Willie Ratner unknowingly founded this exclusive club as a youth when he secured his copy of the card straight out of a pack of Sweet Caporal cigarettes. Jefferson Burdick gained entry when he received one as a gift from a friend and then afterwards donated his treasure to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A 19-year-old Bill Mastro became a member when he paid a world-record price of $1,500 for his first one in 1972, only to resell it shortly thereafter to buy a new car. Lew Lipset entered the club after pooling his entire savings of $35,000 to buy a collection from a Navy doctor that included a near pristine example. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky partnered with his boss Bruce McNall to join the club when they paid $451,000 for an alleged pristine example at Sotheby’s in 1992.
In 2007, Arizona Diamondback owner Ken Kendrick dropped $2.8 million for Gretzky’s former card so that he could join the hobby’s most exclusive assemblage of high-rollers. Unfortunately for Kendrick, his Wagner has been certified a fraud by the FBI who revealed through wire-taps that the card had been fraudulently trimmed by the recently incarcerated Bill Mastro.
That being said, here’s a never before published look at the current and past owners of the fraudulent and legitimate cards that have afforded their owner’s entrance into the exclusive: “T206 Wagner Club.”
As reported by Hauls of Shame in 2013, there are at least sixty copies of the storied tobacco card known to exist and there are even more individuals who can boast of once owning an actual Honus–It’s surely not the rarest card, but it is by far the most desirable and most valuable slice of cardboard known to man. The combined value of the 60-plus existing specimens easily exceeds $25 million.
The T206 Honus Wagner has become a legendary piece of American folklore and some might argue the face of the billion dollar baseball memorabilia industry. The allure of the Wagner has also given rise to the commission of crimes ranging from Bill Mastro’s trimming of the Gretzky-McNall copy to a heist executed by a group of thieves who stole actor Charlie Sheen’s Wagner when it was on display at ESPN’s “All Star Cafe” in Times Square back in 1996.
Still, many others have joined the club simply by chance, chalking up their membership through an inheritance or a lucky draw in a sweepstakes give-away. The stories of the past and present members of the club and how they acquired each and every one of the “Holy Grails” are noteworthy and sometimes notorious. The allure and mystery surrounding the card is such that Forbes columnist David Seideman has even suggested that some of the owners like Mastro and McNall may have been cursed by their ownership of the hobby’s greatest prize.
The sixty or so Wagner cards known to exist have been possessed by multiple collectors who’ve owned the card dating back to the days when kids collected them out of cigarette packs in the Dead-Ball era. Ever since the Wagner cards were produced and subsequently withdrawn from the T206 set by the American Tobacco Company in 1909, the legend of the Honus Wagner card has grown and taken on a life of its own.
The collectors who have been drawn to the Wagner card and the notoriety it brings are a diverse and eclectic group of men (and women) with one thing in common: They have either willingly or unwillingly become a part of hobby history.
THE CURRENT MEMBERS OF “THE WAGNER CLUB”:
1. Ken Kendrick- Owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks and owner of the infamous PSA-8 Mastro-Wagner. Even though his Wagner card was trimmed by Bill Mastro to enhance its condition, PSA graded it a NM-MT 8 despite having knowledge it was trimmed. And although Mastro’s fraud played a part in his recent criminal conviction, Kendrick is currently showing off the controversial card at the Phoenix Art Museum with no disclaimer to museum visitors that they are viewing a miniature crime scene as the tainted cardboard still sits in its original fraudulent PSA holder. The museum still identifies the card for patrons as “the famous PSA 8 NM-MT.” In reality, the fraudulently trimmed card should have been re-holdered by PSA with a designation as “Altered-Authentic.”
2. Thomas Tull- Movie producer and newly minted billionaire whose company, Legendary Entertainment, released the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 in 2013 as well as the Hangover films and the recent Batman films. Tull also owns a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers and recently purchased Bill Mazerowski’s 1960 World Series-winning bat and uniform at Hunt Auctions. and also purchased Don Spence’s PSA-registered card collection for what has been rumored as a figure topping $10 million. Tull claims to own a 1912 Wagner game-used jersey and he purchased the “Dreier Wagner” after it was brokered by Legendary Auctions for over $1.2 million. Tull’s Wagner was said to have been originally owned by an Irish immigrant living in Harlem who acquired it in the 1910’s.
3. Richard Masson- Masson keeps a low-profile in the hobby and has run under the radar of most despite the fact that he owns what is perhaps the finest baseball card collection in the world
4. Corey Shanus- The hobby’s premier 19th century collector owns a raw/ungraded example in excellent condition, His Wagner was sold in a Trader Speaks auction by Richard Gelman the son of hobby legend Woody Gelman. There is speculation that Shanus’ card has a Piedmont back.
5. Keith Olbermann- The ESPN broadcaster at one time owned three copies of the Wagner card, but sources indicate that he unloaded one of them. Olbermann has made his way into several MLB dugouts showing off his trimmed SGC-Authentic copy to Braves pitcher Tim Hudson and several Washington Nationals players.
6. Mark McCrae- West-Coast collector who acquired via Bill Mastro a high-grade Wagner that once belonged to Dr. Robert Goode of Columbus, Indiana.
7. The Fritsch Family- Legendary collector and dealer Larry Fritsch acquired his high-grade Wagner from the same find as the Mastro-McCrae copy. When Fritsch passed away in 2010 his Wagner was bequeathed to his surviving family members.
8. Unknown Buyer- Hobby veteran and dealer Mike Wheat acquired this copy from Ken Blazek via a Lew Lipset auction. Blazek acquired the card originally from Bill Mastro in 1974 and told the Sport Fan: “I showed it to my wife, expecting her to respond with a great number of complimentary and congratulatory comments.” Instead, Blazek said when she saw the Wagner all she said was, “It’s creased.” Wheat sold the card to in a private transaction to a buyer who he would not identify by name.
9. Gary Cypress- the CEO of the Banner Finance Co., his ungraded and trimmed copy of Wagner card is on display at the private Sports Museum of Los Angeles which he also owns and operates.
10. Joel Platt- The legendary collector who acquired Wagner artifacts from the Flying Dutchman’s widow in the 1950s tracked down his copy of the Wagner in the mid-1980s in New York City. Platt recalls, “I may very well be the only collector who was offered two different Wagners in two days.” Platt chose the second offering which was accompanied by an Eddie Plank. ”I paid between 20 and 30,000 for the pair from Bill Hognach at a show.” The Wagner is currently stored in a vault at Platt’s Sports Immortals Museum in Florida.
11. Dr. Nick DePace- The New Jersey cardiologist purchased the example sold by the Sisters of Notre Dame order at Heritage Auctions after the winning bidder reneged on his commitment to buy the card for $220,000. After he purchased the card he told The Philadelphia Inquirer: ”This is the most famous Honus Wagner card now because it’s going to help thousands of people, and that’s more than any other Honus Wagner card has ever done.”
12. Paul Dunigan Jr.- His Wagner was inherited from his deceased father Paul Dunigan Sr. a prolific collector of 19th century cabinet photos and other rarities and the former owner of an adult entertainment empire in Massachusetts.
13. Bill Heitman- the hobby pioneer inherited his Wagner from his father who acquired it in the early days of the hobby.
14. Levi Bleam- a veteran hobby dealer who operates 707 Sportscards in Pennsylvania, once auctioned off the “1/2 Wagner” in an SCD ad. That Wagner was missing the right side of the card but was encapsulated by PSA. In addition to selling that example, a source told us Bleam held onto another “keeper” in much better shape which he had acquired years ago, making the PSA Registry winner a member of the Wagner Club as well.
15. Scott Ireland- his high-grade copy of the Wagner card was also part of the August Jacobs find that included the cards that ended up with Fritsch and McCrae.
16. The Metropolitan Museum of Art- The Met received Jefferson Burdick’s Wagner as part of his donation to the institution in the 1950s and 1960s.
17. The New York Public Library- The NYPL joined the club when Leopold Morse Goulston donated his T206 cards to the library in the 1940’s. Despite losing millions in baseball artifacts from the 1970s heist from the Spalding Collection, the Honus Wagner card survived. The fact that Jefferson Burdick documented the card as being in the NYPL collection, likely protected the card from theft.
18. The Baseball Hall of Fame- The Cooperstown institution owns two copies of the Wagner card that were once owned by Barry Halper, Lew Lipset and Bill Mastro. The first card was donated by Halper in the 1980s and the second was purchased from Halper in 1998 along with bogus uniforms attributed to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Mickey Mantle. At least the Wagner was real and unaltered, although it was an over-sized example with unusually thick borders.
19. The British Museum- The UK ended up with the donation of Sir Edgar Wharton-Tigar’s collection which included a Wagner that originated from the collection of legendary collector Charles Bray.
21. Joe Garagiola- the ex-MLB player and broadcaster who passed away last month acquired a copy of the Wagner card from Bill Heitman in a legendary 1980’s trade. It is unclear whether he retained the card or sold it and sources indicate his estate may hold the answers to his ownership of the card.
22. Scott J. (from Lake Benton, FL)- the semi-anonymous “Scott J” won his Wagner in a Tr-Star Entertainment sweepstakes in 2005 when he pulled a redemption coupon out of a pack of baseball cards in the “Hidden Treasure” promotion.
23. Scott Brockelman- a dealer and auctioneer (Brockleman Auctions/Brockelman & Luckey Auctions) joined the club after buying his copy in a Memory Lane auction for close to $250,000.
24. The Anonymous “Jumbo Wagner” Owner- An individual from the world of finance who, according to Ken Goldin, asked for anonymity, when he purchased the high grade “Jumbo Wagner” from Goldin Auctions in April of 2013 for $2.1 million.
25. The Anonymous Hoboken Resident- In 2012, an article in Hoboken Magazine revealed the Wagner of an owner living in the New Jersey city who inherited his card from a grandfather who “Had an affiliation to the Major League Baseball” and acquired the card “around 1953.” The secretive club member says he’ll never sell his card and added, “Nobody knows I have it except for a handful of people, and I prefer to keep it that way.” At least he shared an image.
FORMER MEMBERS OF THE WAGNER CLUB:
THE OLD TIMERS-
Dating back to the Dead-Ball era when some were just kids, the first members of the club gained entry at a much more affordable level. Willie Ratner, owner of the “Original Wagner” showed his treasure off in a Newark newspaper in 1930 while Jefferson Burdick documented his in the American Card Catalog in 1939. Other early members included Sgt. John P. Wagner, Charles Bray, Preston Orem, Frank Nagy, Wirt Gammon, Ted Colzaretti, Sir Edward Wharton-Tigar, Dr. William Lowell, Dr. Hubert Heitman, Irv Lerner, Dick Herring, and others.
When the hobby became as much a business as it was a pastime in the 1970s qnd 1980s, a new generation of hybrid collector-dealers arrived on the scene who began unearthing and wheeling and dealing Wagners like they were going out of style. Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson led the way while Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen and Josh Evans followed their lead. Between the five auctioneers, they accounted for over 50% of the Wagner sales and discoveries in that era. Also contributing to that phenomenon were other dealers who owned and sold Wagners including Buddy Kurzwiel and Rick Barudin of the Sports Corner, Lew Lipset, Jay Barry, Richard Gelman, Bill Hognach, George Lyons, Duane Garrett, Mark Friedland, Jerry Zuckerman, David Kohler, Ken Goldin, Greg Manning, Steve Verkman, John Brigandi.
The true card collectors naturally gravitated to the Wagner card in a quest to complete what hobby pioneer Bill Heitman called “The Monster”–the T206 set. Other collectors were drawn to the Wagner as it became the ultimate status symbol in the hobby. Barry Halper led the way in the late 1970s through the 1980s acquiring multiple copies while others followed his lead acquiring their own copies including Bill Haber, Larry Fritsch, George Lyons, John Cinquegrana, Tom Collier, Jay Barry, Joe and Karen Michalowicz, Dr. Robert Goode, Lew Newman, Wally Snitko, Scott Winslow, Stephen Soloway, Mike Cramer, Mike Gidwitz, David Finkelstein, Dentist Paul Kahan, and Steve Miceli.
Throughout the years collectors who set up tables at shows and operated small businesses and auctions found themselves in the Wagner Club and sometimes their tenure was short. Fitting this description is Pittsburgh’s Wayne Varner who won the well-known Wagner scrap or strip sheet that surfaced in the late 1970s when he and partners Bob Zipplemann, Ken Blazek and Mike Wheat acquired the relic from a man they said purchased material from Honus Wagner’s former residence. The four men decided they would let the luck of the draw determine which one of the four would own the relic. It was Varner’s lucky day. Other collectors who owned Honus for a short time include: Alan Ray, Mike Aronstein, Fred McKie, Barry Sloate, Herman Kaufman, John Cinquegruana, David Festberg, Joe Esposito, Vin Russo, Tom Catal, Mike Wheat.
Wayne Gretzky set the bar high for high profile Wagner Club members when he purchased his with Bruce McNall for $451,000 at Sotheby’s in 1991. By the time he sold his interest in the card after McNall went to prison, actor and Hollywood bad-boy Charlie Sheen had purchased his own Wagner via Josh Evans at Lelands. Sheen’s copy was later stolen from ESPN’s All-Star Cafe in Times Square where it was on loan. Ex-MLB star knuckleballer Tom Candiotti purchased Gretzky’s former Wagner for $2 million in 2004 and then resold the same card to Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick for $2.8 million in 2007. Only one notable celebrity trumped the alleged quality of Gretzky’s Wagner as former ESPN and MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann at one time owned three copies of low-grade Wagner cards. Sources indicate Olbermann still has two copies in his collection, one of which is a trimmed copy that sold at Mastro Auctions in the early 2000s.
THE HEAVY HITTERS-
CEOs and captains of industry heading Fortune 500 companies and other large corporations have also come to the table for entry into baseball collecting’s most exclusive club. The first so-called “Whale” to venture into the hobby was West-coast sporting goods magnate Jim Copeland who purchased the most notorious Wagner from Bill Mastro in 1987. Brian Seigel, the CEO of an asset management company, bought Copeland’s Wagner in 2000 for $1.26 million. Another well-heeled collector in the club was the “Southern Gentleman” collector Jim Montgomery who was followed by Chad Dreier, the CEO of Ryland Homes, who purchased a high-grade copy with his son Doug Dreier, in 2004. Others who have snagged Wagners include John Rogers of the now defunct Rogers Photo Archive who purchased the “Jumbo Wagner” for $1.6 million in 2002 and ex-MLB knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti who purchased the fraudulent Gretzky-McNall Wagner from Brian Seigel for $2.35 million in 2007.
GOLDEN TICKETS AND INHERITANCES-
Postal worker Patricia Gibbs became the second woman to join the “Wagner Club” when she won the Gretzky-McNall copy in a 1995 Wal-Mart Sweepstakes spearheaded by Treat Entertainment. Score Board Inc. purchased a Wagner to be included in a “golden-ticket” promotion to give away a Wagner on the Shop at Home Network via Don West in 1997. In 2002, the Shop at Home Network also purchased and gave away the T206-Wagner Proof Strip as a prize to 15-year old Jordan Marquez of Bakersfield, California. The Marquez family sold the card at REA. The Pearsall Family and the Jacobs Family of Long Island inherited their Wagners from a relative (August Jacobs had three Wagners). Two other (anonymous) families consigned the inherited “Wallet Wagner” and “The Long Island Wagner” to Lelands.
WAGNER CLUB REJECTIONS: FAKES, FRAUDS AND COUNTERFEITS-
Reports of alleged Wagner discoveries have been covered in the hobby and mainstream press for the past several decades as the popularity of the Wagner card and its legend has grown. Most of those reports, however, ended up with disappointed people who thought they had hit the Wagner lottery when in reality all they had were worthless reprints or counterfeits. In one instance, Joe Strong of Hamilton, Ontario, claimed he discovered a Wagner in a group of cards he paid $800 for. He and card grader Guy Stoppard offered the card online for $15,000, but it was clear the offering was a reprint. The state of West Virginia once discovered an alleged Wagner in an abandoned safety deposit box but found out their card was a reprint as well.
Despite the fakes and frauds, the legend of the Wagner endures and the exclusive club of owners changes over each decade as collectors pass away or pass along their treasured cardboard to new generations of collectors.
If you have any factual corrections for this report or additional information about the current whereabouts of Wagner cards mentioned (or unmentioned) in this article, please email us at: Tips@haulsofshame.com
UPDATE (April 16): One of our readers provided us with an image of an old news clipping showing that Darren Prince (“The Prince of Cards”) from Livingston, NJ, owned a Wagner.
Yet another Wagner owner was identified by one of our readers; Rochester, MI, attorney E. Powell Miller is the owner of the card known as the”Connecticut Wagner.”
If you know of any others please email us at: Tips@haulsofshame.com