Collecting baseball cards is a hobby nearly as old as the sport of baseball itself. Major League Baseball (MLB) has millions of fans worldwide who grew up collecting, trading, and comparing baseball cards with their friends. Although the days of going down to the corner store for a cheap pack of baseball cards and some chewing gum are seemingly gone, we can all have fun reminiscing about the thrill of the trade. However, the very best baseball cards in history are extremely rare collector’s items potentially worth millions of dollars – just so none of us get our hopes up.
Sports fans will go to great lengths to show their enthusiasm for their home team and favorite players. In fact, a recent study finds that fans are more than willing to travel and pay to see their favorite sports teams play in person. A survey of 2,000 self-identified sports fanatics examined the lengths fans are willing to go to in order to see their favorite team play in person. Overall, the survey found that the average fan is willing to travel a staggering five hours and 48 minutes plus pay over $750 for tickets to a game. That is fandom at its finest, to say the least.
For more on fanatic behavior, baseball cards provide a tangible connection to the sport they love. Each card represents a player, a moment, or a team, allowing fans to reminisce about the game’s history and the players who have left a lasting impact. The anticipation of discovering a rare or valuable card, the joy of completing a set, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with building a comprehensive collection all contribute to the excitement and satisfaction that collectors experience. Baseball cards also serve as a means of fostering camaraderie among fans, as trading and discussing cards with fellow enthusiasts creates a sense of community and shared passion. Ultimately, the combination of nostalgia, the thrill of the hunt, and the social aspect of collecting make baseball cards a cherished hobby for sports fans.
So, what players can be found in the most valuable collections? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 expert websites in an effort to bring you the best baseball cards of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed cards from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best Baseball Cards, According to Sports Experts
Easily topping the list of the best baseball cards of all time is none other than the 1909 T206 Honus Wagner baseball card. This baseball card is one of the most sought-after sports collectibles in history and for good reason. The T206 Honus Wagner is one of the rarest baseball cards ever made and has a truly unique story behind it.
“Simply put, there is no other sports card that comes close to the level of the T206 Honus Wagner. After initially being placed in the set that was included in cigarette packs, Wagner asked that he be removed from the set as he did not condone smoking. His card was pulled after roughly 60-200 were made. There are only 57 of the card believed to be in existence today, with the most famous being the ‘Gretzky Wagner’ which is in the best condition of the 57, and was once owned by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky who bought it at auction for $451,000 in 1991. It most recently sold for $2.8 million to Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick,” writes Bleacher Report.
Still, the Honus Wagner T206 baseball cards are extremely valuable regardless of condition. “Considered the Holy Grail of all trading cards, the 1909 American Tobacco Company T206 Honus Wagner card remains the symbol of trading card collecting today. Even in poor condition, they routinely sell for over $1 million. Most cards in the T206 set are not rare but the Honus Wagner cards are because they were pulled from production early. And no one is quite sure why. Was it because Wagner wanted to be paid by the tobacco company to use his image? Or, as most believe, was it because he didn’t want to be involved in promoting tobacco use to children? Whatever the reason, there are only approximately 50-75 or so known copies in circulation today as a result. This card has been and will likely remain the most valuable baseball card for years to come,” adds Old Sports Cards.
With only 60-75 of these cards still in existence today, the value of the T206 Honus Wagner’s just keeps going higher. As one expert explains, this is the most expensive baseball card you can find. “This scarcity of the card (note that between PSA and SGC there are less than 100 copies) and the ultimate legend of the card has led to a massive increase in value over the years. Each sale on the T206 Wagner seems to break a previous record, while a PSA 5(OC)Wagner sold for $3.2 Million in 2016 there was a more recent sale in 2021 of an SGC 3 copy for $6.6 Million. When anyone asks what the most expensive baseball card in the hobby is, the T206 Wagner is usually a safe answer. I expect any future sales of the Honus Wagner T206 card to eclipse any previous records,” furthers All Vintage Cards.
Coming in second on the list of the best baseball cards of all time is none other than the 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle. Considered one of the best Yankees players of all time as well as one of the best MLB center fielders ever, the #311 Mickey Mantle by Topps is a true gem of a baseball card.
“Heritage Auctions completed the biggest, most valuable baseball card sale in history when it sold the 1952 Mickey Mantle… for $12.6 million. The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card is one of the most recognizable baseball cards in history. The story goes like this, the Topps baseball card company had to make room in its warehouse for new additions of cards, so the company dumped hundreds of cases into the ocean, which included many of the ’52 Mantle cards. With the limited supply of the 1952 Topps cards, or more importantly, the almost-unbelievable STORY of limited supply, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle strikes a chord with all baseball card collectors as the pinnacle of the collecting industry,” writes Attic Capital.
The story behind the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball cards makes them even more desirable for collectors. Although this is not Mickey Mantle’s rookie card, it is the most infamous Mantle baseball card ever produced. It’s unclear whether the surplus of Mickey Mantle #311s was dumped into the ocean or the Hudson River, but we do know they were dumped into a body of water somewhere.
“It may be the most legendary trading card in sports, and it’s not even Mantle’s rookie card. That honor goes to his 1951 Bowman card. But the 1952 Topps Mantle has one thing that card doesn’t: A fabulous backstory. In 1952, Topps owner Sy Berger let the printing presses run for some of his company’s cards. But the late-summer release cooled collectors on the cards, and cases of the product went unsold. In 1960, Berger had as many as 500 cases of the cards—including Mantle’s now-valuable card—dumped into the Hudson River,” explains History.
“1) 1952 was the first year Topps entered the sports card market so the set itself is wildly popular and even common cards in mint condition can fetch over $1,000. 2) Being a ‘high number’ card (cards 311 – 407 in the set) means that fewer Mickey Mantle rookie cards were printed than the average 1952 Topps baseball card in the first place,” adds Old Sports Cards.
3. 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth
The third spot on the list of the best baseball cards of all time belongs to Babe Ruth and his 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth baseball card. “The 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth card held the record for the most expensive baseball card in the world when it sold in 2021 for $6 million. The record was quickly smashed by two other giant sales, but arguably the greatest player in baseball history also held the record for the most valuable baseball card, if just for a few months. A private seller sold the card to Collectable, a fractional ownership platform, where investors can purchase shares of the card,” explains Attic Capital.
Collectable is excited to announce that we will be offering shares of 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth pre-rookie card valued at over $6 million! Head over to our website to watch the press conference LIVE from Baltimore! https://t.co/kVBWAkgkBX #BabeRuth #CollectableApp pic.twitter.com/JKufBLZjAI
— Collectable (@CollectableApp) June 2, 2021
Purchasing shares of a baseball card sounds somewhat counterintuitive to the hobby of collecting baseball cards, but if you’re looking at the hobby as an investment, it makes sense to own ‘shares’ of the card. Regardless, the 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth baseball card remains one of the most sought-after cards in history.
“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 [of] 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,” adds All Vintage Cards.
PSA stands for Professional Sports Authenticator and they’re the premier trading card and sports collectible grading company. If a baseball card has a PSA grade, you can trust it’s an authentic baseball card. And, the higher the PSA grade of a baseball card, the better condition it is in and the more it’s worth.
“This ‘pre-rookie’ card of Ruth is one of rarest cards in the hobby with 10 copies known to exist and can be found with either blue or red borders. In early 1914, Jack Dunn of the minor league Baltimore Orioles signed Ruth to a professional baseball contract. Financial problems would cause Dunn to sell Ruth’s contract to the Boston Red Sox later that year, however. Conditions of these cards are not very good but even a PSA 4 is expected to bring in roughly $900,000. Who knows what a high grade example of this card would go for? The price would certainly be astronomical,” furthers Old Sports Cards.
This Bowman Mickey Mantle baseball card is rare, and collectors who possess this card with a high PSA value can expect it to be worth a lot of money. “$700,000 is the asking price of this 1951 baseball (PSA 9 Mint) card. After his 1952 Topps cards, Mickey Mantle is back on this list. The striking visuals on this rookie card have piqued the interest of many collectors; Mantle holding a bat in his hand is an image that excites a lot of collectors. Unfortunately, the card’s quality isn’t that good, irrespective, owning this rookie card with a high PSA value will get you a substantial sum of money,” explains Lines.
“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 [an] unforgettable pose with the blue sky and clouds offering up a wonderful background…. PSA notes that there are over 1500 graded Mantle rookies, but only 1 PSA 10 and 9 PSA 9 graded versions. PSA 8 graded copies have been hovering near $500K and there have been several sales of late, so we have good comps there. However, the last PSA 9 Mantle sold for $750K back in April of 2018, so I would imagine any PSA 9 sales in this market would easily eclipse $1 Million and probably be closer to $2 Million. Keep your eyes out for fake 1951 Bowman Mantle cards, one of the most common forgeries in the hobby,” explains All Vintage Cards.
It would be a bad day to have just acquired a mint condition Mantle Rookie card only to discover it’s fake or counterfeit. That’s why it’s so important to have your collectibles checked out by a third-party grading service such as PSA or an unbiased expert in the hobby of collecting baseball cards.
“While his 1952 Topps card is more popular and more expensive, some collectors forget that this is the only recognized Mantle rookie card. Mantle is easily one of the most widely collected players in the hobby. This incredibly important card is beautiful in design, depicting nice artwork of Mantle ready at the bat. Unfortunately, as with most high-numbered cards in the set, Mantle’s rookie card often suffers from print lines, poor centering and wax stains on the back. So, if you can get your hands on one of these cards in high grade then you are looking at some big bucks,” adds Old Sports Cards.
For the record, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball cards are more popular and expensive than this rookie card because they have an incredible story behind them. As we discussed, the majority of the 1952 Topps cards were dumped into the ocean or the Hudson River, depending on who you ask. Still, the 1951 Bowman Mantle’s are rookie cards, and any all-time great ball player’s rookie card is worth money.
“This card takes a backseat to the 1952 Topps card, but it is still the rookie card of one of the greatest players of all time. One can only wonder how much more this card would be worth if Topps had never come along, and Bowman held a monopoly on the baseball card market on into the 1960s,” furthers Bleacher Report.
There are several 1933 Goudey baseball cards that are considered some of the best baseball cards of all time, but the #53 Babe Ruth cards are some of the rarest and most desirable cards for collectors. “The 1933 Goudey set marked the first release of baseball cards in congruence with bubble gum, as they had previously been packaged with cigarettes and cracker jacks. It also marked the first time Babe Ruth appeared on a card as a member of the Yankees, as he had one previous, ultra rare card from his time in the International league. It came in a number of different colored backgrounds, but regardless it was the first card of the greatest player in baseball history,” writes Bleacher Report.
It was not the ‘first’ card featuring Babe Ruth, but it was the first baseball card to feature the Sultan of Swat in his Yankees uniform, and it came with bubble gum. Baseball cards and bubble gum quickly became synonymous with one another, and it also helped appeal to kids. Before the 1933 Goudey set, the hobby of collecting baseball cards was somewhat restricted to adults as most of them came with cigarettes. Still, these baseball cards featuring Babe Ruth became instant collector’s items, even in 1933.
“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) 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. A PSA 9 (Mint) copy of the #53 Goudey Ruth recently sold at auction for a whopping $4.2 Million, showing that in this booming card market, pristine graded high demand vintage cards will continue to break records,” explains All Vintage Cards.
“Memory Lane Auctions sold the only PSA 9, 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth card in 2021 for $4.2 million. The yellow-colored card is considered to be the most significant, and hardest to find, of the 1933 Goudey set. You might recognize the 1933 Goudey card of another Hall of Famer, Lou Gehrig. His Goudey card is also a highly valuable card from the 1933 set,” adds Attic Capital.
You might also be interested in:
- Bleacher Report
- Old Sports Cards
- Rookie Road
- All Vintage Cards
- Attic Capital
- Sports Card Authority
- Wealthy Gorilla
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Lea la versión en español en EstudioRevela.com: Las Mejores Tarjetas de Béisbol: Las 5 Coleccionables más Valiosas Recomendadas por Expertos.