Baseball Card Shatters eBay Record

The Holy Grail of the baseball memorabilia world, a near-mint condition card depicting Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop John Peter “Honus” Wagner, has been auctioned off by eBay for $1.265 million (US$).

The selling price, which includes a bid of $1.1 million and a 15 percent fee, is the most ever paid for a baseball card and represents the highest price ever paid at an eBay auction.

The rare 1909 card, known as T206 Honus Wagner, was sold on behalf of its owner, Chicago, Illinois-based collector Michael Gidwitz, by Robert Edward Auctions in a private ten-day auction that ended on Saturday. Bidding for the legendary card opened on July 5th with a minimum of $500,000. Within minutes, bidding had reached $550,000 and continued to skyrocket.

A total of 13 bids were received, including the winning bid made by an anonymous sports memorabilia collector from Southern California.

Who Wants a Million-Dollar Card?

Said Robert Lifson, director of Robert Edward Auctions, “We are thrilled with the outcome. Every trading card collector dreams of owning this very special card. We had many interested and active bidders. Offering the card on eBay allowed millions more to feel a part of this record-making event.”

The card is not the only storied baseball item online sold through Robert Edward Auctions. The firm recently sold a baseball autographed by the infamous 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” for $93,666 at eBay.

Storied Past

The T206 Honus Wagner is so valuable because it is the most perfect specimen of a batch of only 50 to 60 such cards. Lifson called it the Mona Lisa of all trading cards and said it is “universally recognized as the most valuable and desirable among collectors and dealers alike.”

Like many coveted items, the T206 card has a colorful past. It was originally produced by the American Tobacco Company as part of a advertising campaign. The cards, which included images of Wagner and other baseball players of the day, were to be included in packs of tobacco.

Legend has it that Wagner, who was one of the five initial inductees into baseball’s Hall of Fame, objected to the use of his name in association with smoking and demanded that the company stop production and distribution of his likeness in the set. The company complied, and today cards from American Tobacco Companies T206 series are prized possessions.

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky and former Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall purchased the card for $451,000 in 1991. It was sold in 1995 to Wal-Mart for an undisclosed amount, rumored to have been in excess of $500,000, for use in a nationally advertised promotional raffle. A postal worker from Florida won the card, but was later forced to sell it to pay the tax bill. Gidwitz purchased the card in 1996 for a then-record $641,500.

Special Auction Rulebook

Would-be baseball card bidders had to agree to abide by a new set of rules set up specifically for this auction, including pre-registering to become “approved bidders” with Robert Edward Auctions. As part of the qualification process, prospective bidders had to deposit $100,000 into an escrow account and have their personal information verified before they were eligible to bid.

The auction used ImagePump technology from Xippix, Inc., which allowed prospective purchasers and onlookers to view the card in detail. By clicking on the card’s image, users could zoom, pan and scroll the Honus Wagner baseball card. The winning bidder confirmed that he inspected the card using ImagePump before placing his winning bid.

The record-setting auction also spawned a number of eBay copycats who chose to list their own Honus Wagner memorabilia in order to ride the coattails of the high profile auction. Some of the other Honus Wagner items that appeared on eBay in recent days were photos of the baseball great, matchbooks bearing his likeness, and another 1909 card from the Colgan’s Chips set that the seller advertised as “the Other Honus Wagner card.”

That listing read, “If you can’t afford $1 Million+ for the Other Wagner, then this is the next best thing.” Bidding for that card closed at $2,500.

eBay Shuts Down Pyramid Auction

In related news, on Monday eBay removed an auction listing for a stone purported to be from an Egyptian pyramid. eBay was not sure whether the seller was being honest when he described the item as pendant-sized fragment off the limestone and granite tomb of Pharaoh Cheops, but removed the listing because it was either a hoax or in violation of international law.

According to reports, eBay spokesperson Kevin Pursglove said “We believe the item as described would be illegal to sell, and if it were not an accurately described piece of the pyramid, it would be misleading, which is another reason we close down auctions.”

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