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Honus Wagner baseball card nets $1.2 million ; Buyer outbid 13 others during online auction

A New Jersey man paid $1.2 million for a rare 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card in an online auction that brought interest from many potential buyers who had never owned a card before, the sale organizer said.

The buyer hasn't decided whether to come forward publicly, and the seller, a Houston businessman, wants to remain anonymous, said Bill Goodwin, the suburban St. Louis collectibles dealer who ran the auction that ended Friday. The buyer's bid was the highest of 14 made since the auction began last month.

"We're thrilled with the outcome," Goodwin said. "There's been so much media attention surrounding this card, and the final price proved this card was worth watching."

Wagner was a member of the first class of Hall of Fame inductees. The shortstop, nicknamed "The Flying Dutchman," spent most of his 21-year career (1897 to 1917) with the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning eight batting titles and hitting a career .327.

The 2 1/2 - by 1 1/2 -inch card was released in cigarette packs sold by the American Tobacco Co. from 1909 to 1911. What makes the card special, in addition to Wagner's fame, is the fact that it was pulled from circulation after about 200 were issued.

The consensus among many was that Wagner didn't want to encourage smoking, especially to children. Goodwin said it may have simply been a matter of Wagner wanting to be compensated for his likeness, since he was photographed with chewing tobacco in his mouth and did advertisements for tobacco companies.

Historians believe only about 60 of the Wagner cards still exist, though many are in poor condition.

Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick paid a record $2.8 million for the highest-graded Wagner card in existence in 2011.

The auction suggested that people beyond sports memorabilia collectors are becoming interested in baseball cards, said Bill Shelton, who worked with Goodwin. The winning bidder for the Wagner card "came in completely off the radar," Shelton said.

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