The Honus Wagner: The Rarest of All Baseball Cards

Distributed with Sweet Caporal Cigarettes, ca. 1909-11, the Honus Wagner baseball card is perhaps the most revered of all 20th-century baseball memorabilia, and "” because only a very limited number of cards survived after Wagner caused it to be pulled from circulation "” it is touted as the rarest of all baseball cards. But Wagner was no anti-smoking zealot. His granddaughter set the record straight in 1992: "He always had a wad of chewbacca in his mouth, and he wasn't against tobacco at all. His concern was he didn't want children to have to buy tobacco in order to get his card.... That's the fact behind it. It wasn't that he didn't get paid for it, or he was against tobacco, he just didn't want children to have to buy tobacco at a young age in order to get his cards."

Two figures loom large among the rich baseball collections at The New York Public Library: sporting goods magnate Albert G. Spalding, whose personal collection of books, scrapbooks, and letters was given to the Library by his widow in 1922; and Leopold Morse Goulston, who donated a collection of baseball material in honor of Leo J. Bondy (a former vice president and treasurer of the New York Giants), including the scrapbook holding the legendary Honus Wagner baseball card. The Goulston Baseball Collection, housed in the Library's George Arents Collection on Tobacco, is primarily pictorial, but also contains a number of early books that make a contribution to the history of the sport, such as By-Laws and Rules of Order of the Takewambait Base Ball Club of Natick [Massachusetts] (1858).


"Wagner, Pittsburg." The Honus Wagner baseball card. Photomechanical reproduction, 1909-11. From the "Base Ball series" issued for Sweet Caporal Cigarettes by the American Tobacco Company. The New York Public Library, George Arents Collection on Tobacco, Goulston Baseball Collection.


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