SCD reader Tom Sims sent me a photocopied newspaper article from 65 years ago that would seem to be a strong suspect in determining where the overheated lore and legend surrounding the Honus Wagner T206 card might have got its foothold.
According to the article in the Sunday, March 23, 1944, Philadelphia Record, “Cigarette sports cards are collector’s items now,” the old cards that would be unknown to the current generation “are a much-sought collector’s item today.”
In the bylined story that also pictured 16 early tobacco cards – the Wagner and mostly T206s and T205s – the writer states without any attribution that there are only two known cigarette cards of the bowlegged Hans now in existence, adding that each is worth about $20 to $25.
The article goes on to state that Charles Bray of East Bangor, Pa., owns one, with the other belonging to John Wagner (no relation), of Harrisburg, Pa. That Wagner was actually quoted in the article, telling the writer that Hans had come to Harrisburg for an exhibition game many years ago.
“I asked him why his picture did not appear on the cigarette cards,” the non-immortal Wagner was quoted as saying. “He told me that he did not believe an athlete should use tobacco and for that reason turned down all offers made to him by the cigarette companies for the use of his picture.”
The article also quoted Jeff Burdick of Syracuse, N.Y., but not specifically about the T206 Wagner but about collecting cigarette cards in general.
Of such humble beginnings does grand mythology get its start. Never mind that Wagner is shown a few years later on his 1949 Leaf in the process of stuffing a big wad of chewing tobacco into his mouth (shown above), or that the timing of his famous withdrawal of the card from the 1909-11 White Border Series just happened to conincide with a period in American jurisprudence when litigation and legal thought was evolving about compensation for public figures for commerical use of their likenesses.
I just wish that the Philadelphia Record reporter had made one more phone call. Honus Wagner was a mere 70 years old at the time and would live another 11 years before dying in December of 1955 in Carnegie, Pa.
What the hell, it’s more fun with all of the confusion and mythology.