Thursday, August 01, 2002

Rare Wagner card found - maybe

eBay questions local man's claim, halts Web auction

By Steve Eder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Cincinnati mystery man trying to sell what he said was a rare Honus Wagner baseball card was thrown a curve Wednesday when an Internet trading service halted his high-stakes auction.

Cincinnati man claims this card is authentic.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
  The 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card quickly was taken out of production.
  Contradicting theories explain why Wagner demanded the card be withdrawn. In 93 years, several copies of the card have surfaced, but few have turned out to be true originals. There are believed to be about 50 Wagner cards; only two known cards have the Piedmont cigarettes advertisement backing.
  According to collecting historians, Wagner cards were the first to sell for $100, $100,000 and then $1 million. A card sold in 1991 for reportedly $451,000; another sold in 1996 for a reported $640,500. In July of 2000, the card sold for $1.265 million on eBay.
        The anonymous seller last week began his auction of an uncertified Piedmont-backed 1909 Wagner T206 tobacco card. But eBay officials stopped the auction, directing the semi-retired collector in his 50s to receive proper verification of the card's merits. The same card - known by some as “The Mona Lisa of baseball cards” - was one of the largest sales in eBay history when it sold for $1.265 million in 2000.

        If the local card is found to be authentic, it would be just the third known card of its kind, making it worth a fortune. But if it's a fake, it's worth zilch.

        The value of the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop's card skyrocketed when it was withdrawn from the market shortly after its release. One theory suggests the card's production stopped when Wagner demanded money for the use of his image; another version says Wagner didn't want children to buy tobacco products to get the card.

        Ray Edwards, 34 of Madisonville, speaking on behalf of the card's owner, said the man didn't want to attract attention to himself. Edwards, a Web site developer, showed the card to the Enquirer earlier this week.

        “We are not trying to pull wool over anybody's eyes,” said Edwards, adding that producing a counterfeit card would cost thousands of dollars. Either way, bidding began at $100,000 and included an undisclosed minimum-selling price. One bid was posted just hours after the auction began, but the identity of the potential buyer was withheld due to eBay rules. The card was posted with a $1.7 million “buy-it-now” offer.

        Edwards said the seller plans to seek verification and grading for the card and probably will repost it on eBay next week. The seller bought the card from an estate collector in the mid-1970s for $1,800 before putting the card away in a safe for several years. Now, he hopes to cash in to build a nest egg for his family, Edwards said.

        “We hear those stories every week,” said Joe Orlando, the vice president of California-based Professional Sports Authenticator, a certification company that has graded more than 11 million cards, including 18 Wagner cards.

        Professional graders said there was no way to tell if the card is legitimate from looking at pictures on the Web site. If real, the faded condition of the card probably would place the value at $75,000 to $100,000, Orlando said. The authenticator said he is skeptical about the merits of the card because the owner hadn't submitted it for certification.

        “If someone has a card of this magnitude, knowing our track history, it seems a bit suspect that someone would not be willing to submit it first for inspection,” said Orlando, who graded the card sold on eBay as a “near-mint 8” in 2000.

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