The history of the $1 billion baseball card industry is older and more storied than you might realize. The first baseball cards popped up in the 1860s, pre-dating the National League. In the 1930s tobacco companies started inserting collector cards inside of cigarette packs in an attempt to boost sales. By the 1930s, cards were being sold inside of individual packs, creating an industry that would soon stand on its own. With a booming industry filled with rare cards, it’s no surprise that some of the world’s most popular baseball cards have surpassed $3 million in value. Before we dive into the history of valuable baseball cards we have to understand how they’re scored. The third party company Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) grades each card on a scale of one to 10. A one means the card is in “poor” condition while a 10 is in “gem mint” card.
1909 T206 Honus Wagner: A $3.2 Million Treasure
In 2016 a PSA 5 version of the T206 Honus Wagner card sold for a mind-boggling $3.2 million. The PSA 5 rating is the highest this card has ever received.
This card is partly rated so highly because Wagner, a Pittsburgh Pirates star, demanded that the American Tobacco Company stop featuring him inside of their cigarette packs. Because of his demand, only 50 of these incredibly valuable cards are still in existence.
1952 Topps Mickey Mantle: $2.8 Million And Worth Every Penny
There might not be a more famous baseball card than the 1952 Mickey Mantle card. Not only was Mantle one of the greatest men to ever play the game but the card itself has a strange and storied history. Topps’ Sy Berger couldn’t sell all of his company’s baseball cards and in order to make room in the company’s warehouse, he dumped three garbage trucks worth of unsold 1952 Topps cases into the Atlantic Ocean.
In 2018 an auction was held for a PSA 9 Mickey Mantle card and it was scooped up for $2.88 million by retired NFL player Evan Mathis. Keep in mind, Berger wasn’t able to sell the original Mantle cards for $.01 per piece.
1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle: $750,000
If any player was going to appear more than once on our list, we’re not surprised it’s Mickey Mantle (although he’s not alone but we’ll get to that later). His 1951 Bowman Mantle card isn’t as sought after as his 1952 Topps card but it’s still worthy of a $750,000 price tag.
Mantle’s rookie card might have been more valuable than the 1952 Topps card if not for the unfortunate decision by Topps to dump the 1952 overstock into the Atlantic ocean. It also didn’t hurt that the card sold in April 2018 features a PSA 9 rating at the time of sale.
1916 Sporting News Babe Ruth: $717,000 Of Pure History
Babe Ruth’s rookie card is the stuff of legend. The greatest player to ever step on the field had a 1916 Sporting News Ruth card sell for $717,000 in 2016. The card featured a PSA 7 rating when sold.
Babe Ruth’s valuable card also has an interesting history. The card was part of a collectible business card.” Printer Felix Mendelsohn left the back of the cards blank so business owners could advertise their own services on the back of the item. Cards without writing are valued in the hundreds of thousands. Even with advertising, they are a collector’s valuable dream.
1963 Topps Pete Rose: $717,000
Pete Rose was forced into early retirement after he bet on MLB games and it may have actually helped the value of his $717,000 Topps baseball card. Rose’s rookie card sold in 2018 for $717,000.
This amazing collectible featured a perfect PSA 10 rating which likely added to its high sale value. 3,711 Pete Rose rookie cards have been revealed but this is the only “Gem Mint” card that has ever come up at auction.
1909 T206 Eddie Plank: $700,000
It’s unclear why the T206 Eddie Plank card has been largely lost from history but the lack of cards available have contributed to the recent $700,000 auction price the card fetched in 2012.
Plank was anti-tobacco which means he might have pulled a Wagner and demanded the card be removed from the American Tobacco Company’s marketing. Either way, this Hall of Famer pitchers card with its PSA 7 rating is a top collector’s item. Only about 75 of his cards are known to still exist.
1909 American Caramel E90-1 Joe Jackson: $667,149
Joe Jackson, much like Pete Rose, was forced out of baseball after he was revealed to be part of a gambling scandal that rocked the 1919 Black Sox World Series team. Jackson’s sudden departure from the league and his ability to smash home runs have all added to the value of his rookie card.
In August 2015 a 1909 American Caramel E90-1 Jackson with a PSA 8 rating sold for $667,149. Jackson and Pete Rose prove that an interesting story and a storied career can really increase a card’s value, especially when the card is in short supply.
1968 Topps Nolan Ryan: $612,359
Nolan Ryan’s rookie card isn’t in short supply, in fact, there are believed to be 8,279 cards still floating around. So why would someone pay $612,359 for one of these gems? In August 2016 a rare PSA 10 rated card went up for auction.
As the only known PSA 10 rated Nolan Ryan rookie card, someone was willing to pay more than half-a-million dollars for a “Mint Gem” rookie card. As the all-time strikeouts record holder, Nolan Ryan has earned his place on the list of most expensive baseball cards.
1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth
As promised, Babe Ruth joins Mickey Mantle as one of the only major league ballers to make our list twice. This time for his $575,000 1914 Baltimore News collectors card. This “pre-rookie” card is believed to be one of 10 known existing copies.
In 2012 a rather beat up PSA 2 rated version of this card surfaced and even in relatively poor condition, it fetched over half-a-million dollars. Fun fact, there are red and blue tinted versions of this card.
1909 T206 Ty Cobb (Bat Off Shoulder): $488,425
The T206 cards featuring Ty Cobb are hard to come by with only four featured in the T206 set. Despite their 100+ year age, there are still three of these cards graded at PSA 9. How that many cards managed to achieve a “mint” status after so many years is beyond our understanding.
In 2016 one of the “bat off shoulder” cards went to auction and the buyer was willing to pay $488,425 for this rare piece of history. Another Ty Cobb card will pop up on our list later on.
1955 Topps Roberto Clemente: $478,000
This PSA 9 rated card sold in February 2018. The card, however, isn’t even the best rated of its kind. In May 2012, a PSA 10 Clemente card was owned by All-Star Dmitri Young, that card sold for $432,690 in May 2012. We can argue that this card might move up the list if the PSA 10 card was put on the market today.
This card holds a special place in sports history because the Pirates outfielder is universally admired for his humanitarian work. Sadly, while traveling on one of his humanitarian missions to Nicaragua in 1972, Clemente was killed in a plane crash.
1952 Topps Willie Mays: $478,000
Willie May’s rookie card belongs in the 1951 Bowman collection but his second-year card is actually more valuable thanks to collectors who go crazy over the PSA 9 rated 1952 Topps Mays card.
In May 2016, the 1952 Topps card was picked up for $478,000. As one of the greatest all-around players to ever grace the field, it’s not really surprising that his card, which is over six decades old, is fetching big money.
1915 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb: $432,000
Imagine sticking your hand into your cracker jack box in 1915 and then holding onto this card only to find out it would later be worth $432,000. That’s the price someone paid in May 2016 for a PSA 9 rated version of this Ty Cobb classic.
Ty Cobb is the most prolific hitter of all-time in terms of batting average, ending his career with a .366 batting average. His career lives in baseball lore and his baseball card’s price reflects that MLB lore.
1909 T206 Joe Doyle: $414,750
Joe “Slow Joe” Doyle earned his nickname because he took forever to throw a pitch. That won’t fly with MLB’s upcoming pitch clock but it worked for Doyle in 1909. His PSA 3 rated card sold for $414,750 in 2012.
His card’s value was partially helped along because it was printed with an error. Instead of saying “American” on the card it says “Nat’l.” That simple error has made this one fo the most coveted cards among collectors because the error was eventually corrected and only 10 errors cards are known to still exist. This is the only type of “good” error in baseball.
1909 T206 Ty Cobb Repeats On Our List At $408,000
In 2018 a Ty Cobb T206 sold for $408,000. The card was rated at PSA 3.5. The “Cobb-Cobb” is unique in that it was part of his very own tobacco brand.
On the back of the card, it reads “Ty Cobb, King of the Smoking Tobacco World.” The value of this card is helped along by the fact that there are only 19 “Cobb-Cobb” variations graded by PSA. In comparison, there are 34 Wagner’s with this rating.
1954 Topps Hank Aaron: $358,500
Very few players in the history of Major League Baseball have been able to hit home runs like Hank Aaron and that helps explain the $358,500 that his PSA 9, 1954 Topps card fetched in August 2016.
In May 2012, a PSA 10 version of the Hank Aaron card was sold for $357,594. That card would likely surpass the PSA 9 card if it was put on the open market today. There are currently two PSA 10 graded survivors for Hank’s rookie card.
1938 Goudey Joe DiMaggio: $288,000
With a PSA 9 rating the 1938 Goudey Joe DiMaggio card sold for $288,000 in 2017. This card was the first to introduce Topps baseball cards being sold with packets of gum. With a novelty approach and a rare card, a sale of just over $250,000 seems fair for such a rare piece of history.
DiMaggio, of course, is known for hitting consecutively in 56 straight games. He was also married to Marilyn Monroe which has added to his historical appeal outside of Major League Baseball.
1933 Goudey Lou Gehrig: $274,950
In September 2007 a “gem mint” card with a PSA 10 rating sold for $274,950. The card was shockingly valued at just $33,000 before it was officially listed for sale. It was a high price to pay but Lou Gehrig did previously own the record for the most consecutive games played at 2,130.
While not the most expensive card in our collection, the 1933 Goudey Lou Gehrig card is still the only PSA 10 rated card that has been revealed.
1911 General Baking Ty Cobb: $272,980 And A Loaf Of Bread
We know baseball cards were sold with tobacco products and gum but what about loaves of bread? That’s where you could pick up the 1911 General Baking Ty Cobb. One of these cards rated PSA 8 was sold in 2008 at a cost of $272,980.
The PSA 8 is the highest revealed PSA-graded 1911 General Baking Ty Cobb. A PSA 6 version of this card has also been revealed. It’s not often that someone can make so much dough from one loaf of bread.
1939 Play Ball Ted Williams: $239,000
Ted Williams is one of the greatest major leaguers to come out of the 1930s and his 1939 Play Ball Ted Williams card shows how coveted his time on the field actually was. A PSA 9 1939 Play Ball Williams card sold in 2016 for $239,000.
Williams has a chance to eventually climb our list of most valuable MLB cards of all-time. There is one PSA 10 rated version of his card but it has never gone on the market. In comparison, there are 12 PSA 9 graded cards from his collection.
1948 Leaf #8 Satchel Paige Rookie Card Is Nearly Impossible To Find
This classic baseball card came in a set alongside the rookie cards of Jackie Robinson and Stan Musial. Unfortunately, initial prints were very poor quality, decreasing the value of the set, and the card itself.
If you have this card in good condition, consider yourself lucky. Paige was a two-time all-star who didn’t break into the majors until he was 42 years old. Once there, he still put up numbers good enough to put him in the Hall of Fame!
1953 Topps #82 Mickey Mantle – Prices Vary
If you have the 1953 Topps #82 Mickey Mantle card, you might be able to start a bidding war with collectors. In good condition, this is considered one of the most beautiful baseball cards ever made.
Problems that plague this card include print defects on Mantle’s face and chipping along the red bottom border. With how common those problems are, the price you could get for your card can vary wildly.
1910 T210 Old Mill Joe Jackson Is Very Rare
The entire T210 Old Mill set is valuable if you’re lucky enough to have it, but the most valuable card of them all is the Joe Jackson one. Only a few copies of this card are known to exist, keeping it in high demand on the collector’s market.
Finding this incredible card in good condition can seem like an impossible task. Like so many at the time, it features a red border which often becomes a victim of wear and tear.
1914 Cracker Jack Christy Mathewson
While all of these cards are rare, the 1914 Cracker Jack Christy Matthewson card is one of the rarest. The reason for this is because 1914 Cracker Jack cards are rarely, if ever, found in good condition.
Matthewson is the only player in the 1914 set featured in a horizontal layout, a trend the Cracker Jack continued in 1915. The only problem is his 1915 card is considered as appealing to the eyes as this one.
1948 Leaf #4 Stan Musial Rookie Card Almost Completes The Set
You already know how valuable the Satchel Paige rookie card from this set is, now it’s time to talk about the Stan Musial one. Musial’s rookie card is only second in 1948 to his Bowman rookie card, which is more sought-after.
Still, just because this card finishes in second doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Any Stan Musial card in good condition is worth a pretty penny. After all, he did accumulate over 3,000 hits in his Hall of Fame career!
1949 Bowman #226 Duke Snider Rookie Card
A mint condition, PSA 10 version of this Duke Snider rookie is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2016, one sold for $232,750, making its former owner a truly happy person.
During his playing days, Snider was a vital player for the Dodgers and is still considered one of the most important players to ever play there. Of course, he wore the blue while they still played in Brooklyn, that only adds to his legend.
1911 T3 Turkey Red Cabinets Ty Cobb
Another card from the cigarette era, the only way collectors could get their hands on this rarity was to redeem coupons from their smokes. It would take 10 Red Turkey coupons, 25 Fez, or 25 Old Mill coupons for the exchange.
Featured in the set alongside Cobb were Christy Matthewson and Cy Young, although neither have reached the same level of value. Two versions of this card exist with different backsides, but that doesn’t affect the value.
1915 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson Is Another Valuable Shoeless Joe Piece
To many, this card is their favorite of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it is his most valuable. It’s more sought after than his 1914 edition card, though.
The reason is simple. The 1915 Joe Jackson card was part of a redemption program. The 1914 card came straight from the box, where it sat with caramel and other goodies until found by kids or adults. Did you ever find one?
1933 Goudey #149 Babe Ruth Comes In Two Colors
There are four versions of this card. The one we are looking at shows Babe Ruth against a red back drop. The #53 version of the card shows him against a yellow back drop, for instance.
The “Red Ruth” is the more highly sought after card. Because of the problems with red ruining easier than other colors, this card is extremely difficult to find in good condition. Are you the lucky person with one?
1948 Bowman #6 Yogi Berra Rookie Card Should Be Worth More
We’re shocked that this card, while valuable, isn’t worth more. On possible reason is the black and white print used for it. Colored cards tend to be more valuable and looked for by collectors with money to spend.
This picture of Berra shows him just before his legendary career took off. Rookie cards are almost always more valuable than non-rookie cards, and this Yogi Berra Bowman card from 1948 is no different.
1933 Goudey #181 Babe Ruth Is Another Iconic Look
This beautiful card from the 1933 Goudey collection is known as the “Green Ruth” and is the least valuable of the four Babe Ruth cards included in the set. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless!
If you happen to have this card, it’s easily worth several thousand dollars. If you have the whole set, and it has been preserved in mint condition, then you are sitting on a goldmine (as our article title says).
1952 Topps #407 Eddie Mathews Rookie Card Is The Only One That Matters
Eddie Matthews was a great baseball player, and if you want to profit off his success, you need to have his 1952 rookie card from Topps. It is the only Matthews card with value today, and it has tremendous value.
This card, numbered 407 in the set, is not easy to find in good condition. Because of its number placement, it was usually positioned at the bottom corner of print sheets, which led to more immediate damage to the card.
1933 Goudey #144 Babe Ruth Is Similar To The Green Ruth
This “Full Body Ruth” is the last of the four 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth cards on this list. It was produced in larger numbers than the others, making it inherently less valuable.
Despite this, it is harder to find the Babe Ruth card in good condition, meaning if you have that PSA 10 version sitting around, it could be worth more than its package mates. Is it hiding somewhere in your collection?
1887 N172 Old Judge Cap Anson Is Royalty
To us, it’s surprising that what is considered part of one of the most important card sets in baseball history isn’t higher on this list. The reason, no doubt, is that Cap Anson is not the household name today he was in 1887.
This series of cards included two versions of Cap Anson. One of him in his uniform and another in other clothes. The card of him in his uniform is harder to find and more valuable.
1909-11 T206 White Border Christy Mathewson Is A Portrait Of Value
The T206 baseball card collection is home to three distinct Christy Matthewson cards. There is the one of him in a dark cap, one in a white cap, and another close-up portrait picture of the Hall of Famer
The portrait image is the most popular three of the set, and for good reason. The details are impeccable, as was Matthewson’s career. He won 30 games four times and owned a career ERA of 2.13.
1911 T205 Gold Border Ty Cobb Is Beautiful
This valuable card belongs to a pre-war set of baseball cards and comes adorned with a gold border. Sadly, as beautiful as the border is, it is also prone to chipping, making this card as rare as it is valuable.
Cobb’s 1911 season only increased the value of the card, as well. That year he had 127 runs batted in, scored 147 runs of his own, and had a batting average of .420.
1933 Goudey #92 Lou Gehrig Gives Ruth A Run For His Money
Similar to the other Lou Gehrig on this list, the #92 Goudey card from 1933 holds some magic of its own. This one has a white border and a lighter blue background.
Why it’s less valuable than the #160 is anyone’s guess. Gehrig was a great Yankee during his time on the field, and turned into a heartbreaking story in retirement. This card celebrates his life, which saw him be the sports “Iron Man” until Cal Ripken Jr. came along.
1954 Wilson Franks #20 Ted Williams Is Meaty
You might notice on this 1954 Ted William card the package of hot dogs in the top left corner. Packaged with the regional meat product, the card is rare today, and usually found in poor condition.
Any of these cards that are in good condition, in fact, are believed to have been packaged separately from the hot dogs and kept safe. If you are lucky enough to have one of these cards, it could be worth taking to your local auction house.
1954 Topps #94 Ernie Banks Rookie Card Is His Only Rookie Card
As far as Ernie Banks rookie season goes, this is the only card recognized for it. It is one of the most valuable cards of the 1954 Topps set, which also features Hank Aaron and Al Kaline rookie cards.
For Cubs fans, this has become a must-own card. It features a portrait of Banks along with a full body shot, as well as the Cubs mascot. Was Banks your favorite Cub?
1914 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb Rakes
Ty Cobb cards are some of the most looked for by collectors. You could assemble a whole set of Cobb cards, but no set would be complete with his 1914 Cracker Jack card.
You could also get away with a 1915 version, which is identical but was printed on thicker paper and turned upside down. The 1914 version is actually less valuable (1915 was earlier on this list) despite being harder to find in good condition.