The T206 Honus Wagner card. ((Kathy Willens/Associated Press))

A 1909 baseball card featuring Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner was sold Thursday to a private collector for a record $2.8 million US.

It is the same near-mint card that Wayne Gretzky and former Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall purchased for $451,000 US in 1991.

"This is the finest by far, per condition," said David Kohler, president of SCP Auctions, which brokered the transaction.

"This has always been the holy grail, the Mona Lisa of baseball cards."

Experts estimate that fewer than 100 Wagner cards remain in circulation, with tattered ones selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Let cars drive over it through the day, take it in your hand and crumple it up, and it still would be a $100,000 card," said Brian Seigel, who bought the record-setting card for $1.265 million US in 2000 and sold it for a $2.35 million US on Feb. 26.

Cards were issued in packs of cigarettes by the American Tobacco Co., but Wagner's is coveted because he allegedly refused to let the firm use his image to promote smoking and its distribution was halted.

Wagner, nicknamed the Flying Dutchman, was a Hall of Fame shortstop from 1897-1917.

He was a lifetime .329 hitter with 101 home runs, 1,732 runs batted in, 1,736 runs scored and 722 stolen bases in 2,792 games over 21 MLB seasons with the Louisville Colonels and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Wagner won eight batting titles and, by the time he retired, held the National League records for hits (3,415), doubles (640) and triples (101) as well as RBIs, runs and steals.

Wagner was among the first five players inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, joining Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Walter (Big Train) Johnson.

With files from the Associated Press