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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:45 p.m., Thursday, September 6, 2007

Baseball: Honus Wagner card sold for record $2.8M

Associated Press

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — A rare Honus Wagner baseball card has been sold for a record $2.8 million, just over six months after it was bought for a then-record $2.35 million.

Referred to as the "Mona Lisa" of baseball cards, the almost mint-condition collectible — released in 1909 by the American Tobacco Company — was sold by Brian Seigel of Las Vegas to an unidentified Southern California collector in February. SCP Auctions was a minority owner, but David Kohler, the company's president and CEO, said that's no longer the case.

Kohler said the new owner wishes to remain a private collector for now, but might identify himself at a later date. The sale was completed last week and announced Thursday.

The T206 baseball card features a youthful Wagner in his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. At the time of the February sale, it was displayed at a Dodger Stadium news conference.

"This has always been the holy grail, the Mona Lisa of baseball cards," Kohler said.

Adding to its value is that only 50 to 60 Wagner cards are believed to exist, and none of the others in circulation are close to the quality of this one, which has been encased in protective sheeting for decades.

"This is the finest by far per condition," Kohler said.

There are no immediate plans to put the card on display, Kohler said.

"There's a possibility that might happen in the future, we don't know for sure," Kohler said. "It was displayed last month at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland. Next year, it's in Chicago. I'm sure we'll have it on display again. I'm sure the new owner won't have a problem with that."

Seigel, the CEO of an asset management company, paid a record $1.265 million when he bought the card in 2000. Among the previous owners were hockey great Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, former owner of the Los Angeles Kings, who paid $451,000 for it in 1991.

Wagner's card was among the first of hundreds of cards of major league players produced by the American Tobacco Co. and included in packages of cigarettes.

Unlike other players, however, Wagner quickly demanded that his card be withdrawn. Theories vary as to why, with one being that he didn't believe American Tobacco paid him enough.

A non-smoker, the Pittsburgh shortstop was arguably the second-greatest baseball player of his era, behind Ty Cobb. Wagner hit .344 during his rookie year of 1897, and batted over .300 for 17 consecutive seasons, winning eight National League batting titles.

One of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Wagner retired in 1917 with more hits, runs, RBIs, doubles, triples and steals than any NL player.

Kohler said over 1,200 items are currently up for auction on his company's web site including the balls Barry Bonds hit for his record-tying 755th homer and record-breaking 756th homer last month. Those are up for sale through Sept. 15.