Rare T206 Honus Wagner baseball card soars to $791,000 at Philip Weiss auction

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Babe Ruth signed baseball, PSA graded 9 out of 10, in near mint condition ($67,800).

A rare T206 Honus Wagner baseball card – one of only a handful of known examples released into circulation in the early 1900s by the American Tobacco Company and often called the Holy Grail of sports collectibles – soared to $791,000 at a three-day multi-estate sale held Nov. 21-23 by Philip Weiss Auctions. The card was the top lot in a sale that grossed about $1.8 million.

“The only thing keeping the card from realizing a lot more money was its condition, which was SGC graded 3,” said Philip Weiss of Philip Weiss Auctions. “Still, the pre-sale estimate was $500,000-$800,000, and it ended up selling toward the high end of that range. What added to its allure was the fact that it was fresh to the market, consigned by the original owner’s family and never before offered.”

The Honus Wagner card was issued as part of the T206 series (1909-1911), inserted into packs of cigarettes as a promotion. But Wagner – a non-smoker – threatened legal action if production of his own card continued. As a result, only around 200 of his cards ever made their way into the public’s hands. Last year, an example graded SGC8 and once owned by Wayne Gretzky, sold for $2.8 million.

The auction also featured a collection of original-owner T205 and T206 cards from the same era. The star lot was a highly prized Ray Demmitt error card, SGC graded 4; it hammered for $7,625. Another coveted sports collectible to cross the block was a Babe Ruth signed baseball, PSA graded 9 out of 10 and obtained by the chairman of the American Legion league at Shibe Park. It made $67,800.

Around 1,200 lots came up for bid, in an array of categories, not just sports items. About 300 people packed the Philip Weiss Auctions showroom, located at #1 Neil Court in Oceanside, over the course of the weekend. Another 2,000 bidders registered online, submitting about twice that many bids, while many phone and absentee bids were recorded. “It was a good, very active sale,” Mr. Weiss said.

Following are additional highlights. All prices quoted include a 13 percent buyer’s premium.

A Sid Luckman game-worn football jersey, still smudged with dirt from the gridiron, earned $32,770. Luckman played quarterback for the Chicago Bears from 1939-1950. He is credited with popularizing the “T-Formation,” where the quarterback lines up directly behind the center. The jersey came from the consignor, who was given the shirt after a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago in the ’40s.

A large bronze figure of a nomadic desert brigand, executed by Franz Xavier Bergmann (Austrian, 1861-1936), went for $8,755. The sculpture, 21 inches tall and in very good condition, was cast in the cire perdue (or “lost wax”) method Bergmann was so well known for. The Viennese artist produced many detailed and colorful cold-painted bronze Middle Eastern, Oriental and animal figures.

An original Prince Valiant Sunday page from March 1956 (23 inches by 34 inches) rendered by the noted comic illustrator Hal Foster, garnered $16,950. Also, a letter typed and signed by Albert Einstein, in a custom clam-shell box, realized $10,450. The letter, dated Sept. 6, 1946, talks about an article written by author John Hershey that year for The New Yorker magazine, regarding Hiroshima.

A manuscript copy of The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (Boston, 1906), with two half-page handwritten pages by Thoreau in volume 1 of 24 volumes, rose to $13,560. The 3/4-leather-bound set, #34 of 600 sets, was in very good condition. Also, a copy of Sir Isaac Newton’s Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Amsterdam, 1723), in the original binding, went to a determined bidder for $11,300.

Philip Weiss Auctions will conclude the year with yet another blockbuster weekend event slated for Dec. 20-21. Featured will be the Ken Allisburg soda fountain and ice cream advertising collection. Mr. Allisburg filled a five-room apartment with Hires, Orangeade and other syrup dispensers, ice cream trays, prototypes, soda fountain accessories and signs, figural ice cream pieces, and much more.

Also from Mr. Allisburg’s collection: trolley signs; vintage Coca-Cola advertising; clothing and candy boxes (mostly from the 1920s and ’30s); kitchen advertising (cardboard signs and tins, die cuts and triptych signs); and a wonderful selection of toys, including boxed amusement ride toys. Also to be sold will be 200-300 lots of toy trains, including a nice selection of early Lionel and American Flyer.

Also scheduled to cross the block in December is Part 3 of the B.L. “Phil” Philips collection, comprising mostly battery-operated toys. And recently consigned to the gallery: a very nice collection of various vintage slot and coin-operated machines, additional vintage advertising signs and a large collection of toy soldiers. “We are looking to ring out the current year in grand style,” Mr. Weiss said.

Looking ahead to 2009, Philip Weiss Auctions is planning the fourth and final part of The Newport Stamp Collection (six world auction records were established in Parts 1-3). Early spring will see an auction dedicated to medical and scientific instruments and material. And recently arrived for an early 2009 sale is a huge single-owner toy train collection, including post-war Lionel trains still in the box.

Philip Weiss Auctions is always accepting quality consignments for future sales. To consign an item, estate or collection, you may call them directly, at 516-594-0731, or you can e-mail them at phil@prwauctions.com. To learn more about the firm and its calendar of upcoming sales, and to view images of some lots to be offered in the Dec. 20-21 auction, log on to www.prwauctions.com.   

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More Images:

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Large figural bronze of a nomadic desert brigand by Austrian artist Franz Xavier Bergmann ($8,755).
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The top lot of the sale was this T206 Honus Wagner baseball card, SGC graded 3 ($791,000).
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Sir Isaac Newton's Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in Amsterdam in 1723 ($11,300).
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Original Prince Valiant Sunday page by Hal Foster, dated March 25, 1956 ($16,950).
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Sid Luckman's Chicago Bears game-worn football jersey from the 1940s ($32,770).

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