Baseball cards began humbly, and some of the first ones were cigarette package inserts, which were used to promote the brand and prevent the box of cigarettes from being crushed. Today, baseball cards are purchased alone and not as freebies to other items. Some of them can be very expensive, too. If you collect sports cards, you may have come across some of the top Hank Aaron baseball cards. He was the one who holds the most home runs in Major League Baseball history and who surpassed Babe Ruth in 1974.
At the present time, baseball cards are a billion-dollar industry. That’s why many people are searching for old, rare, and valuable cards that they may be keeping at home or in their grandparents’ home. In fact, discovering even just one of the most expensive baseball cards can make you a millionaire today. While there are various baseball cards that you can easily purchase today, there are some that are very rare, which makes them very expensive as well. In this post, we are going to go through some of the most valuable baseball cards in history.
Honus Wagner – The 1911 American Tobacco Company Card
Honus Wagner was known as “The Flying Dutchman.” He had 3,420 hits and 723 stolen bases throughout his career with the Louisville Colonels and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1897 to 1917. His iconic baseball card, the 1911 American Tobacco Company T206, was sold in August 2021 for $6.606 million.
Based on legends, Wagner was a teetotaler who loathed the use of his likeness to sell tobacco. Others believe that he demanded more compensation from the company for using his portrait, and therefore, the production of the card was limited. No matter the reason, it is still the most popular baseball card in history.
The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Rookie Card
Mickey Mantle was a marvelous all-around player who played from 1951 to 1968. He was regarded as the best switch-hitter in MLB history. If he were not injured often, he might have threatened the all-time record of Ruth. He finished his MLB career with 536 home runs. His iconic card, the 1952 Topps #311, was sold in 2021 for $5.2 million.
This baseball card has a magnificent backstory. The owner of Topps, Sy Berger, let the printing presses run for some of his company’s cards in 1952. But late-summer released cooled collectors on the cards, and cases of the product went unsold. Sy Berger had around 500 cases of the cards in 1960, including the now-valuable card of Mantle, dumped into the Hudson River.
The 1933 Babe Ruth Goudey Card
Babe Ruth was known as “The Great Bambino,” “The Colossus of Clout,” or popularly “The Babe.” He was baseball’s first global star. His iconic baseball card is the 1933 Goudey #53. It was sold in a July 2021 auction for $4,212,000.
Back in 1933, the Goudey Gum Company created a 240-card set, which included four Ruth cards. However, card number 42, with Ruth cast against a bright yellow background, was still the standard. This iconic card was in mint condition based on Professional Sports Authenticator.
The 2009 Mike Trout Rookie Card by Topps with Autograph
Mike Trout is referred to as the best active player of the game. He was an all-star in nine of his first 11 seasons. This Los Angeles outfielder also holds three American League MVP awards. His iconic baseball card was the 2009 Bowman Draft BDPP89 Superfractor. It was sold in August 2020 for $3.9 million.
In 1992, Topps started making “parallel” cards. These are short-printed versions of baseball cards that are rarer and more valuable. The Superfractor version of Trout’s Bowman Draft autograph rookie card, which was in a shimmery gold edition, was limited to only one copy. This set the record for the highest card sale until it was outshined several times in 2020 and 2021.
The 1968 Topps Rookie Card #177 of Nolan Ryan
Nolan Ryan was one of the more feared power pitchers of the game. He has an MLB record of 5,714 batters and 1,000 more than Randy Johnson. This iconic card was the 1968 Topps Rookie Card #177, which also features pitcher Jerry Koosman. This card was sold in August 2020 for $600,000.
The 1948 Leaf #79 of Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson was a Hall of Famer who broke the MLB color barrier in 1947. He starred in four sports, which are baseball, basketball, football, and track. He was also a six-time National League all-star. His iconic card, the 1948 Leaf #79, was sold in March 2021 for $392,000.
That card was the most desirable in a set full of early cards of greats, including Warren Spahn, Ted Williams, and DiMaggio. It was rated PSA 7. The highest rating is 10 or gem mint condition.
The 1939 Play Ball #26 of Joe DiMaggio
Joe DiMaggio was a 13-time all-star and 9-time batting champion. He was also a pop-culture icon who married Marilyn Monroe. His iconic card, the 1939 Play Ball #26, was sold for $218,578 in 2021. This card was considered his top rookie card. However, other high-quality versions of his 1936 World Wide Gum and 1938 Goudey cards may grasp even more than this baseball card.
The 1980 Topps #482 of Rickey Henderson
Rickey Henderson is known as “The Man of Steal.” He starred for the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees throughout his 25-year career. He’s well-thought-out to be the best leadoff hitter in the history of MLB. His iconic card, the 1980 Topps #482, was sold in February 2021 for $180,100.
Topps made cards that usually deteriorated quickly from the 1950s through the early 1980s. These cards lost their value to collectors. With this, finding a mint-condition Henderson rookie card by Topps was quite impossible. Based on Professional Sports Authenticator, the grading service for sports mementos, over 23,000 copies have been graded, and only 25 or 0.1% of those are in mint condition.
These are some of the most valuable baseball cards in history. There are actually more sports trading cards out there that are very expensive today. As the years pass, their value becomes higher and higher. Therefore, if you are keeping some baseball trading cards, make sure that you take good care of them and keep them in mint condition. Who knows, those may become very expensive in the future, too.