The 30 Most Valuable Baseball Cards of All Time
After our first article about the history of baseball cards we’ve had so many people ask us: what are the most valuable baseball cards?
With this list, I’ve narrowed down the field to thirty cards that both hold tremendous value and are considered to be some of the most sought after cards for baseball card collectors.
From a price standpoint, some of the baseball cards on this list may unfortunately be out of reach for many collectors.
However, if you come across a low grade version of one of these cards it will likely be more affordable and something you could consider adding to your collection.
Whatever the case, it should be well understood that the business of baseball cards is alive and well. Pre-war cards or cards post WW-II can carry tremendous value.
If you have any of the cards on this list, consider yourself one of the lucky ones!
Looking for help valuing or selling your cards? All Vintage Cards has been dealing in vintage sports cards for over 30 years. Just fill out this form or reach out to Chris at 781-789-8889. Cheers!
1909 T-206 Honus Wagner #497
The so called “mona-lisa” of baseball cards, the T-206 Honus Wagner is probably the most recognizable baseball card for even non-card collectors. The rarity of the card is due to American Tobacco pulling production of his card early in its run.
The reason for removal of the Wagner is subject to debate, but centers on either Wagner not wanting to be associated with a smoking product or due to a lack of adequate compensation. Each sale seems to break a previous record, with the most recent Wagner selling for $3.2 Million in 2016.
1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311
Considered one of the crowned jewels for baseball card collectors, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle is a thing of beauty. The scarcity of the card (aside from its age) can be attributed to a low print run of high series cards (Mantle is one of them) by Topps. Add on a legendary story about former Topps exec Sy Berger dumping cases of cards into the Atlantic Ocean, and its no surprise the Mantle is a popular and valuable card. A PSA 9 version of the card sold for a whopping $2.8 Million in 2018.
1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth #9
This pre-rookie card of legendary slugger Babe Ruth is considered to be one of the rarest baseball cards in history. The card was issued two years before he first appeared on a card as a major league player in the 1916 M-101-4/5 set. There are only ten known versions of this card (one held by the Babe Ruth museum), with the last sale a PSA 2 graded version selling for $575,000 back in 2012. PSA estimates a VG-EX condition card to be worth close to $1 Million but given the demand for the card and Ruth cards in general it would likely fetch quite a bit more at auction.
1916 Sporting News Babe Ruth #151
The 1916 Sporting News (M-101-4/5) Babe Ruth is not his first card, but is considered to be his true “rookie card” as the earlier Baltimore News card from 1914 was considered a pre-rookie or minor league card.
This rookie card of the “bambino” features Ruth in a pitching pose with the Boston Red Sox before getting shipped off to the rival New York Yankees. The card is quite rare as PSA notes that only 29 versions of this card have been graded.
The last sale in 2017 of a PSA 7 graded version netted $700K, thus higher graded alternatives would likely bring in over $1 Million.
1909 T204 Ramly Walter Johnson
These cards, distributed by Ramly Cigarettes is one of the toughest finds of all early tobacco cards. PSA reports only 2700 graded cards out of the 121 card set, meaning that on average there are only about 22 graded cards for each player in the set. The Walter Johnson card is the most valuable and according to PSA has 31 graded versions in circulation. A PSA 8 version of the card sold for $132,000 back in early 2018.
1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle #253
While his 1952 Topps card gets all the limelight, the 1951 Bowman card is Mickey Mantle’s true rookie card and a fine one to behold. The ’51 Bowman set is one of my favorites, and features breathtaking color portraits. The Mantle rookie card features the Yankee great in a unforgettable pose with the blue sky and clouds offering up a wonderful background.
The Mick’s rookie card was a high-series card and as is common with these later numbered cards, the Mantle often suffers from various print and centering issues. PSA notes that there are over 1500 graded Mantle rookies, but only 1 PSA 10 and 9 PSA 9 graded versions. A PSA 9 Mantle sold for $750K back in April of 2018, so the higher grades are likely on their way to over $1 Million in the near future.
1933 Goudey Babe Ruth #53
As evidence of just how popular “The Babe” was at the time, the 1933 Goudey (R319) set actually features four cards of Ruth (#53, #144, #149, #188). According to PSA, #53 (yellow background shown on top left in the bottom image) is the hardest to come across, followed by #149 (red background). Card #144 (aka ‘Full Body Ruth’) was double printed and is more widely available.
From a value perspective, all of the cards carry significant value in high grade condition, but because of the scarcity, #53 (yellow background) is the most valuable Ruth card in the set. PSA puts a price of $500K on a PSA 9 graded version of the card, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t sell for above $1 Million in today’s booming card market.
1909 T206 - Joe Doyle Error Card
Never has an error on a baseball card proven to be more valuable than on the 1909 T206 baseball card of one Joe Doyle. Doyle, a pitcher for the New York Highlanders of the American League at the time was a good player but only lasted five seasons with only 22 wins. His T206 card is supposed to say “American” on the bottom front but instead the error card says “Nat’l”.
There are less than ten known variations of the card, with the most recent sale of a PSA 3 version of the card selling for over $400K. Why can’t my “f*#$ face” Billy Ripken’s be worth this much?!?
1909 E90 Amer Caramel - Joe Jackson
The American Caramel (E90) cards of 1909 were feature inside of packs of caramel candy and target at directly at kids. Of all the early candy and gum cards (noted as E cards in the hobby) the E90 set is actually one of the most common among all cards. The Joe Jackson card of the E90 is the most valuable, and not necessarily due to scarcity but due to the popularity of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
According to PSA, about 80 of the Jackson cards have been graded, albeit most are in low grade condition, hence the demand for higher grade versions of the card. In 2016, a PSA 8 Jackson was sold for a record $667K at auction. The scarcity will likely lead to higher prices realized for better condition versions of the card.
1915 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb #30
A beautiful set with striking red backgrounds, the cards were issued from 1914 to 1915 in boxes of cracker jack. While the 1914 set was issued with the cracker jack boxes, in 1915 they offered a mail in program for complete factory sets, making the 1914 issue more of a rarity.
PSA notes 4500 graded cards from the 1914 set, while over 12,000 from the 1915 set have been graded. The Ty Cobb from the 1914 set is a beautiful card, and is one of Cobb’s most sought after issues.
Only 77 cards have been graded through PSA, with the most recent sale of a PSA 8 in early 2018 of $144K.
1951 Bowman Willie Mays #305
The one true rookie card for Mays, the 1951 Bowman card is one of the most sought after in the hobby. “The Say Hey Kid” was one of the most complete ballplayers of all time, finishing with 660 home runs, while also winning a record tying 12 gold glove awards. The ’51 Bowman set is a landmark, with the rookie card of Mantle and Mays (#305). Higher graded Mays cards are tough to find with only 10 PSA 9’s in existence, with no known 10’s. PSA estimates a PSA 9 Mays to be worth over $500K.
1938 Goudey Joe Dimaggio #274
Considered to be the true rookie card of one “Joltin” Joe Dimaggio, the 1938 Goudey card features players in a cartoon pose. The set actually features two cards of Dimaggio, #250 (without cartoon background) and #274 (with cartoon background). PSA notes that card #274 is tougher to find, but both are difficult to find in high grade.
The most recent sale of a 1938 Goudey Dimaggio rookie card (#274) happened in early 2017, with a PSA 9 version of the card selling for nearly $300K. In today’s market, a high grade version of the Dimaggio card would likely net closer to $500K.
1954 Topps Hank Aaron #128
The only true rookie card for “Hammerin” Hank Aaron is a highly demanded card even despite its widespread availability (PSA notes over 3800 Aaron rookies have been graded). Still, finding a mint version is a challenge, as there are only 30 PSA 9 versions and 2 Gem Mint–PSA 10 cards in existence.
Aaron still has a huge collector base, given his popularity as a player, someone that many still consider to be the TRUE all time home run leader. A PSA 10 Aaron rookie card sold for $357K back in 2012–who knows what a similar card would sell for today, but I could guess that it might likely fetch more than $1 Million.
1911 T205 Gold Border Ty Cobb
While the T206 set gets all the attention, the following release from the American Tobacco Company in 1911 is one of the most popular baseball card sets of the tobacco/pre-war era. The gold borders of the cards make finding high grades even tougher than the white border T206 set, as many cards have chipping on the sides. The most desirable card from the set is the Ty Cobb card, which has only 33 graded versions of PSA 6 and above (with no 9’s or 10’s in existence). PSA estimates that an NM (8) version of the card is worth over $150K.
1909 T206 Ty Cobb --Ty Cobb Back
The famed T206 set features four cards of Ty Cobb, yet one variation is even rarer than the famous “holy grail” T206 Honus Wagner card. The T206 Cobb features a beautiful watercolor portrait of Cobb on the front with an advertisement for his own tobacco brand, reading “Ty Cobb—King of the Smoking Tobacco World” on the back. The Wagner cards were included in tins of Ty Cobb tobacco.
There are only 18 graded versions of the card via PSA, and the last sale for PSA 3.5 went for $408K in February 2018. Given the scarcity, i think we might see a narrowing of the gap between the Wagner and this Cobb in the coming years.
1933 Goudey Nap Lajoie #106
The 1933 Goudey set is known as the first sports card product packaged with bubble gum in every pack. I love this set, just a classic look. While the 1933 Goudey Ruth cards are probably the most well known, the rarest card is actually the Nap Lajoie card (#106).
Lajoie was not initially included in the set, yet due to an outcry from fans, Goudey later produced it in 1934. The only way to get the card was via a mail in request to Goudey. According to PSA, there are less than 100 of the Lajoie cards that have been submitted for grading. And if you’re lucky to have one sitting around, it is worth a pretty penny; a high graded PSA 9 Lajoie sold for $144,000 at the end of 2017.
1887 N172 Old Judge- Cap Anson
One of the first tobacco cards ever produced, the 1887-1890 (N172) cards were issued in packs of Old Judge and Gypsy Queen cigarette packs. The set is known as one of the largest sets ever created, as there are over 500 players and 3000 variations known.
The Cap Anson card (in uniform) is the most valuable card in the set and quite scarce, as there are only three PSA graded cards in existence. A PSA 8 graded version of Anson (one of him in a portrait but not in uniform) sold for close to $100K back in 2016. Anson was considered to be one of the best players of the era, and the first to reach over 3000 hits.
1955 Topps Roberto Clemente #164
Known as a consummate professional, humanitarian and all around multi-faceted athlete, Clemente was one of the best ball players of his day. Clemente earned an all star berth in fifteen out of his eighteen professional seasons, attaining exactly 3000 hits, four batting championships and twelve gold glove awards.
Clemente’s career was cut short due to a tragic plane crash at the young age of 38 years old. His baseball cards are highly sought after, especially his 1955 Topps card (#164), which is considered his true rookie card. A gem mint (PSA 10) version of the Clemente rookie sold for $432K at auction in 2012.
1952 Topps Willie Mays #261
Although not his true rookie card, the 1952 Topps Willie Mays card is the first Topps card to feature Mays and is one of the most popular baseball cards in the hobby. The card isn’t truly scarce, PSA notes that over it has graded over 1600 cards, yet it is pretty rare to find one in mint condition, as only 13 have garnered a PSA 9 grade, with only one perfect 10.
High grade versions of the card have reached monumental sales records in recent years. Five PSA 9 versions of the Mays card were sold in 2017, with prices ranging from $235,000 to $478,000.
1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson #79
The true rookie card of Jackie Robinson is the 1948 Leaf card (#79). The man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball is one of the true heroes of his time. His legacy is never forgotten and his cards are highly desirable. The 1948 Leaf card is somewhat of an oddity in that the set was the first set printed in color following World War II and is the only set issued by Leaf during the post-war era.
The Robinson card is truly a classic, yet is not truly scarce compared to other short printed issues in the set (Satchel Paige is one example). There are over 1000 cards that have been graded by PSA, yet with only 50 or so cards that have been graded 8 or higher. A PSA 9 is estimated to be worth over $350K, however collectors can find lower graded versions of the card for close to $1000.
1948 Leaf - Satchel Paige #8
While the Robinson card gets all the fanfare due to his impact on the game of baseball, the 1948 Leaf Satchel Paige card is popular for reasons even beyond his legacy. Paige’s Leaf card is his true rookie card and is actually a short print, making it one of the hardest cards to find in the set. A near-mint condition card is estimated at around $350,000 by PSA.
1939 Play Ball - Ted Williams #92
The true rookie card for Red Sox great Ted Williams, the 1939 Play Ball card (#92) is a highly collectible card in the hobby. PSA has 845 reported graded 1939 Ted Williams Play Ball cards, so not impossible to find, but only about 100 with a PSA 8 grade or better.
A mint version is likely worth in the 6 figures as PSA estimates a 9 graded card to be worth $200,000. Although low grade options are somewhat plentiful for collectors just looking to get the rookie card of the “Splendid Splinter”.
1933 Goudey - Lou Gehrig
Gehrig actually has two cards in the 1933 Goudey set (#92 and #160), but both feature the same image with one (#92) that has a darker blue background. Card #160 is the rarer of the two, but both still are worth six figures in near mint to mint condition.
A PSA 10 ’33 Goudey Gehrig (#92) sold for $275K at auction back in early 2018, making it one of the highest priced card sales in history. Note that the Goudey cards are not even considered to be his true rookie cards–that would be his 1925 Exhibits card, yet given the size of the Exhibits cards, many don’t equate them with true “baseball cards”.
1963 Topps - Pete Rose #537
The Pete Rose rookie card isn’t necessarily hard to find, but higher graded versions are, due to the top blue borders which are prone to chipping. Despite his inability to crack the hall of fame, collectors still love Pete Rose and this rookie card is a true classic.
Past sales of high grade cards have surpassed even the optimistic of expectations. In 2012, a Gem Mint version of Rose’s rookie sold for $157K at auction. What might that card be worth six years later? Even PSA 9 Rose rookie cards are hot, with one selling for $131K in 2016. Lower grade versions are plentiful however, so if you are looking to grab a rookie of one of best all time hitters, it can be done for close to $1000.
1909 T206 - Eddie Plank
Considered to the be the second most desirable card behind the “holy grail” Honus Wagner of the T206 set, the Eddie Plank card is extremely rare. No one is exactly sure why the Plank card is so rare, but some believe it is because of a poor printing plate, or potentially from Plank’s aversion to tobacco that might have led to a manual removal of his card.
From PSA, only 72 Eddie Plank cards have been graded, with only 1 NM condition card in existence. PSA estimates that the PSA 8 card is worth approximately $675K.
1910 Standard Caramel (E93) Honus Wagner
While certainly not as recognizable as his T206 card, the 1910 Standard Caramel card of Honus Wagner is quite challenging to find and probably one of the more underrated cards of the pre-war era. Based on PSA data, there have been less than 100 graded versions of the Wagner, with only a handful garnering a near mint rating or better.
A PSA 9 version of the Wagner card was sold at auction in early 2018 for $218K, marking the highest price reached on record. Given the scarcity of the higher grades of this Wagner card, I would deem that seemingly high price to be a worthwhile investment.
1954 Topps Ernie Banks #94
This marks the rookie card for Cubs great and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. Banks, in his prime, was one of the most feared hitters of the day, earning back to back MVP awards from 1958 to 1959. He finished his career with 512 home runs; his 277 home runs as a shortstop were a career record at the time of his retirement.
His 1954 Topps rookie card is by no means scarce, as compared to some of the early tobacco or candy cards of the day. PSA has graded nearly 2000 Banks cards, yet finding one in Mint condition is a challenge, as only 14 have earned a PSA 9 and only two have been graded gem mint. The last sale of a PSA 10 Banks happened in 2012 for over $142K! What would that card be worth today?
1911 General Baking (D304) - Ty Cobb
One of the hobby’s most coveted early baking card issues, this Ty Cobb card is from the rare D304 General Baking Co. series. The cards were issued from between 1911 to 1914 with loaves of bread and are often referred to as the “Brunner’s Bread” collection.
The Cobb card is just a thing of beauty, with its striking colors and a near smile from Cobb, a rarity from the hard edged ball player. These cards are quite scarce, as many never made it past the dinner table. There is one known PSA 8 graded version of the card, which was last sold for $94K back in 2010. It would likely get multiple six figures offers in today’s market.
1910 Old Mill T210 - Joe Jackson
A very rare pre-war era card of the infamous “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the 1910 Old Mill (aka T210 or “Red Borders” set) cards were distributed in packs of Old Mill cigarettes. It’s a humongous set, with over 600 cards that features cards of minor leaguers at the time.
The Jackson card features him while on the New Orleans Pelicans, a minor league team, in between his stints with the Philadelphia Athletics and the Cleveland Naps. Jackson reportedly was “scolding the ball all season long for the Pelicans”.
His T210 card is one of the rarest cards of the pre-war era as there are only a handful known to exist. PSA estimates even a VG condition card to be worth $250K.
1911 Turkey Reds (T3) - Ty Cobb
Featuring breathtaking artwork, these cards were offered via a redemption program and featured in Turkey Red cigarette packs. These are larger “cabinet” style cards measuring 5 3/4″ x 8″ with six different backs for the cards.
The Ty Cobb card is the most popular of the set and the cards are quite scare as less than 100 have been graded by PSA. The best graded known version — a PSA 8 is estimated to be worth at least $250K.