The "Big Four" refer to four of the rarest cards from the American Tobacco Company's (ATC) 1909-11 T-206 set: Honus Wagner, Larry Doyle "NAT'L," Sherry "Magie" and Eddie Plank.
1. Honus Wagner -- If there's a Holy Grail of baseball cards, this is it. According to hobby myth, the future Hall of Famer ordered that his card be pulled from circulation because he was against smoking and didn't want to encourage children to buy smokes. In reality, Wagner was a heavy chain-smoker and was known to dip a little chaw before taking the field. The real reason why this card was pulled from production, was the radical notion that Wagner actually be paid for the use of his likeness. Imagine that? It is estimated that less than 50 copies of this card made it into circulation.
In 1991 hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, along with then-Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce MacNall paid a record $451,000 for a copy of this card graded Near Mint-Mint "8" by Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA). The "McNall/Gretzky" is the best known T-206 Wagner in existence.
After Bruce McNall went to prison, Gretzky sold the card to Wal-Mart in 1995 for an undisclosed amount, but believed to be in the $600,000 range. A year later, with sales of trading cards still feeling the effects of the baseball strike and hockey lockout of 1994, Wal-Mart gave the card away as part of an in-store promotion. The winner, a postal worker from Florida named Patricia Gibbs, was forced to sell the card in order to pay the taxes.
In late 1996, Ms. Gibbs consigned her card to Christie's auction house to be put up for auction. The winner, Michael Gidwitz, paid $640,500 for what he called "The Mona Lisa" of baseball cards. Three-and-a-half years later, Gidwitz consigned the card to Robert Edwards auctions, who then put the card up on eBay. After a week of bidding, Brian Seigel of Southern California made hobby history by submitting a winning bid of $1,265,000, the first time a trading card has ever sold for over a million dollars.
2. Larry Doyle "NAT'L" -- This card, and not the more famous Wagner, is the rarest of the "Big Four." This error card features the letters "N. Y. NAT'L" on the bottom of the card, whereas the standard card just has "N. Y." Only five copies of this card are known to exist.
For a while, it appeared that a sixth "NAT'L" turned up. In the summer of 1999 at a card show in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, famed dealer Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen purchased the card from an unknown seller for $8000. Rosen immediately sent the card to Joe Merkel, president of Sportscard Guaranty (SGC), who graded it (on site) a Poor "10." Later that year, Rosen sold the card at auction for $23,177 to sportscaster Keith Olbermann who immediately spotted the card as a fake.
A legitimate Doyle "NAT'L" graded Good "2" by PSA was sold at auction in August of 2000 for $178,598. By comparison, a Doyle without the "NAT'L" is only worth $50.
3. Sherry "Magie" -- ATC misspelled the last name of Phillies star Sherwood ("Sherry") Magee, before correcting it. However, 150 copies of this error somehow made it out of the factory. Price: $15,000.
4. Eddie Plank -- Because of a broken press plate, it is believed that only 100 copies of the Hall of Famer's card made it into the packs. In 1999, a Plank graded Mint "9" by PSA, believed to be the finest known specimen in existence, sold at auction for $203,992. Most un-graded Plank's will set you back $25,000