When it comes to soccer players, none have had the same level of impact on the game as the late Pelé.
Here in the US, soccer has only started to gain in popularity over the past decade, and soccer cards of past stars are becoming highly sought after.
Given his recent passing, Pelé's soccer cards have spiked in value, especially his rarest and most valuable rookie cards.
In this piece, we take a look at the ten most valuable cards of Pelé, providing guidance to collectors considering an investment in the soccer legend's cards.
1. 1957 A Americana Ltda Balas Futebol #11 Pele Rookie Card
The amazing Pelé got his start in the Brazilian soccer league in 1956, playing two games as a 15 year old! The next season, with Santos, Pelé scored 64 goals in 72 games, an unheard of accomplishment for a 16 year old. He later joined the Brazilian national team.
The 1957 A Americana Ltda. card is the official rookie card of Pelé and was released in Brazil. The cards are actually stickers that were meant to be stored in a collectors album as shown below. Thus, it might come as no surprise that intact cards are exceedingly hard to find.
There are a few different variations of this Pelé rookie card, but in any case, the card is nearly impossible to find. Only two graded copies between SGC and PSA are known. The only SGC copy recently sold at a Goldin auction for $486,000, which actually seems like a very good deal given the extreme scarcity.
Another extremely rare sticker rookie card of the great Pele, that used the same image as his A Americana Ltda rookie card. Since most kids were adhering these to their sticker albums, there are not many surviving cards intact.
Side note, this is a fantastic website that has some great images of many older soccer cards. Some great images of the Balas Equipe album and how the stickers were placed in the albums.
The 1957 Oliverira & Benassi Pele rookie card is indeed impossible to find. PSA has graded only one copy, that was sold at a Goldin auction years back for just shy of $200,000.
Afliabolaget was a Swedish card issuer and put together a 36-card set to represent the world cup. Given the two previous year Pele cards were stickers, this is considered a true 'rookie card' for Pele.
It is also Pele's most popular rookie card and his most valuable. PSA has graded approximately 120 copies, with only 6 Mint-PSA 9 copies in existence.
The Afila Pele rookie card continues to break records at auction; a recent PSA 9 copy traded hands for over $1.3 Million. The sad truth is that even poor condition copies fetch multiple tens of thousands, thus the card is out of reach for most collectors.
4. 1958 Editora Aquarela #10 Pele Rookie Card
Editora Aquarela card was a Brazilian publishing company and issued these cards as a celebration of Brazil's World Cup victory. You get a great glimpse of a 17 year old Pele, who was the youngest player to ever play and score in a World Cup Final.
The Editoria Aquarela cards were printed on thin stock and high grade copies are very tough to find, as most collectors glue them to albums. There are two variations, one with Pele's number '10' printed in black on the back of the card, the other printed in blue.
Out of about 240 PSA graded copies, only 2 cards have earned a PSA 8, none higher. Given the slightly more plentiful supply, this is one of the more attainable Pele rookie cadrs. A poor copy has averaged about $2000 at auction.
Note that I would only recommend purchasing graded copies of this card. In the 1970's the card was reprinted and for those not familiar, it could be easy to get duped.
5. 1958 Swedish Rekord Journal Pele Rookie Card
A unique issue, this Pele and Manoel Santos card was featured on the cover of a popular Swedish magazine, Rekord Journal. Hence, if you find the card as shown above, it has been hand cut from the magazine (see cover of the magazine below).
The card is sometimes found with just the Pele card and the grading companies will grade the stand alone Pele. PSA marks all graded copies as 'hand-cut'.
A total of about 175 Santos/Pele cards have been graded by PSA, with another 75 or so cut Pele copies.
Given the uniqueness and the fact that the card was cut from a magazine, it tends to be one of the lower popularity Pele rookie cards, but also one of the more affordable ones.
Collectors should be able to find low to mid grade copies for $3000 or lower.
6. 1958 Ave LTDA Colecao Titulares Pele Rookie Card #50 and #86
A very rare set issued in Brazil during 1958, although some believe that the cards were issued in 1957.
There are two Pele cards in the set; card #50 maybe the uglier of the two cards due to the odd look of surprise on young Pele's face. Card #86 features a smiling Pele in a Brazil shirt, although I think maybe they went a bit too red on the lip color. Is Pele wearing lipstick?
Regardless, these two Pele cards from the set are very hard to find and extremely sought after. Of the two cards, the #50 Pele card is a bit easier to find with 66 PSA graded copies; card #86 has only 36 graded copies.
The last #86 to sell at auction was a PSA 2 (Good) copy for over $4000 in early 2022, although before Pele's death. A few lower grade #50 Pele rookie cards have sold in late 2022, also before Pele's death for between $1300 to $2500.
Hard to find, but if you can get lucky enough to find one at a good price, I'd recommend scooping up either card as a great long term investment.
7. 1958 A Gazeta Esportiva Campeao Mundial VI Copa Do Mundo Pele Rookie Card
This issue was released by Brazilian sporting news outlet Gazeta Esportiva in 1958, following Brazil's World Cupt victory. The cards were hand cut from an album issued in Brazil as shown below.
The Pele card is found cut on its own, or with either player issued on the side of him, the most popular being fellow star teammate Garrincha. Rarer copies have three players uncut, including Pele, Garrincha and Santos.
Issued in Brazil, a beautiful early card of a young Pele, some think however the card could have been relased in 1959 and not 1958. Regardless, the scarcity and the beautfiul colors of the card make it a very popular early Pele issue.
Less than 100 copies have been graded by PSA, with only 3 receiving a PSA 8 grade and none higher. The last PSA 1 (Poor) copy sold for over $3000 at auction, but, this was before Pele's death and prices continue to rise.
9. 1958-59 OS Desportos EM Todo O Mundo Campeoes Mundiais de Futebol
Issued in Brazil in 1958 as a tribute to Brazil's World Cup victory, these postcard sized cards offer collectors a unique Pele rookie card. this set contains one of the most elusive Pele issues from 1958.
PSA has graded only 5 copies and there is little data in terms of recent auction sales. Thus, if you can find one, I'd recommend scooping it up if you get it a good price.
10. 1958-59 V.A.V. Vava Pele Rookie Card
This is an Italian issued card, which like other sets, was also issued as a celebration of Brazil's World Cup victory. The small and black and white images aren't the most attractie, but it's still a very collectible card. The card features a young Pele and fellow Brazil teammate Vava, considered one of the best strikers of his generation.
PSA has graded 44 copies. The last PSA graded sale was in early February 2022 of a PSA 5 copy for $22K. However, this was before Pele's death and I would expect and higher graded auction sales to be multiples higher of pre-death comps.
What Year Is Pele's Rookie Card?
Pele began his professional soccer career with Brazilian Football Club Santos at the age of 15, and the Brazilian National team at the age of 16. In 1958, Pele helped lead Brazil to a World Cup victory at the unbelievable age of 17 years old.
In 1957, A Americana and Oliverira & Benassi both released sticker cards for Pele and are considered to be rookie cards. However, collectors have also come to a collective belief that the multitude of cards issued in 1958 should also be considered as Pele rookie cards.
What Is Pele's Most Valuable Rookie Card?
Based on recent comps, Pele's 1958 Alifabolaget Pele Rookie Card #635 is Pele's most valuable rookie card. The Afila Pele rookie card continues to break records at auction; a recent PSA 9 (Mint) copy traded hands for over $1.3 Million.
However, I would argue that if either of Pele's 1957 sticker rookies in good grades came up for sale, it could potentially reach the seven figure mark in today's market.
What Is Pele's Most Affordable Rookie Card?
The 1958 Editora Aquarela #10 Pele Rookie Card is a good option for those with a more limited budget, however even a low grade copy in Poor condition will cost around $2000 or more.
Pele also has a couple of interesting rookie team photo cards that are not as pricey as his true rookie card. These are good alternatives for those that can't afford any of his more expensive rookie cards.
I like the 1958 A Gazeta Brazil team card. It's a unique issue that was cut from an album, but it's a beautfiul card. Copies pop up occassionally and can be found sometimes for under $1000.
Are Pele Rookie Cards A Good Investment?
Pele rookie cards and early year cards are a fantastic investment. Sadly, Pele died in late 2022, and this has led to a surge in all of his early soccer cards. I think we could say that Pele cards were probably long underappreciated and they are finally catching up to what their true worth should be. There are not many players in sport that have had the same level of influence on the game as Pele. Thus, I do believe that collectors should certainly consider buying Pele rookie cards a part of a long term investment into one of the all time greats.