare batting card.
And if we dig deeper, we see that even the 40 number is very low for a player of Wagner’s stature. Players like Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Cy Young, for example, each have more than 100 graded of their cards (though Young does have a much rarer Cleveland version with only 26 graded). When you compare the cards of Wagner to the cards his peers (since their cards are likely to be graded on the same scale), you see just how tough the Wagner throwing card is. There simply are not many of them around.
Look, too, at the iconic Shoeless Joe Jackson rookie card that is also found in the set. Even in low-grade condition, that card usually starts in the $10,000 range. How many of those are out there? Hard to say but about 90 have been graded by PSA so far. In terms of rarity, the two cards are not even on the same level. Jackson’s value is brought on by the fact that is a rookie card and due to his connection with the 1919 World Series scandal.
So, the card is rare and that’s even in comparison to the other star cards in the set. Let’s talk price.
So, how does the card stack up in terms of price? Even though it’s an expensive card, you can make a strong argument that it should be worth even more.
If you consider the price of Wagner’s throwing card, it’s a relative bargain compared to just how rare it is. Compare it to something like, say, Cobb’s card.
Low-grade Cobb cards start around $800-$1,000 these days and the Wagner batting card is a bit more. Focusing on Cobb, though, there have been about 190 of them graded by PSA. Simply put, it’s not a difficult card to find. But while the Wagner throwing card is about double the Cobb price (starting in low-grade condition around $1,500-$2,000), there are more than ten times as many Cobb cards graded by PSA. Despite the fact that it’s worth ‘only’ about twice as much, it still seems undervalued.
Consider this as well. Some of the very tough commons in the set have values that are rather expensive compared to what they would be otherwise. Like, exponentially expensive. Several of the tough shortprint commons, for example, can cost hundreds of dollars, even in lesser condition.
Look at the card of Mike Mitchell, for example. Mitchell’s card has often been held up as the beacon for rarity in the set. If it was not shortprinted, it would start as about a $20 or $30 card in low-grade condition. But the card was shortprinted (PSA has graded only 23) and is tough to find for much under $800-$1,000, even in lower condition. Given that Cobb’s card starts in the $800-$1,000 range, you could expect a non-shortprinted Wagner card to have a similar price. But the Wagner throwing card, of course, is shortprinted. While the Wagner throwing card is, as stated, about twice that amount, it’s not the kind of exponential jump you see with Mitchell or some of the other rarities of common players, such as Jake Stahl and Dave Shean.
Obviously, even if the Wagner was not a shortprint, it would be a very valuable card. Thus, expecting it to be worth 20 or 30 times like those of the common player shortprints, that amount isn’t realistic. It’s the same concept as. say, some of those early 1990s Topps Gold parallels. Commons might have a multiplier of 30 or 40 but stars wouldn’t get that same kind of treatment and would be worth much less. Still, the fact that it is really only worth about twice as much as it would be if not shortprinted is kind of interesting.
Along those lines, Wagner’s throwing card is unique because it’s not only one of the rarest cards in the set but because he is one of the biggest names. With that kind of combination, it’s one of those cards that realistically seems like should be worth more.
So what’s caused this card to be underrated? I mean, I don’t know. I’d attribute some of it to collectors not understanding how rare it really is. Many collectors unfamiliar with the set, I imagine, probably view both Wagner cards on an equal playing field. Sure, the card is well known as a tough one by experienced collectors or collectors building this set. But outside of that community, it just doesn’t seem to get the credit it deserves.
That’s not entirely unheard of. There are a lot of underrated cards out there. Plus, while the card is undeniably rare, rarity is only one factor in a card’s value. But given the popularity of this set, the fact that Wagner is one of the biggest pre-war names out there, and the fact that he is not found in most of the tobacco card sets from the era, it has the look of a card that is undervalued.