Twenty Years Ago and the Chase for Wagner

McNall-Gretzky T206 Wagner card

McNall-Gretzky T206 Wagner card

Anyone who collected baseball cards back in the mid-90’s should remember Wallmart’s big sports card promotion that included the possibility of winning the McNall/Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner card.

The promotion, called the “Greatest Trading Card Giveaway of All Time,” included the Wagner card as well as other important cards in the hobby. Up for grabs were cards of Gordie Howe (’51-52 Parkhurst #66), Joe Namath (’65 Topps #122), Knute Rockne (’33 Sport King #35), (Mickey Mantle (’53 Topps #82) and George Mikan (’48 Bowman #69) and many others.

Sponsored by Upper Deck, Leaf, Fleer, Skybox and Topps, the idea sprung from the brain of Harold Anderson of Treat Entertainment who purchased the Wagner card for $500,000.00 from Gretzky in 1995. Anderson approached Wallmart and the five major card companies and the promotion was born. All collectors had to do to enter the contest was to request an official entry card, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to “World’s Most Valuable Card Entry Card Request,” P.O. Box 11838, St. Paul, MN 55111 by January 1, 1996 or enter a Wallmart store and buy the specially marked 2-for-$1 trading card packs and fill out the contest card and send it away.

"Greatest Trading Card Giveaway of All Time" Ad Poster

“Greatest Trading Card Giveaway of All Time” Ad Poster

The promotion lasted five months from Oct. of 1995 to Feb. of 1996. Each month there would be a draw in each of the four sports, October was Hockey, November was Basketball, December was Baseball and January was Football. On Wagner’s birthday, February 24th, the draw for his card took place.

Patricia Gibbs was the final winner of the Wagner card which she put up for auction almost immediately after winning (she couldn’t afford the taxes on the card). Christie’s auctioned the card off to Michael Gidwitz for $641,500.00.

There was mixed feelings in the hobby at the time about this promotion. Many card shop owners thought it would draw business away from their shops and get collectors accustomed to buying their cards at big department stores like Wallmart. Others took a different view thinking that the promotion would bring thousands of more people into the hobby as the contest would introduce them to a fun pastime. Either way you had difficulty ignoring the phenomenon. Personally, I liked the idea that for once there was a chance a normal Joe, rather than a star hockey player or owner, or other well-to-do collector would have a chance to own some of the great cards in the hobby. It is a bit frustrating when a hobby meant for kids transforms into a hobby that reserves the best cards to the exclusivity of those collectors with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend.

 

Before Beckett, A Look at The Trader Speaks

The Trader Speaks Front Covers

The Trader Speaks Front Covers

 

The Trader Speaks was a hobby publication that ran from November 1968 until March 1984. Founded by Dan Dischley in Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y., The Trader Speaks was the main card collecting periodical in the 1970s. Dischley was a police officer at the time and began the magazine in his free time. He later founded (along with 15 others) SABR in 1971. Dischley sold the magazine to Sonny and Eric Jackson on August 18, 1983, who then sold it to Krause Publications (the one who publishes The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards among other guides for hobbyists).

The contents were a treasure trove for collectors who wanted to fill lists without actually knowing the details of the sets they are collecting. Advertising of sports card conventions, dealer mail order sales, and others made up much of the magazine with articles being few. TTS main purpose was to bring collectors and dealers together, a paper version of Ebay so to speak. They also emphasized the checklist covering the names and numbering (if it existed) of many of the older sets that collectors didn’t have lists for. Another service they printed was error and variations to sets. Here is an example from the August 1975 magazine listing the variations to the Topps sets of the 50s,60s,and 70s.

The Trader Speaks Example Page

The Trader Speaks Example Page

Before Beckett took over, The Trader Speaks was the periodical most collectors used a a source of information. Looking through the magazine is trip through a history. You might want to pick up a few of them just to see what Pre Beckett, Pre Internet, collecting looked like.