Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

That $2.1 Million Honus Wagner Card Is A Bargain In 1911 Dollars

Illustration for article titled That $2.1 Million Honus Wagner Card Is A Bargain In 1911 Dollars

From Dan Good at the New York Post:

The Holy Grail has a new owner.

A rare 1909-11 baseball card featuring Honus Wagner sold at auction for $2.1 million early this morning, following a period of extended bidding. That prices includes a buyer's premium.


You know how much $2,105,770.50 is? Why, it’s a lot of money. Approaching the most anyone has ever paid for a baseball card.

It is also, by reasonable standards, a pretty decent return on an initial investment. Why, if you started in 1911 and wanted to have $2,105,770.50 in 2013, how much would you need to invest? Well, assuming you were going to get 10 percent a year (about the 20th century average for stocks), compounded once annually, for 102 years, you’d need to start with …


$126.29. In 1911 buying power, that was more like $3,000. But there are many, many, many things purchased for relative pittances in 1911 that are now worth more than $2.1 million today.

What makes the Wagner card exceptionally interesting isn't its price, per se. It’s that a seemingly valueless thing — a baseball card, a piece of pop culture ephemera that most people probably stuck in the spokes of their extremely tall bicycles — has now risen and risen and risen over the years to break its own records for auction prices. It owes that streak to two indelible qualities: scarcity and renown. It has the former by dint of attrition over the years. It has the latter because people write about it, and talk about it, largely because people pay so much money for it. Thus simply buying it for a ridiculous price further intensifies its reputation as an object worth paying ridiculous amounts for. Talk about win-win, if you happen to have $2.1 million sitting around to throw at a baseball card.

The last time the card was sold, in 2008, the buyer paid a piddling $1.6 million for it. The current buyer, described by the head of the auction house merely as someone not within the hobby, now has a card that’s turning up in more than 2,000 Google News hits at the moment. And now the very words you’re reading, as you’re reading them, are incrementally increasing its value further. None of us can escape the cosmic dark suction of the Honus Wagner card.

The lesson here is that if you like seeing useless things continue to spiral in value only because of the attention paid to them, stop reading about them. Also, put your baseball card money in a low-cost equity index fund and keep it there for as a hundred years, or as long as you can.


Rare Honus Wagner baseball card sells for $2.1 million [New York Post]

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