If you are trying to figure out what your cards are worth, you’ve come to the right place.
Collectors used to rely on a monthly Beckett magazine subscription for updated pricing.
Thankfully today, we have readily available data on card transactions that are taking place in real time.
Unfortunately, for newer collectors it still can be challenging to try and value their card collections.
In this piece we start by examining some of the factors that go into determining vintage card prices.
In addition, we provide some tools to help collectors figure out an accurate assesment of a card’s value.
This can be helpful, especially if you’re trying to sell your baseball cards.
We hope this resource will help you become a more informed collector.
What Drives The Value Of Baseball Cards?
This one most certainly goes without saying, but some players are just more household names than others. Babe Ruth is still probably the most recognized player in the history of baseball, and Michael Jordan in basketball, you get the idea. The ‘Star Power ‘factor is just one part of the equation of course, but can certainly dictate a large part of a card’s overall value.
One note–if a player is a member of the Hall of Fame in any sport, they typically tend to have more collector demand than a player that is not in the Hall of Fame. Of course there are exceptions to this rule; Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson cards are still highly sought after by collectors. But nine times out to ten, the Hall of Famer is going to be worth more than the non-Hall of Famer.
Sometimes the value of a player's rookie card will increase on hopes or expectations that a player will be elected to the Hall of Fame. We saw this more recently with Derek Jeter, as the price of his 1993 SP rookie card and Murphy Stadium Club cards increased significantly in the year prior to his election. This phenomenon tends to vary based on a player's Star Power and the overall supply of their cards.
For example, when Tim Raines was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017, his 1981 Topps rookie card barely moved all that much, due to the fact that Topps hit the printing presses in a big way during the 1980's.
Are Error Cards Worth More Money?
If it’s a scarce error card, this often will elevate the card’s value significantly. Think 1909 T206 Sherry Magee (mispelled Magie) or 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken (F*CK FACE), both shown below.
The T206 ‘Magie’ card is likely the most famous error card in the hobby, and for good reason. The T206 set is one of the most revered and sought after sets among all vintage collectors. The American Tobacco Company mispelled Magee’s name and quickly pulled the error card (spelled ‘Magie’) leading to a very short print run. Any T206 collector trying to amass ‘The Monster’ needs to secure the ‘Magie’ in order to finish the set. Lower grade copies are now fetching in the low five figures.
Now the Ripken ‘F**K Face’ card might possibly be one of the most well error cards of all time. Fleer didn’t exactly realize what was written on Ripken’s bat until deep into the print run when it tried to cover up the vulgarity. So this is where the ‘Scarcity’ factor comes into play.
While we might believe that the Ripken ‘F**K Face’ card has a lot of demand from collectors, if we do some further research, we find that PSA has graded nearly 5000 copies of the card! The rarer cards are actually the Ripken variations that were covered up; for example the version where the bat was scribbled out in white has only been graded 62 times by PSA and is worth nearly $1500 in Mint Condition (the regular error card is worth only around $50).
So, don’t forget–SCARCITY matters!
Are Rookie Cards Worth More Money?
Everyone wants to collect the first official card (or ‘rookie card’) of their favorite player. This phenomenon has consistently led to a player’s rookie card carrying a premium to any of their other cards, all else equal. The rookie card is THE FIRST card ever issued for a player and there is a certain desirability for collectors to own this card. Again, there are exceptions to the rule, but the rookie card usually wins out.
Everyone want to own the ’86 Fleer Jordan Rookie Card, the 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle Rookie Card or the 1979-1980 Topps/OPC rookie card of Wayne Gretzky. This in turn leads to rookie cards carrying a premium to any other non-rookie cards.
But like I said, there are exceptions to this rule! Let’s take a look at a few examples.
OJ Simpson’s second year card – his 1971 Topps Football card issue is worth more than his rookie 1970 Topps card. Now how is this possible?
Below, we’ve posted the PSA population reports for both of Simpson’s second year cards. It’s quite evident that PSA has graded a lot more of Simpson’s rookie card than his 1971 Topps card and by a very wide margin. In fact his second year card has only been graded around 500 times where his rookie card has been graded over 2500 times! Thus his second year card is five times as scarce. And if you asked me, the 1971 Topps set is a lot nicer looking.
Are Baseball Cards from the 90's Worth Money?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most cards produced in the 1980's and 1990's are worth very little. Known as the 'junk card era' the card companies mass produced cards in order to meet the surge in demand. I just heard recently that in 1991 Fleer produced 3 million copies of each card. And that was likely true for many other issues of the day.
Sure, there are exceptions. I'm sure you heard about the 1993 Derek Jeter SP card that sold for close to $100K and Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer Rookie cards continue to increase in value. But, for the most part, cards from the junk card era aren't worth a heck of a lot of money.
Vintage cards from the 1900's through the 1970's are still very popular among collectors. Value really all comes down to the relative scarcity of a card and the ultimate demand by collectors. Jordan's Fleer rookie card has nearly 50K copies or more in circulation, yet the card continually has increased in value. If the demand outstrips the supply then the card values will continue to increase.
Do More Attractive Cards Sell For More Money?
A more attractive card set or a more attractive looking pose or player (yes, this can't be proven, but I think more attractive players (on cards) do garner a premium. This latter fact is quite evident in the infamous T206 set where the player portrait cards typically garner a premium and a lot of times, the more attractive player portraits (all else equal) tend to garner a slight premium. Collector's like to buy optics, this is a certainty and can often be shown when determining card values.
Below is an example of this phenomenon. On the left, a T206 Walter Johnson 'Portrait' card and on the left a player pose known as his 'Hands at Chest' variation in the set. Both cards are awesome, but there certainly is something to be said for that stare down from Wajo in an almost ghostly yellow background.
Compared to his other variation which offers a side view pose which doesn't quite speak to you as much as his portrait card does. And of course, the Portait Walter Johnson card sells at a premium to the 'Hands at Chest' card despite their being a similar level of existing population.
Are Rarer Cards Worth More Money?
Scarcity can be a tough one to evaluate but is a very important factor in determining value and very important when making any significant investment in cards. Normally, the rarer the card is, the more value it tends to have. However, the ultimate demand of the card will be the final determinant in whether a rarer card is worth more than any counterpart.
We can determine scarcity by visiting the third party grading websites; for vintage, I just focus on PSA and SGC, which each publish their own respective ‘population reports’. Each website details how many copies of a particular card have been graded. PSA has a much more organized and cleaner database for population statistics versus SGC, but using the two together can give us a good idea of what sort of scarcity a card has.
Judgement on scarcity levels is mostly subjective, but for our purposes, I would say that any card with a combined SGC and PSA population of less than 100 is considered to be ‘scarce’.
How To Find The Population Reports for A Card
As previously mentioned PSA has a great database of population statistics and an impressive user interface for collectors. If you’re trying to find out the current population graded by PSA for a card this section will be of importance to you.
First, you want to visit this website here: https://www.psacard.com/pop/
Then you can enter either the name of the set or the actual card year, set name and player name.
For example, we enter ‘1986 Fleer Michael Jordan’ and PSA’s search autocomplete automatically provides the stats for us:
The column all the way on the right hand side provides the total. We can see that PSA has graded a total of 16,484 Michael Jordan Rookie Cards, another 561 of his card that are graded with a .5 grade at the end of the rating (indicated by the +) and then another 1045 that have been graded with a qualifier (such as OC (off-center) or ST (staining).
Thus, despite the Jordan rookie having significant demand for both the fact that it is Michael Jordan and the rookie card of Michael Jordan, there is most certainly no shortage of the card in existence.
For more info on card grading and some of the nuances on different grades, be sure to check our comprehensive guide on sports card grading.
As for SGC, their website is not as well organized as PSA. Here’s the link to start your population report data in SGC.
We can see that SGC has graded only a fraction of the Jordan rookie cards in comparison to PSA, but still, it’s another 1798 cards we can add to our population estimate.
The hard part is determining if the demand part of the story (which is determined by the Star Power factor) outstrips the actual supply (or Factor 3, Scarcity ranking). Most market pricing helps us determine this. Michael Jordan’s rookie card has continually increased in value over the past years, and thus we can infer that the demand has outstripped the rather significant supply.
The equation however can sometimes be misguided, due to hype and speculation. The hype surrounding rookie prospects can often get carried away, with collectors sometimes ignoring the actual market supply for a card. The insanity for Shohei Ohtani cards in the past few years is a good example of how this can backfire. If you grew up as a collector in the 1980’s you also probably have some first hand experience with this.
Remember Brien Taylor?
How Important Is Condition In Determining A Card’s Value?
Condition is one of the most important factors in determining the value of a baseball card. All else equal, a graded card (assuming it’s from a respectable third party grader) is worth more than its raw counterpart. There can be significant differences in value for just one step up in a grade, and the closer a card is to a Gem-Mint (PSA 10 or SGC 10) the more valuable it will be.
If you’re wondering whether you should get a card graded, I would recommend reading our ‘Should I Get My Sports Cards Graded?’ piece. Card grading has become a huge (albeit controversial) part of the hobby. And with it many scandals that have left a bad taste in the mouth of card collectors.
It all really comes down to personal preference and/or whether or not grading the card would lead to a significant increase in price that exceeds the costs of grading.
First Recommendation, read our comprehensive piece on card grading to determine your card’s overall grade.
I think it goes without saying that we can assume that a higher graded card is worth more than a lower graded copy. We should also evaluate based on the population totals for various grades.
Let’s say we have a Near Mint, PSA-8 graded card of which there are only 3 that PSA has graded. Then this would easily deserve a 5 in our value ranking.
Putting It All Together
Like I said there can be many variations but the four factors above are typically the main determinants of a cards value.
If we thought of each factor as being worth a value from 1 through 5 (5 having the most value) we could almost create an equation to estimate the price range of a particular card. For example, if let’s say we have a 1915 M101-5 Babe Ruth Sporting News Card, which is The Babe’s actual rookie card. We could quickly evaluate the value like this:
- Star Power Value = 5 (Babe Ruth is the most recognized name in baseball history)
- Rookie Card = Yes, so a 5 (could say a 1 if it weren’t his rookie card)
- Scarcity Value = 5 (this is debatable if should be this high or not, but PSA has only graded 32 of these)
- Condition –of course a variable number, we could also evaluate based on the population grades. Let’s say we have a NM, PSA-8 graded card of which there are only 3 that PSA has graded. Then this would easily deserve a 5 in our value ranking.
Total Score = 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 = 20
Yes a perfect score, and we would expect a PSA 8 Near Mint condition Babe Ruth rookie card to be worth a pretty penny. We wouldn’t have to look any price guides to realize this. But it would in fact be true–a PSA 8 Ruth Rookie has an estimated value of $1.5 Million, making this one of the most valuable baseball cards of all time.
How Do I Find Out What My Cards Are Worth?
Vintage Card Prices
If you find yourself needing to value cards quite frequently and are buying/selling extensively, Vintage Card Prices is likely for you. The service provides a collection of all old historical eBay sold listings along with auction house historical sales. The data is very well organized and provides a breakdown for average pricing, by grade and split between PSA and SGC grades.
You can click through to view all of the old auction listings along with the pictures from the auctions. Some older auctions don’t have the images available however.
The service isn’t free–it’s $17.99 per month, thus you likely will be an active card collector in order to justify the service. Note there is also a 24-Hour option for anyone seeking a quick view at pricing, and this costs only $3.99
Ebay Historical Prices
You can do a quick search on eBay (for free) to find some of the latest sales for a specific card. This method is a lot more crude than using the Vintage Card Prices website, but can give you an up to date look at the recent values for a card.
Just head to eBay.com and type in a card in the search box. Here, we’ve typed in ‘T206 Ty Cobb Red Portrait’ and you want to click the ‘Advanced’ text at the right of the blue Search box.
Then you will get the page as shown below. Make sure your card is still entered in the keywords box and click on the ‘Sold Items’ box as circled below and then click ‘Search’.
Here below we see the results for each of the sold listings for the ‘T206 Cobb Red Portrait’. This data isn’t organized for us in any way, thus we really have to dig around a bit and find the grade that we are looking for comparison. Some are just not even going to be worth reviewing–those first two listings below are reprints (I feel bad for the pour soul who bought them) and should be omitted from any comp.
PSA’s Sports Market Report (SMR) Price Guide
PSA provides a monthly publication (called Sports Market Report) which provides card listings and values for all major sports. The online listing of SMR Pricing is entirely free, whereas the monthly magazine is $49 per year. PSA updates online pricing frequently, although one critique is that the pricing has never been quite reflective of the current industry pricing. Especially in vintage, SMR pricing typically tends to be significantly below market. However, for a free tool it can be quite useful to get a good idea as to the ‘approximate value. However using SMR in tandem with recent eBay sales would be the best bet for someone without a Vintage Card Prices subscription.
Here’s the link to the SMR Price Guide: https://www.psacard.com/smrpriceguide/
Each individual player card page also provides a great interactive graph of pricing by card grade as shown below for an Eddie Collins M101 Sporting News Card