August 21, 2023

More Than Just Baseball: The Cards That Tell Jackie Robinson's Trailblazing Tale

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim
Shaiel Ben-Ephraim
More Than Just Baseball: The Cards That Tell Jackie Robinson's Trailblazing Tale

There are many genuinely great baseball players, and Jackie Robinson is undoubtedly one of them. He is the definition of an inner circle Hall of Famer. But Robinson was so much more than a fantastic player. The second baseman was one of the most important figures of the 20th century.

One of the most significant and necessary changes in American history was the development of the civil rights movement, which came to fruition with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Until then, African Americans could be legally discriminated against in many ways. Including withholding the right to vote. Although the Civil Rights Act didn’t come close to eliminating the specter of racism in the United States, it was the most crucial landmark yet in bringing racial justice to America. Historians today believe that blessed development started to gain steam with the integration of baseball, pioneered by Jackie Robinson in 1947.

What This Means For Jackie Robinson Cards

You may be wondering why I am telling you all this. You are interested in Jackie Robinson’s cards and didn’t sign up for a history lesson. I feel you. But it's a reminder of why Robinson’s cards are arguably more important than any other athletes. And that also means the profit potential is arguably more significant than with any player. Yes, that includes Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth.

Why? The athletic achievements of players can always be disputed. New statistical approaches have undermined the reputations of many baseball legends. Some now deny the greatness of early baseball greats like Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson because they played in a segregated (and therefore watered down) league. But no one will ever be able to dispute the importance of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the MLB color line. How important is the player for the heritage of the game? Every year, baseball marks Robinson’s first game on “Jackie Robinson Day,” when every player wears the No. 42 jersey he is famed for. Oh, and he is the only player to have his number retired by every team in the league.

You can’t deny a true civil rights pioneer. No one can change the inspiring story of how the Dodgers player stood up to racism bravely, accepting all insults and jeers in silence, letting his brilliance speak for itself.

Jackie Robinson, The Baseball Player

If Jackie had been a mediocre player, his story would be no less inspiring and essential. But his cards would be worth less. But luckily, Jackie Robinson was an incredible baseball player. He was an excellent baseball, football, basketball, and track and field star for UCLA. Won Rookie of the Year while breaking the color line, was an MVP, six-time All-Star, and batting champion, and won an unforgettable World Series with the Dodgers in 1955.

Robinson easily ranks among the 100 best baseball players of all time. Statistically, he was the best player in the game from 1949-1953. And he may be the best second baseman who ever lived. His only competition comes from Joe Morgan and Rogers Hornsby. And remember, because of the color barrier, he didn’t get into the MLB until he was 28. We sometimes forget just how good he was because of Robinson's astounding legacy.

1967 Venezuela Topps Jackie Robinson #184

1967 Venezuela Topps Jackie Robinson #1841967 Venezuela Topps Jackie Robinson #184

A PSA 6 sold for $1,729.

In 1967 Topps produced a Latin American version of its flagship release. It included 338 cards, including the Venezuelan Winter League stars, while the following 50 cards are of retired legends. The final 150 cards are of active MLB players. As you can see, it was essential to Topps that we know Jackie was retired. The card is poorly designed, with the lettering going over Jackie’s head. Nonetheless, anything from a Venezuela Topps release is cool in my book. And the 1967 Venezuela Topps Jackie Robinson #184 does feature a great shot.

1948 Swell Sport Thrills Jackie Robinson Dramatic Debut #3

1948 Swell Sport Thrills Jackie Robinson Dramatic Debut #31948 Swell Sport Thrills Jackie Robinson Dramatic Debut #3

A PSA 7 sold for $12,500.

How amazing is this? A contemporary card celebrating the historical importance of Jackie Robinson’s first appearance in the MLB on April 15, 1947. Yes, Philadelphia makes the set the same Philadelphia that made those epic football cards in the 1960s. This was a 20-card release designed to celebrate the 20 most significant moments in baseball history. And man, this was the most powerful moment of all. It is also one of the most beautiful of the early Jackie Robinson cards, showing him in a severe mood, with a classic background. Unfortunately, there are no copies of this graded above a PSA 7, or the card would be much higher in the charts. This entire great series is worth checking out.

2017 Panini National Treasures Jackie Robinson Auto and Game Used Material

2017 Panini National Treasures Jackie Robinson Auto and Game Used Material2017 Panini National Treasures Jackie Robinson Auto and Game Used Material

The raw card is currently on sale for $17,750.

National Treasures have certainly produced more attractive cards over the years. But they have yet to make many cards as crucial as the 2017 Panini National Treasures Jackie Robinson Auto and Game Used Material. Unfortunately, Panini makes unlicensed baseball cards, so it says Brooklyn, not Dodgers. The Dodgers logo on his cap and uniform is also airbrushed off. Still, this card allows us to admire the beautiful penmanship of this civil rights icon and legit game-used bat parts.

1947 Bond Bread Jackie Robinson (Portrait, Facsimile Autograph)

1947 Bond Bread Jackie Robinson (Portrait, Facsimile Autograph)1947 Bond Bread Jackie Robinson (Portrait, Facsimile Autograph)

A PSA 7 sold for $50,932.

The best-looking early Jackie card (by a mile, if you ask me) is from a set distributed with a loaf of homogenized bread. Take that Bowman and Leaf. While the more prominent card producers of the time were cutting out photos and placing them with ugly solid color backgrounds, Bond Bread probably couldn’t afford such pyrotechnics and just let this beautiful portrait on 1947 Bond Bread Jackie Robinson (Portrait, Facsimile Autograph) speak for itself. And man, does he rock that classic Dodgers cap. The facsimile auto is also beautifully done.

1956 Topps Jackie Robinson #30

1956 Topps Jackie Robinson #301956 Topps Jackie Robinson #30

A PSA 9 sold for $55,644.

The 1956 Topps Jackie Robinson #30 is easily the most attractive Topps card featuring the Hall of Famer. And that is not shocking, since the 1956 Topps Baseball release is arguably the most beautiful ever seen. After years of getting things wrong on Jackie’s cards, it is all perfect this time. The colors are perfectly balanced to show off that world-famous smile. Let’s ignore that it is a touched-up version of the portrait used for the 1955 card. The cap is perfectly drawn. And the action shot shows the legend in one of his trademark slides into home. As the last card to appear during Robinson’s career, it was a perfect way to say goodbye.

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There are two versions of this legendary card. The white back is far more common, and there are 4,902 PSA-graded copies. Meanwhile, the gray back has a population of around 2,000.

1954 Topps Jackie Robinson #10

1954 Topps Jackie Robinson #101954 Topps Jackie Robinson #10

A PSA 9 sold for $60,000.

The 1954 Topps Baseball is easily the least attractive of their early and iconic sets. The 1954 Topps Jackie Robinson #10 shows some of the issues that lead me to that conclusion. The ugly yellow background could have been better selected. But also, the picture's color is poorly done, obscuring Jackie’s endearing smile.

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Finally, the action pic of a throwing No. 42 is somewhat awkward. Still, this is a Jackie Robinson card from a classic set that sells accordingly. There is also a surprisingly high number of PSA 9s for this one. 22 sounds like too much, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some were tampered with.

1955 Topps Jackie Robinson #50

1955 Topps Jackie Robinson #501955 Topps Jackie Robinson #50

A PSA 9 sold for $93,000.

In retrospect, the 1955 Topps Jackie Robinson #50 card resembles its 1954 Topps predecessor. It also has a yellow background, and Robinson’s face is incorrectly adjusted for color. However, the 1955 version is a bit better in every regard. The background is more subtle and lets the images breathe. You can see Jackie’s wonderful smile better.

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The action shot is better, and it's nice to see the old-school Dodgers logo in the corner. It's worth noting that there is a PSA 10 out there. It sold for $44,317 in 2007 but should be worth several times that amount now.

1952 Berk Ross Jackie Robinson

1952 Berk Ross Jackie Robinson1952 Berk Ross Jackie Robinson

A PSA 9 sold for $105,000.

The best action shot of any of Jackie Robinson’s cards comes on the relatively unknown 1952 Berk Ross Jackie Robinson card. Of course, at this point, photographers didn’t have the technology to take action shots in games, as they do today.

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Therefore, this shot is clearly staged. But it is beautiful nonetheless. Far nicer than some of his more famous cards. And the lettering is pure class. The whole set is wonderful and includes Roy Campanella, Mickey Mantle, and others with the same glorious aesthetic.

1950 Bowman Jackie Robinson #22

1950 Bowman Jackie Robinson #221950 Bowman Jackie Robinson #22

A PSA 9 sold for $117,000.

The 1950 Bowman Baseball release is my favorite vintage baseball set of all. Each of the cards is hand drawn, with an unforgettable style that evokes American culture's spacious loneliness. The Robinson cards show the feeling of one player against a hostile world. I am probably reading too much into a bunch of baseball cards intended for kids, but there is tremendous depth here. Also, for whatever idiotic reason, Bowman never produced another Jackie Robinson card again.

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Because it is such a beautiful card and comes earlier than any of his Topps representations, I find it surprising to see the 1950 Bowman Jackie Robinson #22 card go for a relatively modest price. But collectors prefer Topps cards.

1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1

1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #11953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1

A PSA 9 sold for $251,500.

The 1953 Topps Baseball release is known as one of the most beautiful ever made, and for good reason. The 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1 is one of the more common cards in the set. But it's such a beauty, and it features an absolute legend. Therefore it is unsurprising that it has become one of the key cards in the set.

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And as always, number one cards in sets tend to take a beating because they were usually at the top when kids put these cards in rubber bands or the spokes of their bicycles. So finding one in good condition can be challenging.

1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson Rookie Card #79

1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson Rookie Card #791948 Leaf Jackie Robinson Rookie Card #79

A PSA 8 sold for $444,000.

Easily the most essential Jackie Robinson rookie card. The 1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson Rookie Card #79 has an instantly recognizable design and may be the most important card of the 1940s. The color scheme is deservingly iconic.

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However, the image of Jackie does not do him justice. We should also note that some believe this card came out in 1949, which would ironically make Robinson’s most famous rookie card a second-year card.

1949 Bowman Jackie Robinson #50

1949 Bowman Jackie Robinson #501949 Bowman Jackie Robinson #50

A PSA 9 sold for $522,750.

Card designers loved to put Jackie with a sharp red background. Therefore, the 1949 Bowman Jackie Robinson #50 is one of many cards with this type of design.

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Nonetheless, this is the most attractive early Jackie card. It captures his wonderful grin, one he had to repress far too often when facing racism from opposing players and fans.

1952 Topps Jackie Robinson #312

1952 Topps Jackie Robinson #3121952 Topps Jackie Robinson #312

A PSA 9 sold for $980,000.

This might get me canceled, but the 1952 Topps Jackie Robinson #312 card needs to be more overrated. Jackie was a veteran player and arguably even a smidge past his prime by this time. And sure, it is a lovely likeness of the legendary player. But the red background isn’t the best choice.

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The card goes for incredibly high prices because people prefer Topps cards over Leaf and Bowman, and the 1952 Topps Baseball series is beloved because of the Mantle card. Still, it's one of the more short-printed cards in the release, with only 1,119 PSA-graded cards.

The Most Expensive Jackie Robinson Baseball Cards

The best Jackie Robinson cards already go for very high prices. But I believe that his cards have a better prognosis for future value than any other vintage-era Hall of Famer. The reason is, of course, Jackie’s incredible cultural significance. It transcends baseball and sports altogether.

Some of the earlier non-Topps cards in particular are far less expensive than you would expect. And with low pop numbers, and great historical importance, they are great investments. But even the best known Topps cards and his rookies, will appreciate greatly over time.

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