When it comes to baseball, vintage is king. The sport has been around since the 1800s, which gives it a clear head-start on sports like basketball and football. With that in mind, it’s only natural that their sports cards have been around for significantly longer, and therefore, have seen more deterioration throughout the years.
The older baseball stars also seem to have held more respect than their counterparts in the other sports. You never hear anyone say that George Mikan could have dominated in the modern NBA, but you hear that all the time for players like Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth.
Add it all up, it’s no surprise that most of the top-selling baseball cards of all time are from before the 1960s. There are some obvious names on this list, but there are also a couple that might surprise you.
12. 1968 Topps Mets Rookie Stars #177 Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman
If you’re unaware, Topps didn’t have standalone rookie cards in most of their older products. Rookies would share the card would other players from their team or year, which results in some weird combinations (more on that later).
What makes this card so cool is that both Ryan and Koosman both turned into terrific players. Koosman isn’t a Hall of Famer, but he helped lead the Mets to one of their two World Series titles while pitching to a 3.36 career ERA. He racked up 222 wins and 209 losses, and he was selected to two All-Star teams.
Of course, Ryan is who really makes this card valuable. Despite the fact that the Mets traded him away for nothing, he would go down as one of the most prolific pitchers in the history of the game. He racked up an MLB-record 5,714 career strikeouts with 324 wins, and no one has more than his seven career no-hitters.
What makes this card a bit different than some of its other high-priced counterparts is that it’s not all that rare. There are approximately 17,500 graded copies between the three major grading companies (PSA, BGS, and SGC), but a PSA 10 sold for just under $615k at auction in 2016. That’s a solid chunk of change for a card that is so widely available.
11. 1909 T206 Sherry Magee Error Card
You’ve probably never heard of Sherry Magee, but his card has one of the coolest backstories on this list.
Magee was a decent player, even winning the National League batting title in 1910, but he didn’t get serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. He never received more than 1% of the vote, so it’s completely reasonable that you’ve never heard of him.
However, his 1909 T206 will occasionally fetch close to multiple six-figures at auctions due to an error. His name was erroneously spelled “Sherry Magie” before eventually being corrected.
As a result, the “Magie” version of his card is extremely rare, and serious old-school collectors believe you need to own one to complete the legendary T206 set. There are only 110 graded copies in existence, so getting your hands on one can be extremely difficult.
The record sale for this card was at an Auction in 2018, with a PSA 8 fetching $660k. A PSA 4.5 cracked $118k at auction in May of 2021, while the most recent sale for a PSA 3 was $37.2k.
Remember – all this is due to a typo! I’m going to keep that in mind whenever I make a mistake in my writing. Instead of viewing it as a negative, I’m just going to play it off as though I’m trying to increase the future value.
10. 1909 American Caramel E90-1 Joe Jackson
Long before cards came in wax packs, they were available in all sorts of places. They came in cigarette and loose tobacco packs, packs of candy, and boxes of Crackers Jacks.
Here’s a fun fact. Did you ever wonder where the letter in front of vintage cards came from? It’s actually a clarification system used to identify the card’s origin.
For example, in the “T206” set, the “T” actually stands for tobacco. All cards from tobacco products dated after 1900 receive a T.
For this card – the 1909 Joe Jackson – the “E” designates that it came from a pre-1930s candy or gum set. Post-1930s candy or gum cards are designated with an R. Knowledge is power!
Anyways, the 1909 Joe Jackson card holds the record for highest sale by a candy card, fetching north of $667k at auction in 2016. That card was a PSA 8, and there are just two PSA 8s in existence currently. There are 84 graded copies of this card in the PSA population report, but the other 82 copies all check-in with a lower grade.
This is considered “Shoeless Joe’s” rookie card, who was one of the best players in the early history of the game. He finished in the top 10 in American League MVP voting in four straight years, but he is most famously remembered for the Chicago Black Sox scandal. Jackson received a lifetime ban for his involvement, which remains in question to this day.
9. 1963 Topps Rookie Stars #537 Pete Rose
This is another weird amalgamation of a rookie card. It features Pedro Gonzalez, Ken McMullen, Al Weis, and Pete Rose. One of those names is not like the others.
Rose would go on to have a prolific career, and he’s still the MLB leader in career hits. He was also a fan favorite due to his all-out play style, earning the nickname Charlie Hustle. The man even ran over a catcher in the freaking All-Star game!
Of course, Rose is also known for his lifetime ban due to betting on games, which has prevented him from joining the Hall of Fame.
This is another card with a relatively high population count – there are over 6,700 graded copies between the major grading companies – but there is only one perfect PSA 10 in existence. That card was previously owned by former major leaguer Dmitri Young, and it sold for a whopping $717k at auction in 2016.
8. 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle
It’s arguable that no player in baseball history is as revered as Mantle. He’s obviously an all-time great, finishing his career with 536 homers and a .298 batting average, and those who saw him play will say he’s the best player ever. Ultimately, Mantle is the most collected player in the hobby, and that fact is reflected in his cards.
The 1951 Bowman is considered his rookie card, and it fetches astronomical prices. A PSA 8 most recently sold for $432k, while a PSA 9 will cost you a cool $750k. There is one PSA 10 in existence, but it has never been put up for sale. There’s a good chance that if it ever does go to auction, it will break records for the most expensive sale in history.
7. 1916 Sporting News Babe Ruth
This guy Ruth was before my time, but my sources tell me he was pretty good. He famously clubbed 60 homers in a season – which was eventually topped by teammate Roger Maris – and he also swatted 714 for his career. Other players have passed him in that department, but Ruth’s production relevant to his era is otherworldly. He led the league in homers 12 times in a 14-year span, which is absolutely ridiculous. Not too shabby for a guy who started his career as a pitcher.
The 1916 Sporting News card is one of the most exclusive for Ruth. There are approximately 50 graded copies in existence, and a PSA 6 sold for approximately $1.45M in June of 2021. That was at the absolute height of the sports card craze, so that card likely wouldn’t fetch as much today. However, there is one PSA 8 in existence, and that card is estimated to be worth a cool $3M.
6. 1909 T206 Eddie Plank
Ah yes, from Mantle to Ruth to Plank. Wait, what? Plank had a long career, and he was voted to the Hall of Fame by the Old Timers Committee back in 1946. Still, I guarantee that most casual fans have never heard of this guy.
So what makes this card so pricy? For starters, it’s a part of the iconic T206 set, which is one of the most desirable sets in the hobby. If you want to complete it, you’re going to need to get your hands on a Plank.
However, there are only 110 graded copies in existence. It’s unknown why the population count on this card is so much lower than some of the other players in this collection, but that’s why you’ll have to pay a premium for it. A PSA 7 reportedly sold for $700k in a private sale in 2012, and it would obviously be much more expensive today. There are only three PSA 7s and just one PSA 8.
5. 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson
In general, picking up a copy of Mr. October isn’t going to cost you all that much. A PSA 3 recently sold for $152, making it one of the most easily attainable cards on this list.
However, that’s at the bottom end of the scale. There’s only one PSA 10 in existence – which was also previously owned by Dmitri Young – and it recently fetched more than $1M at auction. That was the record for any Jackson ever, and it was the 19th-most expensive reported sports card sale in history.
4. 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente
Clemente is another iconic player, and he also recently cracked the $1M threshold at auction. A PSA 9 of his 1955 rookie card sold for more than $1.1M on March 6, which set the record for any Clemente card.
There are a decent number of 1955 Clemente’s in existence, but the highest graded copies are obviously going to cost you the most. There are 11 PSA 9s and one PSA 10 that was – stop me if you’ve heard this before – previously owned by Dmitri Young. That card only fetched $432k at auction, but that sale took place approximately five years earlier. Whoever purchased it has to be drooling at the fact that a PSA 9 went for over a million.
3. 2009 Bowman Draft Mike Trout Superfractor Auto
This is the holy grail of modern baseball card collecting. Trout is this generation’s best player, a modern-day Mantle who can hit, run the bases, and play defense at an elite level. There are many more Trouts in existence than guys who played in the early 1900s, but this is easily Trout’s most desirable card.
There are a few key things to know about this card (and modern card collecting in general). You’ll notice that this card was distributed in 2009, but Trout’s rookie season took place in 2012. That’s because this is what’s considered his “First Bowman” prospect card. That means this card was the first time that Trout appeared in any Bowman/Topps product.
Additionally, this card is autographed, which is something that hasn’t been included in any of the previous cards mentioned. Autographs are a massive part of the hobby these days, but they weren’t included in sets in the early days. Autographed cards are almost always going to go for more than their base counterparts.
Finally, this card is a “superfractor” parallel, meaning that only one card of this type was manufactured. There are other parallels of this card – red might be numbered to 100, blue to 50, etc – but the superfractor is a perfect one of one.
Add it all up, and this card checks all the boxes that you’re looking for in the hobby. This card sold for nearly $4M at auction in August of 2020, and it would undoubtedly fetch more now.
2. 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle
Now we’re getting into the real heavy hitters. While the 1951 Mantle might be his rookie card, the 1952 Mantle routinely fetches more money. The 1952 set rivals the T206 for the most iconic in the hobby, and Mantle is the crown jewel.
There are a decent handful of these cards in circulation – approximately 2,400 across the major grading companies – but they still fetch massive prices. A PSA 1 most recently went for $34.8k, while the average sale of that card is approximately $27.5k. Again, that’s a PSA 1!
The higher you go up the ladder, the more dollars you’re going to have to shell out. There are six PSA 9s and three PSA 10s, and you can basically name your price with them. A PSA 9 most recently went for just under $3M, and PSA estimates that card to be worth approximately $4.25M today. Actor and entrepreneur Rob Gough shelled out $5.2M for a PSA 9 in January of 2021, and I shudder to think about what a PSA 10 would fetch on the open market.
1. 1911 T206 Honus Wagner
And then there was one. The T206 Wagner is arguably the most famous card in existence. Wagner was one of baseball’s first great players, dominating the era before Ruth showed up. He finished his career with more than 3,400 hits and a .328 average, and he added 723 stolen bases. He still ranks seventh all-time in WAR among position players, beating out other greats like Mantle, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams.
Ultimately, this card checks all the boxes for vintage. Elite player? Check. Prestigious set? Check. Low population count? Check. It is rumored that only 50 to 200 of these cards were ever minted, and there are 47 graded copies in circulation.
This card sold for over $6.6M in an SGC 3 back in August of 2021. That’s on the high end in terms of condition, but one copy blows away the rest. There’s a PSA 8 of this card, which is estimated to be worth $9M. My goodness.
The most recent sale of this card fetched $3.13M just a few days ago, and it has a wild backstory. It was previously owned by Charlie Sheen, so it’s only fitting that it involves theft, a presidential pardon, and a chain restaurant.