ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts: Holy Grail: The T206 Honus Wagner (2013)

Directed by Colin & Nick Barnicle

To anyone familiar with the hobby, you know how crazy it can be. I think the keyword is hobby, and I don’t even have to say which one it it. By definition almost any hobby contains enthusiasts and fanatics, but having been involved in the collection of baseball cards myself, and having a close friend who easily falls under the description of obsessive fanatic, there is no doubt in my mind that this kind of thing is a big deal to a lot of different people. Being as close to the hobby as I am, however, I would be curious to know how many people on the outside are aware of the T206 Honus Wagner. The title of the film dubs it the Holy Grail, and in many ways it is, the rarest of rarities. No one truly knows why the Wagner card disappeared from packs of cigarettes circa 1909, whether it was over compensation or his dislike of cigarettes, it doesn’t matter, it left only a handful of cards to be collected, and some of those have now, over 100 years later, seen better days.

So imagine the controversy when the most pristine of the remaining Holy Grail’s comes under question for tampering. The card was last purchased for $2,800,000, an enormous sum, but Nick and Colin Barnicle explore the controversy behind the card, and how tampering can affect the actual, or even perceived value of a card. I think the greatest thing I took out of the film was the idea of intrinsic value translating into actual dollars. As a lover of baseball I can appreciate not only the talent of Wagner, but also the rarity of the collectible, though others obviously will find it insane that a piece of cardboard sold for nearly $3 million. Keith Olbermann, yes that Keith Olbermann, one of the foremost collectors in the country, provides fascinating and informative commentary, but the film never seems to do anything more than show us the surface; a “here is a thing, what do you think of that” approach. No real digging, no real investigation It lends itself to be an intriguing teaser, but nothing more.

**1/2 – Good

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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