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What Are My Baseball Cards Worth?

So you have some baseball cards from when you were a kid. Maybe you collected them, or maybe your parents saved them for you.

You've been thinking about getting rid of them but don't know how much they're worth.

Well, you're in luck! In this guide, we'll tell you how to figure out the value of your old baseball cards and give you an idea of what they could be worth

What Factors Help Determine A Baseball Card's Value?

There a few different factors that help determine the value of a sports card. The most important are the star power of the player, whether it's a rookie card or not, the age of the card, the condition of the card and the relative scarcity of the card.  

Let's dive into each factor in more detail. 

1. Star Power

It’s a simple concept, but collectors want to own cards of the best players in their respective sports, whether dead or alive.

Thus, a player's past success or present success is a major determinant of a card's demand and ultimate worth.  

Babe Ruth cards are still in huge demand, even though Babe passed away in 1948 and last swung a bat nearly 90 years ago. 

luke-easter-common

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.

Are Hall Of Famer Cards Worth More?

Cards of any member of the Hall of Fame typically have more collector demand than a player not in the Hall of Fame.

There are, however, some exceptions.

For example, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson's cards are pretty valuable, despite their exclusion from the Hall.

But nine times out of ten, the Hall of Famer will be worth more than the non-Hall of Famer.

e90-joe-jackson

There is even a surge in demand for a player's cards before their expected election to the Hall of Fame. 

A recent example was with Derek Jeter, as the price of his 1993 Upper Deck SP rookie card surged in the year before his HOF election.

jeter-sp-chipping

Derek Jeter's rookie card values surged as expectations neared that he would be elected ot the Hall Of Fame

 This phenomenon tends to vary based on a player's Star Power and the existing supply of their cards.

For example, prices of the rookie cards of Tim Raines barely budged his election to the Hall of Fame in 2017.

tim-raines-rookie-card

Often times a player's rookie card will increase in value when news breaks of a Hall of Fame election, that is unless the card was printed in massive quantities, such as this 1981 Topps Tim Raines rookie card.

Unfortunately, Topps, Fleer and Donruss hit the printing presses in a big way in 1981. 

2. Rookie Card Or Not?

Everyone wants to collect their favorite player's first official card (aka 'rookie card').

The rookie card is THE FIRST card ever issued for a player, and there is a certain desirability for collectors to own this card.   

This demand leads to a player's rookie card carrying a premium to any of their other cards.

But, there are some circumstances when a player's later year cards are worth more than a rookie card.

As one example, OJ Simpson's second-year card - his 1971 Topps Football card issue is worth more than his rookie 1970 Topps card. 

1971-topps-oj-simpson

Below, we've posted the PSA population reports for Simpson's rookie and second-year cards.

PSA has graded a lot more of Simpson's rookie card than his 1971 Topps card, by a very wide margin.

In fact, his second-year card has only been graded around 500 times whereas 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 looks much nicer.

Do More Attractive Cards Sell For More Money?

Cards from a well designed set or a card with a more attractive pose for a player do earn a higher value.

This latter fact is quite evident in the infamous T206 set. Portrait cards from the set earn a premium versus other action type poses.

Below is an example of this phenomenon.  

johnson-portrait

Walter Johnson's T206 Portrait card has great visual appeal and due to higher demand has a higher value than his other 'Hands On Chest' Card from the set

t206-wajo-hands-chest

Johnson's 'Hand On Chest' card, still highly sought after, but worth less than his yellow Portrait card from the T206 set.

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.  

Most are immediately drawn to that stare down from 'The Big Train'. Johnson's other card, with a side pose, doesn't have that same sort of visual appeal.

The Portait Walter Johnson card sells at a sizeable premium to the 'Hands at Chest' card despite a similar scarcity

3. Age Of The Card

One of the biggest factors affecting the value of a baseball card is its age.

Generally speaking, the older the card, the more valuable it is. This is because older cards are more rare, and therefore more sought-after by collectors. 

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Cards from the 1980's are now over 40 years old and not rare by and means. 

Are Baseball Cards from the 1980s and 1990s Worth Money?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a good majority of 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.

As one example, in 1991, Fleer produced 3 million copies of each card.

Fleer wasn't alone, however, as Donruss, Topps, Score, and Upper Deck were also flooding the market with cards.

jose-91-fleer

Not only are the 1991 Fleer Cards of the junk card era notably ugly, but they were some of the most massively produced sets of the era.

Are There Any Cards From The Junk Era Worth Anything? 

Yes, but unfortunately, there are rarely any baseball cards that exceed $100 in value.

That is, unless you have key GEM MINT Rookie cards from the likes of Ken Griffey JrBarry Bonds or Bo Jackson

Mint copies of Derek Jeter's SP rookie card have sold for over six figures.

Basketball is the one sport from the 1980s where you are more likely to strike gold.

Michael Jordan's Fleer and Star rookie cards have sold for over six figures.

jordan-rookie-psa-8

Remember, that I noted that card values are highly dictated by relative scarcity and end demand by collectors.  

The Jordan is the exception, where even a card excess supply can reach high values, driven by a big surge in demand.  

Jordan's Fleer rookie card has more than 50K copies in circulation, yet the card has continued to increase in value.

4. Condition/Grade Of The Card

Condition is one of the most important factors in determining the value of a baseball card.

A card in pristine condition will be worth more than a card with bent corners or a crease down the middle.

There can also be a significant difference in value for only one step up in grade.

And the closer a card is to a Gem-Mint (PSA 10 or SGC 10) the more valuable it will be.

Here's an example of PSA pricing on a 1963 Topps Pete Rose Rookie Card.

psa-price-guide

As shown above, for middle grades, there is a slight step up in value. For example, a PSA 6 (EX-MT) Rose Rookie card is worth about 40% more than a PSA 5 (EX) Rose Rookie.

And a PSA 7 Rose rookie card is worth nearly double that of a PSA 5 copy, a difference of only two condition grades. 

The real step up, however, happens at the highest condition ranges, where a PSA 9 Rose rookie card is worth about 40x that of a PSA 6 copy!

Most collectors wouldn't even be able to tell the difference between the condition of these two cards. But, in the hobby today, condition is everything. 

psa-6-rose

A PSA 6 Pete Rose Rookie Card valued at roughly 1/40th of the value of a PSA 9 Pete Rose 9 rookie!

psa-9-rose

A PSA 9 Pete Rose Rookie Card is worth about 40x that of a comprable PSA 6 copy.

Should I Get My Card Graded?

All else equal, a graded card is worth more than its raw counterpart. 

But we must consider the costs to grade in making our decision. 

First Recommendation, read our comprehensive piece on card grading to determine your card's overall grade.

Look up the values on eBay to see if your card, in estimated grade, would be worth more than the value of the ungraded card plus the costs to grade the card

For more information on this topic check out our guide- 'Should I Get My Sports Cards Graded?'

5. Baseball Card Scarcity

Some cards are much rarer than others, which naturally makes them more valuable. The most valuable baseball cards are usually ones that were released in limited quantities or as part of special sets. 

For example, the Honus Wagner T206 card is extremely valuable due to the fact that the card was pulled from the set early in its production run.

Only 50 to 75 copies of the card are known to exist. Combine the scarcity with Wagner's 'Star Power' and you get a card that is one of the most valuable cards in history. 

wagner-psa-3

How To Find The Population Reports for A Card

There are only three public databases that provide population reports - PSA, SGC, and Beckett. PSA's is the best by far.

I tend to ignore Beckett for vintage analysis, since most collectors use PSA or SGC.

Judgment on scarcity levels is subjective. But I tend to consider any card with a combined SGC and PSA population of less than 100 as 'scarce'. 

Looking Up Population Reports At PSA's Website

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 provides the stats for us:

michael-jordan-stats-psa

The column all the way on the right-hand side provides the total. 

PSA has graded 16,484 Michael Jordan Rookie Cards.

Another 561 of his cards have a .5 grade at the end of the rating (indicated by the +) and then another 1045 graded with a qualifier (such as OC (off-center) or ST (staining).

Looking Up Population Reports At SGC's Website

As for SGC, their website is not as well organized as PSA.  Here's the link to start your population report data in SGC.  

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

sgc-jordan-pop-report

Are Error Cards Worth More Money?

Error cards are cards that were printed with some sort of mistake.

Errors can be anything from misprints to spelling errors to design flaws. Sometimes, the errors are minor and go unnoticed by most people. Other times, the errors are glaring and obvious.

Either way, error cards can be valuable to collectors.

The 1909 T206 White Borders Sherry 'Magie' card is one of the most famous 'mispelling' error cards in the hobby.

magie-error

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 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' to finish the set. Even despite the fact that Sherry Magee was a bench player, lower grade copies of the 'Magie' T206 card now fetch in the low five figures

For a more modern example, the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken 'F**K Face' card is an error card that more collectors are familiar with.

billy-ripken-fuck-face

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

This is where the 'Scarcity' factor comes into play. 

While some believe the Ripken 'F**K Face' card is a rare card, if we examine PSA's website, we find that PSA has graded nearly 5000 copies of the card

The rarer cards are the variations that covered up the obscenity.

For example, the version where the bat was scribbled out in white has only been graded 62 times by PSA.

It is worth nearly $1500 in Mint Condition (the regular error card is worth only around $50).

Putting It All Together

There are five factors that help determine the value of a sports card.

1. Star Power
2. Rookie Card or Not?
3. Age
4. Condition
5. Scarcity

If we evaluate each factor with a value from 1 through 5 (5 having the most value) we can create a simple equation to estimate the price range of a particular card. 

For example, here's a Babe Ruth Rookie Card - the 1915 M101-5 Babe Ruth Sporting News Card, graded PSA 4 (VG-EX).

babe ruth rookie card
population-report-ruth-rookie

My analysis on the card based on the factors looks like this:

  1. Star Power Value = 5 (Babe Ruth is the most recognized name in baseball history)
  2. Rookie Card = Yes, so a 5 (could say a 1 if it weren't his rookie card)
  3. Age = 5 (it's over 100 years old)
  4. Scarcity Value = 5 (PSA has only graded 32 of these)
  5. Condition --this is more of a variable number, we could also evaluate based on the population grades.  Let's go with a 4 here, since it's still a rare card based on this grade. 

Total Score = 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 4 = 24

Yes a perfect score, and we would expect a mid grade 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 4 Ruth Rookie is worth in excess of $1 Million, making this one of the most valuable baseball cards of all time.

Online Price Guides To Help Value Your Cards

Vintage Card Prices

If you need to value a lot of cards, and are buying and selling, Vintage Card Prices is a great choice.

The service provides data on all historical eBay sold listings and auction house historical sales

The data is well organized and provides a breakdown for average pricing, by grade and split between PSA and SGC grades.  

You can view all the old auction listings and the pictures from the auctions. Some older auctions don't have the images available.

The service isn't free--it's $17.99 per month, thus you likely will be an active card collector 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.

vintage-card-prices

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 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.  

Head over 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. 

ebay-search

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’.

ebay-sold

Here below we see the results for each of the sold listings for the 'T206 Cobb Red Portrait'.  

This data isn't organized, thus we have to dig around a bit and find the grade that we are looking for a comparison.  

Some won't be worth reviewing--those first two listings below are reprints (I feel bad for the poor soul who bought them) and should be omitted from any comp

cobb-ebay-results

PSA’s Sports Market Report (SMR) Price Guide

PSA provides a monthly publication (called Sports Market Report) that provides card listings and values for all major sports
 
The online listing of SMR Pricing is free, whereas the monthly magazine is $49 per year
 
PSA updates online pricing, although one critique is that the pricing is never reflective of the current industry pricing
 
Especially in vintage, SMR pricing tends to be below market. But, for a free tool, it can be quite useful to get a good idea of the approximate value. 
 
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
 
smr-price-guide

PSA Auction Prices Realized (APR)

52-mantle-apr

PSA has significantly improved its own data reporting, and now pulls in all data from eBay and auction sales.

PSA now has a section for every card called APR (Auction Prices Realized) which pulls in this data, allowing for more updated valuation information. 

Below, is an example, showing the latest auction data for the 1952 Topps Mantle card. Users have the ability to click through to the actual auction link, with the ability to also zoom in on the card image. 

apr-data

We hope this guide will be helpful in determining your sports card values.

We’d also be happy to provide a free estimate on the value of your collection.

If you have any further questions please shoot us an email at chris@allvintagecards.com

About the author 

All Vintage Cards

All Vintage Cards is the number one destination for everything related to vintage baseball, basketball, hockey, and football cards. Our love of card collecting and in particular vintage sports cards drives our desire to inform others of the joys of collecting.


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