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Why Are Rookie Cards More Valuable?

Updated Oct 04, 2023

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It’s common knowledge that a player’s rookie card is worth more than any later-issued card.

But why is this true? 

A rookie card is a player’s first official entry into the hobby.
 
The excessive demand for rookie cards leads to the cards having more value than any later-year issues for a player.
 
The first card issued for a player is also their oldest card, which collectors tend to associate as ‘more valuable’ over time.
 
Like the first edition book of a popular novel, a rookie card is an artifact of the player’s rise to fame.
 
Let’s dive into this a bit further.
 

There's Something Exciting About Investing in Rookie Cards

Have you ever invested your time and hard-earned money into rookie cards of up-and-coming prospects?

In my prime collecting days of the 1980s, there were many 'can't-miss'' prospects that saw massive price increases in their rookie cards

Remember Brien Taylor and Brian Bosworth? 

brien-taylor-rookie

For me, I had a lot of failed investments in prospects during the 80's.  

My worst had to be Luis 'Funky Cold' Medina. I'm not even sure why I thought this guy was going to be any good.

I looked at his minor league stats, realized he was crushing the ball in the minors, and loaded up on 100's of his rookie cards.  

Bad move.  

Medina logged 150 career At-Bats in the majors and my stack of rookie cards was pretty much worthless. 

Hope and expectations drive the early value of a player's rookie card.

If Medina slugged 500 Home Runs, those rookie cards would eventually be worth something.

By buying those rookie cards, I took a gamble that Luis Medina might become a great player. Unfortunately, he never did.  

Buying the rookie cards of exciting prospects is like investing in risky stocks

And just like with exciting, up and coming stocks, collectors will always invest in the rookie cards of young players that have a lot of promise. It doesn't always work out, but if it does, the rewards can be huge.

Vlad Guerrero Jr. was a recent prospect that had big interest even before stepping onto the field.  So far, so good with Guerrero, who is ripping up the Major Leagues at the moment.  

vlad-rc

And then there are can't miss guys like Derek Jeter, who are big prospects right out of college and end up as one of the best players in the game. 

Rookie Cards Are Older And Worth More

A rookie card is a player's first issue. A 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson rookie card was the first EVER (major league) card issued for Rickey Henderson.  

henderson-rc

His 1981 Topps card (or second year card) came out one year later. 

The second year Topps Henderson card is a fine card, but the 1980 Topps Henderson rookie is what collectors look to buy.

That's the one that has a level of magic and nostalgia associated with it. The year that Rickey Henderson was first dreamed up for a piece of cardboard. 

81-topps-henderson

1981 Topps Rickey Henderson Second Year card

This phenomenon is standard across many areas of different collectible markets.  

In the antique world, an item usually has more value based on its age. A first edition book has more value than a second edition.

A rookie card represents the GRAND PREMIERE of a player. 

It is their official stamp of entry into the collectibles world.  'Here I Am!'  ---now...let's see what they are going to become?  

Is it going to be Rickey Henderson, or "Funky Cold" Medina.  

A player's second year card, while collectible in most instances, isn't worth as much as their rookie card. 

An inaugural 'rookie card' introduces us to the player, while the second (or third, or fourth year cards) are reintroducing us...but in a different design, with some updated stats.  

This change in design makes the other cards collectible in their own right, but not to the same level of demand as the rookie card. 

Due to excessive collector demand, rookie cards are more valuable than any other later issue (with some occasional exceptions).  

Even in cases where a player's second year card has a lower supply than a rookie card, the rookie card still tends to be worth more money.  

The 1987 Fleer Michael Jordan card has a lower PSA graded population than his 1986 Fleer rookie card, one of the most valuable basketball cards in the hobby.

The 1986 Fleer rookie card has been graded 7,000 more times by PSA, yet Jordan's 1986 Fleer rookie card is worth roughly 10x as much!  

1987 fleer jordan

An authentic 1987 Fleer Jordan card

Collectors Love Rookie Cards

Cards like the Jordan rookie card or even the Jim Brown rookie card in football become hobby icons over time. Everyone wants to own a copy of the most valuable cards in the hobby

brown-rookie

A fake Jim Brown rookie

Some collectors buy rookie cards early on in the hopes that a prospect might become the next big thing.

If you bought a Jordan Fleer rookie card in 1986 or even a year or two later, there was a bit of hysteria (and demand) driving up values.

But, it was still a gamble with no absolute certainty that his card would increase in value.

Now Jordan is a legend. Hence, the legend of his rookie card lives on. And a collector doesn't have to worry about Jordan breaking a leg during a game and ending his career.

Thus, today, many collectors buy the rookie cards of an already established player, without the need to worry about injuries curtailing a successful career. 

This should help provide some sort of clarity on why a player's rookie card is worth more than any of their other later year issues.

Have any thoughts?  We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

All Vintage Cards

About the author

Chris Rogers, is the founder of All Vintage Cards. Launched in 2018, All Vintage Cards is the hobby's leading resource for vintage sports cards. Chris is also the author of 'The Complete Guide To Selling Your Sports Cards'. Chris remains an avid collector and can be reached at chris@allvintagecards.com.

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