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Rare Honus Wagner card fetches $2.1 million at auction

By Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) - A rare Honus Wagner baseball card, dubbed the "Holy Grail" of sports memorabilia, was sold on Saturday for a record $2.1 million, according to Goldin Auctions, which oversaw the bidding.

The selling price of the 1909 T206 White Border Honus Wagner card was $500,000 more than the $1.6 million the same card was purchased for in 2008, according to Ken Goldin, who runs the auction house.

A wealthy businessman, who wishes to remain anonymous, bought the card, Goldin said. The seller also is anonymous, he added.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame calls the card the "Holy Grail" of sports collecting and describes it as "baseball's most famous collectible."

The card is part of the T206 set issued from 1909 to 1911 in different brands of cigarette and loose tobacco packs by the American Tobacco Company. It is one of 44 Honus Wagners that have been authenticated from the set, Goldin said.

Wagner, a major league shortstop and the best player at the time, complained about being on a baseball card that advertised cigarettes, Goldin said.

"They never issued the card," Goldin said. "Most of them were pulled and destroyed (but) about 125 escaped the factory."

The baseball card, known as the "Jumbo Wagner" because of its unusually large borders, shows Wagner wearing the team uniform of the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom he spent most of his professional career.

One of the five original Baseball Hall of Famers, Johannes Peter "Honus" Wagner - nicknamed "The Flying Dutchman" for his speed - hit .329 and stole 722 bases in 21 seasons.

The $2.1 million is the highest amount ever paid for a baseball card in a public auction. Some 15 bids were placed during the auction that began with an opening bid of $500,000, set by the auction house.

In 2007, a similar Honus Wagner card, once owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky, fetched $2.8 million in a private sale, reportedly making it the most ever paid for a baseball card.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Greg McCune and Gunna Dickson)

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