Card of the Day: 1948-49 Leaf Honus Wagner

Last month we featured a 1931 W517 Paul Waner card. That was a guest submission from Jarrod Ranone, a collector from Pittsburgh, PA., who also provided us with our first Pirates Memorabilia article. He told the story of his team signed 1946 baseball. When I approached Jarrod about the Waner card and writing an article, he wasn’t sure if that card would be better for an article or his 1948-49 Leaf Honus Wagner card. Luckily, the only decision we had to make is which one to use first. I already had scans of the Waner card at the time, so we went with that one and saved the Wagner for later. Today is later.

Jarrod tells the story behind this card, which has been attributed to both 1948 and 1949, with some people splitting the difference and using both years. He also tells why he bought this particular card and gives some background information, including a general idea on pricing for anyone interested.

1948-49 Honus Wagner

by Jarrod Ranone

Before I bought my main bucket list item of a Honus Wagner autograph (the 1946 team ball linked above), I was on the hunt for an affordable, authentic Honus Wagner card. Affordable and authentic can be an oxymoron when it comes to vintage cards. After doing some homework and price shopping, I found a 1949 Leaf card of Honus Wagner.

Two noticeable things right away popped out about this card to me. The first being that Honus was listed as “John” on the front which I have never seen before. Up until this point, I have only seen him listed as Honus or Hans. I think the safe assumption is that John is short for Johannes Peter Wagner. The second thing I noticed was that it appears Honus is about to enjoy some chewing tobacco. This had me curious as I was told that Wagner protested his involvement with the famous T206 due to its involvement with tobacco. Obviously, Wagner enjoyed tobacco (that isn’t Big League Chew, which came out in 1980), however historians believe that Wagner did not want to be involved in the sale of cigarettes because they were seen as a lower form of tobacco when compared to chewing and cigars.

Here’s the front of the card. It measures 2 3/8” by 2-7/8”:

Besides the two noticeable characteristics, the front of the card shows Wagner as a coach with the Pirates, a job he held for 19 years. He is in a Pirates blue uniform, which was replaced in 1948 with the black and gold which we are used to seeing today. The back of the card features a short biography of Wagner’s playing career and instructions how to redeem wrappers for over-sized portraits of popular All-Stars and Hall of Famers.

When adding this card to my collection database, I noticed that it was listed as both 1948 and 1949. Print runs were very different than they are now so I did some digging to find out more. The 1948-49 set was actually the first post-World War II set to feature color pictures of players. Restrictions on ink, cardboard and supplies needed to make chewing gum limited production, so the set has many rookie cards of great players such as Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson

It was long debated what year the set should be officially listed as. Grading companies label the set as 1948, but 1949 seems more likely because all of the cards have information about the 1948 season on them. The copyright date on the back (see below) says 1949, confirming that thought. The set has skipped numbers from 1 to 168, adding to the mystery. After much debate, it was determined that it takes 98 cards to make up the complete set. Half of the cards were severely short-printed, which has made piecing together a set extremely difficult and expensive.

Ungraded versions of this card can be found on eBay starting around $60 for rough condition. Graded versions go for hundreds depending on level. I would consider this to be around a 3 grade (very good), granted I am far from an expert on that subject. Either way, it is an interesting piece of baseball history and one of the favorites in my collection.

Here’s the back of the card:

Here are the previous Card of the Day articles.