The Baltimore-based School Sisters of Notre Dame put the card up for sale after inheriting it from the brother of a deceased nun. The sale price exceeded the expectations of auctioneers at Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries.
The nuns will receive $220,000 from the sale. The total sale price includes a 19.5 percent buyer's premium. Sister Virginia Muller, who was entrusted with the card, says the proceeds will go to the order's ministries in more than 30 countries around the world.
Collector and card shop owner Doug Walton of Knoxville, Tenn., bought the card. About 60 of the T206 Honus Wagner cards, produced between 1909 and 1911, are known to exist.
Muller had never heard of shortstop Honus Wagner. The card is part of the T206 series, produced between 1909 and 1911. About 60 Wagner cards are known to exist. A near-mint-condition T206 Wagner card sold in 2007 for $2.8 million, the highest price ever for a baseball card.
The brother of a nun who died in 1999 left all his possessions to the order when he died earlier this year. The man's lawyer told Muller he had a Honus Wagner card in a safe-deposit box.
When they opened the box, they found the card, with a typewritten note: "Although damaged, the value of this baseball card should increase exponentially throughout the 21st century!"
The card was unknown to the sports-memorabilia marketplace because the nuns' benefactor had owned it since 1936.
It has a big crease in the upper right-hand corner, and three of the white borders have been cut off. It has also been laminated. But even in poor condition, a T206 Wagner card is prized by collectors, said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, which is auctioning the card.
"The T206 set is known as 'The Monster' among collectors. It's just really tough to complete the entire set," Ivy said. The Wagner card is "one of those that's always sought-after, always desirable, and there's not a big population of them. Even in a lower grade, they do have quite a bit of demand and command a strong price."
Wagner, nicknamed "The Flying Dutchman," played for 21 seasons, 18 of them with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He compiled a .328 career batting average and was one of the five original inductees into baseball's Hall of Fame.
The card was printed during the prime of Wagner's career, but the American Tobacco Company ended production soon after it began. Some say Wagner didn't want to promote tobacco products to children. Others believe it was a dispute over money that led to the card being pulled.
On the card, Wagner appears stocky and pale, with his hair parted down the middle and the city on his jersey spelled as "Pittsburg," the official spelling at the time.