Thursday night, hundreds of online bidders fought over the assemblage of T206 baseball cards belonging to Rochester, Mich., attorney E. Powell Miller a gathering of tobacco cards so extraordinary Professional Sports Authenticator once deemed it the third-best of its kind. And when Dallas-based Heritage Auctions
' Powell Miller 1909-11 T206 PSA Set Registry Catalog event finally came to a close, the successful bidders paid $3,588,409 almost $1 million more than pre-auction estimate for the privilege of owning a piece of a collection so stunning and significant it was recently displayed for two summers in the Detroit Institute of Arts.
In fact, more than 70% of the 522 cards offered in the sale hit or exceeded their estimates.
"It doesn't surprise us at all that Powell Miller's collection exceeded our estimates and expectations," said Chris Ivy, Heritage's Director of Sports Auctions. "After all, he spent 20 years putting this together, and the auction was a celebration of that labor of love. Yes, the sports card market is doing extraordinarily well at the moment, and this sale was in part a reflection of that. But it's also a tribute to Miller's diligence and love for these cards."
It comes as no surprise that the 1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal Eddie Plank graded PSA EX-MT 6 was the auction's top-seller, realizing a final price of $312,000. Featuring one of the greatest lefties ever to throw a ball at a batter, that card is indicative of the passion and care Miller invested in his collection.
The card is already legendarily rare, and there are myriad theories concerning its scarcity, among them: The A's southpaw deplored tobacco, and the printing plate used to make the card broke during production. But Miller's offering transcended even that shortage: There are just two known cards graded higher, and his was but one of 15 known examples to note on the back that it's "Factory No. 30" in the 350-subject set.
It came as no surprise, either, that the 1909-11 T206 Piedmont 150 Cy Young graded PSA NM-MT 8 sold for $99,000.
The portrait card is one of a dozen known in this condition among all the brands that were offering cards near the turn of the century, with only one Piedmont 150 Series "Factory No. 25" issue confirmed higher (at 8.5). As our online catalog noted, this Cy Young is "as visually satisfying as one could hope for and a worthy showpiece of the famed 511-game winner."
Not far behind was the 1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal 350/30 Vic Willis (With Bat) PSA Mint 9, which sold for $96,000. Again, this does not surprise: It's the sole card in that grade, with not a single one ranked higher. It's also a stunning look at the great pitcher during his final season with St. Louis some 85 years before his posthumous induction into the Baseball Hall of fame.
Three cards from Miller's collection each sold for $81,000: a 1909-11 T206 Piedmont 150 Clark Griffith (Portrait) PSA Mint 9; a 1909-11 T206 Piedmont 350-460/25 Sam Crawford (With Bat) PSA Mint 9; and a 1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal 150/30 Frank Chance (Portrait-Red) PSA Mint 9.
Each one shares something in common: They're the very best-known examples of their kind. One expects nothing less from Powell Miller.
"I felt I climbed the mountain by having the entire set displayed for two summers at the DIA, and it was just time to take on new challenges in the hobby and otherwise," said Miller of his decision to sell this collection. "I am going to miss these cards. But I am proud many of my cards are the best versions of those cards in the entire world. It will be a long time coming when there is another opportunity to get so many one-of-ones because I spent 20 years collecting these."