December 19, 2023

The Most Expensive Baseball Cards of All Time

Eric Burgess
Eric Burgess
The Most Expensive Baseball Cards of All Time

Baseball cards have been around since the 1860s, following the game’s launch in league play. Baseball Cards didn’t start out as an expensive collectible - they were just something added to packs of cigarettes, gum, and candy to attract fans. Now, baseball cards are a multi-billion dollar industry appealing to collectors all over the world, with the most valuable baseball cards selling for over a million dollars, and many people making their living buying and selling them. In the last forty years, card prices have been on a steady rise and getting more expensive as the collector market has grown. While sports cards for all major sports are popular these days, the long history of over a hundred years of baseball cards has made them the most expensive type of professional sports collectible.

History of Expensive Baseball Cards

Since 1952, Topps Baseball Cards has been the main company producing baseball cards, producing some incredibly valuable cards in that time. Baseball card values can vary a lot depending on the player, the year, whether the card is from the player’s rookie year, the condition, and sometimes even because of a mistake in printing. While you can command the highest value with perfect, GM-MT (an abbreviation for Gem Mint, used in the PSA rating system) condition cards, even lesser condition copies of the rare cards on this list are super expensive and worth an awful lot of money. If you spot any of these cards in your home or at a yard sale, you will want to snap them up and get them professionally graded through PSA to maximize your profits. Before we take a look at the top 10 most expensive Baseball Cards ever sold here are some...

Most Expensive Baseball Cards: Honorable Mentions

Eddie Plank: 1909-11 T206 American Tobacco Company - $789,085

Like a T206 American Tobacco Company further up the list, no one is sure why there are so few of these baseball cards around. In the case of this particular Eddie Plank card, some think it had to do with Eddie Plank being stridently anti-tobacco and that he may have fought his image being used to sell cigarettes. Fewer than 100 T206 Plank cards are known to be still in existence. As a result, this sale for over three-quarters of a million dollars was for a card only rated as PSA 7. One can only imagine what a PSA 10 GM-MT copy would sell for in today’s market.

Eddie Plank: 1909-11 T206 American Tobacco CompanyEddie Plank: 1909-11 T206 American Tobacco Company

Jackie Robinson: 1952 Topps #312 - $984,000

Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson became a symbol of social justice when he broke the color barrier by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. By the time he left the MLB in 1956, he was a six-time National League all-star and was named the MVP in 1949. His jersey number, 42, was even retired by all baseball clubs in the league back in 1997 in a first for all major professional sports leagues.

In March 2021, Robinson’s 1952 Topps card was sold for almost a million dollars in NM condition with a PSA rating of 9.

Jackie Robinson: 1952 Topps #312Jackie Robinson: 1952 Topps #312

The 10 Most Expensive Baseball Cards

#10. Reggie Jackson: 1969 Topps Rookie Card #260 - $1,005,600

Just inside the million-dollar club is this baseball card of the great Reggie Jackson. This Reggie Jackson 1969 Topps Topps Baseball Card #260 was his Rookie Card and it was graded in GM-MT-PSA 10 condition. That helped the card sell in 2021 for this record price.

Jackson earned the nickname “Mr. October'' for his exceptional postseason hitting record while with the New York Yankees and the Oakland Athletics, both of whom he helped win consecutive World Series titles. Today, he’s still active in his seventies as a special advisor to the Houston Astros.

Rank 10: 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson PSA 10Rank 10: 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson PSA 10

#9. Mike Trout: 2011 Topps Update Platinum #US175 - $1,050,000

The only active player represented on this list is the exceptional Mike Trout, who is still on the Los Angeles Angels’ roster after more than a decade. This 2011 Topps Update Platinum #US175 BGS 9 gradedPlatinum line card was sold in July 2021 through the folks at PWCC auctions. Don’t be surprised if you spot this superstar again further up the list

Rank 9: Mike Trout 2011 Topps Update Platinum #US175Rank 9: Mike Trout 2011 Topps Update Platinum #US175

#8. Roberto Clemente: 1955 Topps Rookie Card #164 - $1,107,000

Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente was an 18-year veteran of the Pittsburgh Pirates and he has the distinction of being the first Latino to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was also a World Series champion twice, a 12-time Golden Glove winner, and an All-Star for 13 seasons. He tragically died in a plane crash at the age of 38 while on a charity mission.

Despite that sad end, Clemente’s impressive MLB career makes it no wonder that this this Roberto Clemente: 1955 Topps Rookie Card sold in 2021 for over a million dollars via Goldin Auctions.

Rank 8: 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente PSA 9Rank 8: 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente PSA 9

#7. Babe Ruth: #181 Green Background - PSA 9 Mint - $1,272,000.00

Babe Ruth was baseball's biggest superstar in the 1930s. He helped make up the Baseball Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1936, shortly after his twenty years on the field. For over four decades, he was a MLB all-time home run champion. Some of the most valuable baseball cards around recognize his landmark career. This Babe Ruth card is part of the same set as another high-value card further up the list that also features “The Babe”, but this one sold for a bit less despite also being a PSA 9 Mint copy of a card that is about ninety years old.

Rank 7: Babe Ruth: #181 Green Background Rank 7: Babe Ruth: #181 Green Background

#6. Babe Ruth: 1916 M101-4 Sporting News #151 blank back PSA 7 - $2,460,000

This is the second Babe Ruth card in the top list. It is not always easy to define a Babe Ruth rookie card, this varies from collector to collector. This is the first time this Babe Ruth 1916 M101-4 Sporting News #151 card being sold as PSA 7 and after 43 bids, it sold for over $2.4M in the Mile High Card auction. This beauty is the highest graded M101-4 card with a population of just 2 and none are graded higher. In 1916, Ruth was still playing for the Boston Red Sox. He only hit 7 home runs by the end of the season, very low considering his record of 714 career home runs.

Rank 6: Babe Ruth 1916 M101-4 Sporting News #151 PSA 7Rank 6: Babe Ruth 1916 M101-4 Sporting News #151 PSA 7

#5. Mike Trout: 2009 Bowman Draft Rookie Card - $3,840,000

Not all multimillion dollar sports cards are from the golden age of baseball. Mike Trout is still playing on the Los Angeles Angels’ team and has been an all-star for nearly every season since his debut. This BGS 9 graded rookie card of Mike Trout is from a special Topps line of unique cards. With a gold sheen added to this single copy card, it was signed by Trout himself and sold by Goldin Auctions for what was then a record $3.84M.

Not bad for stellar center-fielder and hitter Trout, who’s sure to be a future Hall of Famer like most of the players on this list.

Rank 5: 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Mike Trout SuperfractorRank 5: 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Mike Trout Superfractor

#4. Mickey Mantle: 1951 Bowman Rookie Card - $3,900,000

While you’ll see a more valuable Mickey Mantle baseball card further down the list, this Mickey Mantle rookie card from 1951 sold for $3.9 million as a PSA 9 in December 2022. In addition to his sparkling career, Mickey Mantle was a frequent guest at baseball card shows back in the 1980s as the baseball card collecting hobby was beginning to get more popular and the value of the cards started to get expensive. It’s no surprise that Mantle’s cards are so popular…and worth so much money.

Rank 4: Mickey Mantle 1951 Bowman Rookie CardRank 4: Mickey Mantle 1951 Bowman Rookie Card

#3. Babe Ruth: 1933 Goudey #53 - $4,212,000

Babe Ruth was baseball’s biggest star back in the 1930s. He was a member of the first Baseball Hall of Fame class in 1936, and it was right after his astonishing run from 1914-1935. For nearly forty years, he was Major League Baseball’s all-time home run champion, until Hank Aaron eclipsed his record in 1974.

The Babe’s most expensive card was sold in July 2021 for over $4 million dollars. In 1933, a year after he earned his final World Series title, the Goudey Gum Company printed a big card set with four different Babe Ruth cards. Other cards in the set sold for over $1 million but the most expensive card was 133 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth with a bright yellow background in MT condition (PSA 9) that sold for this dizzying sum. Many other Babe Ruth cards from The Sporting News M101-5 line and other companies have sold for significant figures as well - so much so that we could fill this list with just cards featuring “The Babe.”

Rank 3: 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth PSA 9Rank 3: 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth PSA 9

#2. Honus Wagner: 1909-1911 American Tobacco Company T206 - $7,250,000

Poor Honus Wagner, whom we deemed the “Six Million Dollar Man” in this list before because an SGC 3 copy of his extremely rare Honus Wagner: 1909-1911 American Tobacco Company T206 sold in the summer of 2021 for $6.6 million dollars. Even though a lower-grade SGC 2 copy sold in 2022 for $7.25 million, he dropped a slot on our list thanks to a new card sale featuring the one and only Commerce Comet. We’ll also note that a third copy graded as a PSA 2 sold for $3.75 million in the past, too.

The rarity of this series is part of the reason for the high value here, especially for relatively low-grade cards. Only 50 to 200 of these cards are believed to have ever been printed, so collectors are just thrilled to get a copy at all. This is why the value of his cards have been at the top of many more valuable card lists over the years, especially since a copy sold back in 2000 for the then-amazing price of $1 million dollars.

Wagner was no slouch on the field, with a career that included nearly 3,500 hits and over 700 stolen bases during his twenty-year career. Like Babe Ruth, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with the first group of players in 1936.

Rank 2: Honus Wagner T206Rank 2: Honus Wagner T206

#1. Mickey Mantle: 1952 Topps #311 SGC 9.5 - $12,600,000

For rare and expensive baseball cards, it’s hard to top the great Mickey Mantle for long. Multiple copies of this card have set records and this one has quite a story, too. While the card was issued in Mantle’s second year in the league, it was Topps’ first year printing cards and they were still figuring out how popular baseball cards would be.

Apparently they overprinted the first year set and for a long time, Topps had hundreds of cases of excess cards in storage that they desperately tried to sell to fans. Eventually, they discarded cases of them as trash and even dumped some boxes of them into the Atlantic Ocean. That certainly sounds like a bad idea now that a copy of this iconic 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle card in SGC 9.5 Mint condition fetched over $12 million dollars in August 2022.

Rank 1: Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps #311Rank 1: Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps #311

Baseball Card Getting More Expensive: Prices on the Rise

This roundup of some of the most expensive baseball cards is just the tip of the iceberg. In the last few years, the value of the most sought-after baseball cards have increased immensely. Numerous sports cards from personal collections have shown up in private auctions as well as major marketplaces, giving collectors a chance to pay top dollar for a piece of baseball history.

Many of the record-breaking prices listed here have been set in just the last couple of years, suggesting that we are at the beginning of a price surge. More record-breaking values look to be on the horizon. Keep your eyes peeled as you clean out your attic or wander a garage sale to find collectibles because the next million dollar card could be found just about anywhere.

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