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Behind the Scenes at ROADSHOW:
The One that Got Away
From 1909 till 1911 the American Tobacco Company had a series of baseball cards they included with their cigarette packs. Honus was pictured on one but wasn’t happy about it: some say he was anti-tobacco, others claim it was a contract dispute. Whatever the truth, not many of the cards were made or distributed.
This feature was originally published in the iPad edition of the WGBH Explore! Member's Guide.
In every city we visit media covers our daylong appraisal event. The journalists are all anxious to capture what happens behind-the-scenes at ANTIQUES ROADSHOW ... and frankly they do a fine job of achieving that goal. But to really know what happens when we're not "on" those reporters would need to join us after the cameras stop rolling.
"Looking back on my years with Roadshow, it remains to be the "lost" appraisal that has stuck with me the most."
We tour in the summer, holding our events on Saturdays. This is when all of the footage for a season is captured these days are beyond important: they're critical. Without successful tapings, we wouldn't be able to make ANTIQUES ROADSHOW for you. The pressure is on.
At the end of our day, the chatter begins. The appraisers are usually still caught in the glow of the special objects they've just seen. There are the items that have been taped but we'll also hear about the objects that didn't make it to camera. They might even "complain" about the one that got away. By that I mean, an object they wanted to tape but we, the producers, decided differently.
Now Honus played a mean enough game to be one of Baseball Hall of Fame's first five members: he was a superb batter and some say the best shortstop of all time. But that's not what makes Honus famous or why those in the know covet their own Honus card. It's the T206, the most valuable baseball card in existence, that keeps Honus in the news.
From 1909 till 1911 the American Tobacco Company had a series of baseball cards they included with their cigarette packs. Honus was pictured on one but wasn't happy about it: some say he was anti-tobacco, others claim it was a contract dispute. Whatever the truth, not many of the cards were made or distributed. Lucky us ... one came into the Baltimore ROADSHOW! That was back in Season 12, summer 2007. The card is so rare chances are we'll never see another.
That's exactly what appraiser Simeon Lipman, one of ROADSHOW's Sports Memorabilia appraisers, was thinking that day. He had reservations nonetheless Simeon "pitched" the card. In case you haven't been to a ROADSHOW, a quick briefer on how our events work so you understand what I mean by "pitch."
Most of our event guests come and find out how old their item is, what it was used for, possibly who created or may have owned it ... and of course value. We'll see between five to six thousand people with two objects each. Of those 10,000 to 12,000 items, we'll end up sharing about 100 with the nation. Each appraisal event becomes three hours of television. It's the appraisers who identify a special treasure: unless it's small, like jewelry, they'll see a great object from across the room. When it's special enough, they'll "pitch" it to one of the series roving producers including Sam Farrell, Jill Giles or me to convince us to tape.
We care deeply about being able to tell a good story so big value isn't enough to land a "yes." It was Sam who took the Honus pitch. Simeon said, "I knew the owner knew exactly what he had the minute he took it out." The problem as Simeon says, "That's an issue when I pitch stuff, I want the guest to learn and he knew everything, including its value. On the other side, when are we ever going to see a Wagner card?"
So Simeon pitched the Honus even though he knew it was a long shot. There was the television problem: a guest who knows all doesn't make for the most exciting segment. ANTIQUES ROADSHOW is about discovery: we try to avoid show-and-tell but on occasion make an exception. The Honus might have been one and Sam agreed with Simeon ... until Sam discovered the owner was a guest of appraiser Phil Weiss.
Phil remembers being surprised the Honus had come to our Baltimore event. He knew the guest, an Oceanside New York resident as is Phil, and he knew the owner had discovered it in the house he inherited from his grandfather. Phil also remembers telling the owner, "Come as guests but don't bring the Wagner card. Because I know you, it can't be taped."
Phil was correct: Sam turned down the pitch and let the Honus go. I learned from Phil that a year after our Baltimore event, his auction house sold that card. Hammer price, including buyer's premium: $791,000. By the way, if sold today, the auction estimate on that same card would be $1,000,000 to $1,300,000.
We still talk with some regret about the one that got away. It was only a few months after the Baltimore event a Honus in better condition came up for auction: it brought $2,800,000. Despite all the scrutiny seven-figure objects receive, that record-setting card has become controversial. Was the value placed on the card "right" the collecting world wants to know? Depending upon how that debate is settled, it could up the value of the other T206s out there, including "our Honus." In the ever-changing market of antiques and collectibles it's puzzles like this keep us going and of course, the hope that another Honus will come to ROADSHOW!
Revisit some of Antiques Roadshow's baseball memorabilia appraisals featuring Simeon Lipman and Phil Weiss:
1927 & 1931 Yankees Signed Baseballs
Honus Wagner Tintype, ca. 1890
Baseball Memorabilia, ca. 1950
Marsha Bemko is the Executive Producer of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.