1869-2022: The Most Valuable Baseball Card Sold From Every Year (Almost)

As an internet sports auction house that specializes in matching quality consignments with experienced bidders, we’re fascinated with how baseball card prices serve as a proxy for people’s connection to not just sports, but to nostalgia and culture. While there are lots of cards made every year that have some interest among hobbyists, there’s always one that rises above the rest and ends up fetching the highest price at auction.

To learn more about this, we used Card Ladder’s “Sales History” tool to look up the highest “sold price” of a card made in every year from 1869 to 2022. There are a few gaps where there doesn’t seem to be a notable card that was made that year, but we came up with 138 years where there was one special card that rose above the rest and sold for more money at auction than any other.

To help us make sense of the different eras of the baseball card collecting hobby, we called in three experts:

Ryan Friedman, Owner of Auction Report
Rich Mueller, Editor of Sports Collectors Daily
Michael Osacky, Owner of Baseball in the Attic and Lead Appraiser at PSA

Note: Please remember that these prices are a snapshot in time; the hobby is constantly evolving and changing, and these record prices are regularly broken. Additionally, this list was made using Card Ladder, whose data might not necessarily include some offline auctions.

1869-1908: The Pre-T206 Era

Please note that the cards in the collage are not the exact dimensions or cards that were sold from every year.
  • 1869: Peck & Snyder Cincinnati Red Stockings Trade Card – $26,400*
  • 1870: John Gihon Studios Athletic B.B.C. Carte de Visite – EX/NM 6 – $10,200
  • 1871: Mort Rogers Photographic Scorecard Charles Gould – $33,600
  • 1872: Mort Rogers Photographic Scorecard Harry Wright – $83,650
  • 1873: Boston Base Ball Club Team Cabinet Card – SGC GOOD 2 – $17,925
  • 1875: Prescott & White Hartford Dark Blues – SGC EX/NM 6 – $14,340
  • 1878: Boston Red Stockings Baseball Club Team Cabinet Card – SGC VG/EX 4 – $50,400
  • 1879: Buffalo Bisons Team Cabinet Card – SGC EX 5 – $7,200
  • 1882: H804-11 Cosack & Co. Trade Card Pair Shortstop & 3rd Baseman – PSA VG EX 4, EX 5 – $1,200
  • 1886: N167 Old Judge Cigarettes Tim Keefe – SGC EX 5.5 – $46,400
  • 1887: N172 Old Judge Cigarettes King Kelly – PSA MT 9 – $104,400 **
  • 1888: N28 Allen & Ginter Cap Anson – PSA MT 9 – $111,000
  • 1892: Columbus Reds Baseball Club Cabinet Card $660
  • 1893: Just So Tobacco C.L. Childs – PSA EX-MT 6 – $32,588 ***
  • 1894: N142 Honest (Duke) Ed Delahanty – PSA 4 VG-EX – $29,012
  • 1895: N300 Mayo’s Cut Plug Kid Nichols – PSA EX 5 – $24,000
  • 1896: Page Fence Giants Ad Card – SGC VG/EX 4 – $14,340
  • 1899: M101-1 Sporting News Honus Wagner – $10,200
  • 1901: Terre Haute Hottentots Team Cabinet Photo w/Mordecai Brown – SGC VG EX 4 – $7,200
  • 1902: W600 Sporting Life Honus Wagner (Street Clothes) – SGC EX 5 – $264,000
  • 1903: E107 Breisch-Williams Honus Wagner – SGC VG/EX 4 – $348,000
  • 1904: W600 Sporting Life Cabinets Honus Wagner Pitts. N.L. Uniform Type 3 – PSA GOOD 2 – $22,626
  • 1905: W600 Sporting Life Cabinets Honus Wagner Pitts. N.L. Uniform Type 4 – PSA GOOD+ 2.5 – $26,316
  • 1906: Ullman Postcards Christy Mathewson – SGC VG 3 – $7,800
  • 1907: Dietsche Postcards Ty Cobb Fielding – PSA EX-MT 6 – $69,000
  • 1908: Rose Company Postcards Ty Cobb – SGC EX/NM 6 – $72,000

* This card sold for $80,000 in 2013 and $63,000 and $49,200 in 2021 and but the auctions are not on Card Ladder.
**Honorable mention for 1887’s N172 Old Judge Cap Anson (in uniform), which is one of rarest cards in existence and would likely sell for over $1M at auction. Additionally, a rare N172 Old Judge Deacon White sold for $130,000 but is not on Card Ladder.
*** A Just So Jesse Burkett sold for $87,000 last year but the transaction is not on Card Ladder.

Ryan: There is nostalgia about this era because the 1800s were the birth of baseball. These items themselves, in and of themselves, are the first. They are highly collectible, and the fact that they’ve survived this length of time is the driving force of collecting them. The fact that you can find cards that are from the birth of baseball. The quantities that exist, the popularity, the low population reports. It’s funny, the old cards from the 1800s and 1900s, just the design, the colorful ones, the integrity of the cards, the quality, they’re capturing a different time. No one is alive that saw them play, so it’s a piece that’s telling a story from America’s pastime. That’s what drives the collectability of it.

Rich: What makes these cards interesting is the history and the personalities of the players. People like Billy Sunday, or Cap Anson, (who was not a great humanitarian of his time) and one of the greatest players of his time, Mike “King” Kelly.. There are a lot of wild stories about guys who played back then. The cards from that time period are accessible, but not cheap. When you can say you own a card of a someone who played over 125 years ago, the history is irresistible to a lot of people who appreciate that kind of thing.

1909-1934: Honus & Babe

Please note that the cards in the collage are not the exact dimensions or cards that were sold from every year.
  • 1909: T206 Sweet Caporal White Border Honus Wagner – SGC VG 3 – $6,606,296
  • 1910: T210 Old Mill (Series 8) Joe Jackson – PSA VG+ 3.5 – $600,000
  • 1911: T205 Gold Border Ty Cobb – PSA NM-MT 8 – $420,000
  • 1912: E300 Plow’s Candy Honus Wagner – PSA NM 7 – $312,000
  • 1913: M101-3 Sporting News Ty Cobb – SGC VG 3 – $46,800
  • 1914: Baltimore News Babe Ruth – $517,000
  • 1915: Cracker Jack #103 Joe Jackson – PSA EX 5 – $228,000
  • 1916: M101-4 Sporting News #151 Babe Ruth – PSA EX-MT 6 – $1,500,000
  • 1917: E135 Collins-McCarthy #147 Babe Ruth – SGC NM-MT 8 – $660,000
  • 1918: Zeenut PCL Sam Crawford – PSA GOOD+ 2.5 – $4,042
  • 1919: W514 Hand Cut #15 Joe Jackson – PSA MINT 9 – $79,800
  • 1920: M101-6 Felix Mendelsohn Babe Ruth – SGC GOOD+ 2.5 – $42,864
  • 1921: E121 American Caramel Babe Ruth – PSA NM 7 – $337,906
  • 1922: V61 Neilson’s Chocolate (Type II) Babe Ruth – PSA VG-EX+ 4.5 – $91,294
  • 1923: W515-1 #47 Babe Ruth – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $63,600
  • 1924: Tomas Gutierrez #14 Oscar Charleston – SGC EX 5 – $40,800
  • 1925: Exhibit Supply Co. Lou Gehrig – PSA EX 5 – $1,032,000
  • 1926: Exhibits (Postcard Back) Babe Ruth Bat Follow Through – PSA VG-EX+ 4.5 – $30,000
  • 1927: FC59 Honey Boy Ice Cream #14 Babe Ruth – PSA EX 5 – $24,000
  • 1928: Tabacalera La Morena #105 Babe Ruth & Ty Cobb – SGC VG/EX+ 4.5 – $27,600
  • 1929: Star Player Candy #32 Lou Gehrig – PSA PR 1 – $30,000
  • 1930: Rogers Peet #48 Babe Ruth – SGC NM-MT 8 – $8,706
  • 1931: W517 #4 Babe Ruth – SGC MINT 9 – $18,600
  • 1932: U.S. Caramel #32 Babe Ruth – PSA MINT 9 – $432,000

Ryan: The Honus Wagner cards, the Babe Ruth rookie cards, this era is where the giant price increases come. The Honus Wagner T206 card is the face of the hobby. It begins to pop up, 1909, that’s the most famous card in our hobby and that’s always the headline. There’s less than 80 of them that exist, and when it comes up, it’s always been the card that sells for the most money. There are various other Wagners that you see sell from that time period. 

Other than Wagner, it’s Ty Cobb, it’s Babe Ruth, it’s Joe Jackson, these are the guys who drive up the prices. After you get past the 1880s to 1900s, it’s always those names.

The T206 Wagner is valuable because of rarity. It’s one of the rarest cards there is, and it’s the story. Him not wanting his cards in tobacco products, not making that many. It’s a rare card, extremely difficult to find. Everyone’s always money off this card, it always goes up, it doesn’t go down, in any condition.

Rich: Honus Wagner was definitely one of the superstars of this time period. A lot of the interest in him as a player over the years stems from the mystique surrounding his baseball card. You don’t hear the same interest in Nap Lajoie, who was also an excellent baseball player. In many ways, he was on the same star level with Wagner at the time but even if you’re not an avid collector of baseball cards, a lot of people know about the T206 Wagner. It’s a cultural icon.

Maybe if you can’t own a T206 Wagner, you can own another card of him that actually looks fairly similar. There are a lot of different cards that use the same pose that are available for a lot less money.

You can have a tangible association with some of these players who are famous or infamous in the game; Joe Jackson is kind of a tragic figure. You might have to pay a significant amount of money, but you can own a piece of this guy’s career. I have a 1919 World Series program, and I think to myself, what was the person thinking when they had this in their hand at the time? Did they see something amiss with the play on the field at the time?

Because of the rising prices in the higher-grade material, you see a little bit of a trickle-down effect. For years, some of Babe Ruth’s lesser known stuff wasn’t always sought after, but people are going after some of that now. Even if you can’t afford to spend five figures on a nice Goudey Ruth, there are others out there that are available so you can still say you own an original Babe Ruth card and that’s pretty cool.

I also think that there’s a lot of value in the contemporaries of Ruth and Gehrig. Mel Ott, Dizzy Dean. Hank Greenberg. Carl Hubbell. All were great players and there are some tragic or interesting stories in some of those players from the 1930s. Sam Rice lost his entire family to a tornado in Indiana when he was an active player. There’s a lot of players on the periphery who are well-known to baseball fans and history lovers, but their cards are more affordable. That creates a lot of opportunity for people who want some cool cards from an era beyond just Babe Ruth.

Michael: I think content and education are important for vintage. Nobody saw Ty Cobb play baseball 100 years ago. To relive that moment is important for content. People always say, “All these players are dead, why would someone buy a card about someone who they didn’t see play?” 

Here we are decades later and things have never been stronger. The T206 set, for example, has never struggled for eyeballs. With the T206 set, there are a ton of different ways to collect a set. Teams, bats, different poses, different colors, etc. Our hobby technically started with the T206 set, it’s the holy grail. Pre 1910, pre 1911, people don’t really like to collect as much.

1933 – 1950: DiMaggio, World War II, and Jackie

Please note that the cards in the collage are not the exact dimensions or cards that were sold from every year.
  • 1933: Goudey #53 Babe Ruth – PSA MINT 9 – $4,212,000
  • 1934: Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg – PSA MINT 9 – $218,579
  • 1935: Zeenut P.C.L. Joe DiMaggio – PSA EX 5 – $33,600
  • 1936: V355 World Wide Gum #51 Joe DiMaggio – SGC NM/MT 8.5 $117,604
  • 1937: O-Pee-Chee #118 Joe DiMaggio – PSA NM-MT 8 – $99,630
  • 1938: Goudey #274 Joe DiMaggio – PSA MINT 9 – $288,000
  • 1939: Play Ball #92 Ted Williams – PSA MINT 9 – $480,000
  • 1940: Play Ball #1 Joe DiMaggio – PSA NM-MT 8 – $31,200
  • 1941: Play Ball #71 Joe DiMaggio – PSA GM MINT 10 – $750,000
  • 1943: Parade Sportive #89 Jackie Robinson – BGS EX 5 – $10,200
  • 1947: Bond Bread Jackie Robinson – PSA NM 7 – $50,933
  • 1948: Leaf #79 Jackie Robinson – PSA NM-MT 8 – $468,000
  • 1949: Bowman #50 Jackie Robinson – PSA MINT 9 – $510,000
  • 1950: Bowman #22 Jackie Robinson – PSA MINT 9 – $122,547

Rich: Ted Williams is really undervalued from this period; if you think about what he did even though he lost multiple seasons to military service. He was the last guy to hit .400. A Triple Crown winner. War hero. Even though prices have gone up, he’s still undervalued for his place in the game.

Joe DiMaggio didn’t have a lot of cards, so there’s a pretty limited number of them out there, I think he’s actually a little undervalued too. He and Williams were the most well-known players of the 1940s. War era superstars who carried themselves like the big shots they were. Sometimes you have to look beyond their rookie cards to find value with them. When you can’t afford something that seems really desirable there’s something around the bend. Ted Williams’ 1941 Play Ball card and both of his ‘54 Topps cards are beautiful.

Michael: In 1933 and 1934, the Goudey sets are special. 239 cards, littered with Hall of Famers. Four Babe Ruths, two Lou Gehrigs, two Jimmie Foxx’s. Collectors love that set. That was the first set to pair bubblegum and baseball cards. A lot of people think that came into fruition in the 1950s, but Goudey gum company was the first company to pair gum and cards together.

Some of the stains from gum (1930s) and chocolate (1920s) are too bad, but it gives legitimacy. The cards came with food, so they should have a stain. Cracker Jack cards should have some caramel stains, because that’s how they came. The 33 Goudeys with bubblegum don’t really have stains. Once you get to the early 50s, cards start to have bubblegum stains on the backs.

In the early 1940s, you had cards coming with Bond Bread. There are a few Jackie Robinson cards in there. If you go read some of the auction descriptions on Love of the Game for 1947 Bond Bread Jackie Robinson cards, the consignor was the original owner. The story is incredible.

Cards were largely not allowed to be produced during World War 2 because of paper shortages. There were some obscure, non mainstream issues that came into fruition that did it on their own. 

1951 – 1969: Mickey and the Rookies

Please note that the cards in the collage are not the exact dimensions or cards that were sold from every year.
  • 1951: Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle – PSA MINT 9 – $750,000
  • 1952: Topps #311 Mickey Mantle – PSA NM-MT 8 – $5,200,000
  • 1953 Bowman #59 Mickey Mantle – PSA MINT 9 – $473,794
  • 1954: Topps #128 Hank Aaron – PSA MINT 9 – $645,000
  • 1955: Topps #164 Roberto Clemente – PSA MINT 9 – $1,107,000
  • 1956: Topps #135 Mickey Mantle (Gray Back) – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $382,400
  • 1957: Topps #95 Mickey Mantle – PSA MINT 9 – $209,794
  • 1958: Topps #187 Sandy Koufax – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $449,389
  • 1959: Topps #514 Bob Gibson – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $324,000
  • 1960: Topps #300 Hank Aaron – PSA MINT 9 – $90,000
  • 1961: Topps Dice Game Mickey Mantle – PSA PR 1 – $372,000
  • 1962: Topps #200 Mickey Mantle – PSA MINT 9 – $314,579
  • 1963: Topps #537 Pete Rose – SGC GEM MINT 10 – $264,000
  • 1964: Topps #50 Mickey Mantle – PSA MINT 9 – $68,125
  • 1965: Topps #16 Joe Morgan – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $144,000
  • 1966: Topps #110 Ernie Banks – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $49,200
  • 1967: Topps #581 Tom Seaver – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $344,400
  • 1968: Topps #177 Nolan Ryan – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $600,000
  • 1969: Topps #260 Reggie Jackson #260 – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $1,005,600

Michael: For the old money, people who have been involved for decades, nostalgia is important. People can remember seeing Mickey Mantle hit a home run. They saw Ernie Banks run the bases. But when it comes to trading cards, a lot of these things are cool to look at. Great designs, it’s a combination of your favorite player from the era, mixed with cool design of the card, that’s popular. 

1951 was Joe Dimaggio’s final season, and we move on to Mickey Mantle and what people call his two rookie cards in 1951 and 1952. Of his two cards, I think the 1951 Bowman might have greater potential price appreciation in five years. 

The story behind the 1952 Topps is interesting. It’s a high number card, #311, and it was printed and distributed very late in the season, late fall. That time of year, kids want to spend their money on football cards, not baseball cards. The high number cards were not selling at all. Near 1960, Cy Berger, the CEO of Topps, realized he had to get rid of all these cards and fast. He rented a barge, loaded up all the cards, and dumped all the cards into the Atlantic Ocean. We know there were a ton of Mickey Mantle rookie cards in there. One of the reasons why the 1952 Topps is worth more than the 1951 Bowman. 

Rich: The postwar designs got a lot better, and the technology improved quite a bit, and they started looking at adding facsimile autographs to cards. Bowman’s early 1950s baseball and football cards are truly little pieces of art. Then they put out their 1953 set which had some of the best photography ever turned into baseball cards.

In response, Topps started focusing on photography and large size cards beginning in 1954 when they incorporated two images on a card. Then they went to a horizontal image in ‘55 and ‘56. The photography was the centerpiece in 1957 with some great stadium backgrounds. You can see the photography continue to improve, as it gets clearer and sharper. The 1957 set is iconic because of the photography.

In the 1960s, they tried different designs and things, but Topps had a monopoly and it just seems like they didn’t really want to push the envelope anymore. Without any real competition, the emphasis became about sales and making more money.

Ryan: The 1952 Topps Mantle is always going to be the representative card of collecting in the 1950s.

1970 – 1991: The Beginning of the Modern Hobby

Please note that the cards in the collage are not the exact dimensions or cards that were sold from every year.
  • 1970: Topps #712 Nolan Ryan – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $132,000
  • 1971: Topps #5 Thurman Munson – PSA MINT 9 – $199,999
  • 1972: Topps #435 Reggie Jackson – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $114,000
  • 1973: Topps #615 Mike Schmidt (Rookie Third Basemen) – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $234,000
  • 1974: Topps #456 Dave Winfield – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $74,400
  • 1975: Topps #228 George Brett – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $186,000
  • 1976: Topps #98 Dennis Eckersley – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $42,000
  • 1977: Topps Unissued Proof Reggie Jackson – SGC MINT 9 – $66,000
  • 1978: Topps #36 Eddie Murray – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $59,040
  • 1979: Topps #116 Ozzie Smith – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $222,000
  • 1980: Topps #482 Rickey Henderson – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $180,100
  • 1981: Topps #240 Nolan Ryan – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $4,618
  • 1982: Topps Traded #98T Cal Ripken Jr. – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $20,100
  • 1983: O-Pee-Chee #143 Tony Gwynn – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $13,078
  • 1984: Fleer Update #U-27 Roger Clemens – BGS PRISTINE 10 – $8,400
  • 1985: Topps Tiffany #401 Mark McGwire – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $27,800
  • 1986: Topps Traded Tiffany #11T Barry Bonds – BGS PRISTINE 10 – $40,800
  • 1987: Donruss Opening Day #163A Barry Bonds (Error – Johnny Ray Pictured) – BGS PRISTINE 10 – $31,200
  • 1988: Best Platinum #1 Ken Griffey Jr. – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $13,762
  • 1989: Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey Jr. – BGS PRISTINE 10 – $24,364.33
  • 1990: Topps #414 Frank Thomas (NNO Error) – BGS MINT 9 – $22,000
  • 1991: Topps Desert Shield #333 Chipper Jones – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $21,588

Michael: I think in the mid to late 70s, a couple of things happened. Mickey Mantle had retired, the cards became a little bit of thing because in 75, the technology of the printing presses changed. They were able to mass produce the cards around the clock. People started to realize if Topps is mass producing these there must be some demand. At the same time, the hobby started to formalize. The first baseball card shows started to occur. They started to advertise in the classified ads, looking for this Mickey Mantle, looking for this Honus Wagner. People started to realize, maybe there’s something here.

Some call the late 1980s the Junk Wax Era. Everything was overproduced until 1994. There are some great rookies from the early to mid 1980s. The 1985 Topps Clemens rookie card, the 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken Jr. Some great rookies, but ten years from now, I don’t think there will be great price appreciation there. Mark McGwire, Bonds, they’ve all been caught with steroids. I think those Bonds cards may actually go down in price. 

Ryan: When you get to the 1970s and 1980s, you’re going to see an increase in the number of cards that are out there, the cards that people are starting to collect and actually save. A lot of it has to do with production numbers. You might have the 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson card, and the population report on it is that there could be 10,000 cards that were printed and exist and have been graded. The overall quantity of these cards in the 70s and 80s is much higher, much larger overall numbers. You need a card that’s graded “10” to hit those top prices. 

As more and more time goes by, the 1970s prices will rise for the extremely rare cards. The last couple of years have been the hockey stick kind of growth, but it’s going to change to steady growth.

1992 – 2008: Derek Jeter and the Refractors

Please note that the cards in the collage are not the exact dimensions or cards that were sold from every year.
  • 1992: Little Sun High School Prospects Derek Jeter – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $12,850
  • 1993: Upper Deck SP Premier Prospects #279 Derek Jeter Foil – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $600,000
  • 1994: Upper Deck #15 Alex Rodriguez Foil Die-Cut – PSA GEM MINT 10 $115,200
  • 1995: Topps Finest #118 Ken Griffey Jr. Refractor w/ Coating – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $5,160
  • 1996: Select Certified #100 Derek Jeter Mirror Gold – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $202,102
  • 1997: Skybox E-X2000 #40 Ken Griffey Jr. – BGS NM-MT+ 8.5 – $33,100
  • 1998: Skybox Metal Universe #161 Ken Griffey Jr – BGS NM-MT 8 – $46,800
  • 1999: Metal Universe Gem Masters #238 Derek Jeter – PSA MINT 9 – $43,200
  • 2000: Topps Traded Autographs #TTA40 Miguel Cabrera – BGS GEM 9.5 – $11,000
  • 2001: Bowman Chrome Refractor Autograph #340 Albert Pujols – PSA GEM MINT 10 $462,000
  • 2002: SP Legendary Cuts #BBMMa Mickey Mantle Bat Barrel – PSA EX-MT 6 – $102,000
  • 2003: SP Legendary Cuts Autograph Babe Ruth – PSA/DNA – $32,400
  • 2004: Topps Originals Signature Edition Buyback #261 Willie Mays – SGC EX/MT 6 – $45,600
  • 2005: SP Legendary Cuts Babe Ruth Mickey Mantle Williams Foxx – PSA NM-MT 8 – $63,000
  • 2006: Bowman Draft Chrome Draft Picks #DP84 Clayton Kershaw Red Refractors – BGS MINT 9 – $85,200
  • 2007: Bowman Chrome Superfractor Autograph Fernando Martinez – $7,329
  • 2008: Upper Deck 1936: The First Class #TNBC-1 Cobb, Mathewson, Ruth, Johnson, Wagner – BGS GEM 9.5 – $90,000

Ryan: I would say that the card manufacturers went through a period in the 90s where they way overproduced everything. You have to balance making money and having rarity. What the manufacturers did over time was find a balance of artificially limited cards. There’s a different kind of collector where we are now. It’s almost geared toward gambling. There are card-breakers, pack-breakers. You’re kind of gambling to find that one card, the search for it. The fact that the game now is 24/7/365 on your phone. The younger generation that is in search of these cards, they’re in search of these manufactured limited cards. 

Michael: 1993 is Derek Jeter’s rookie card, but there’s only one that’s anointed. There are certain sets, and certain cards within the set that have been anointed, and it’s never going to change.

In the late 90s, card manufacturers started to get smarter. They said, “Our cards got mass-produced, how can we create intrigue and drive sales?” 

They started doing limited edition cards, insert cards, swatch cards, autographed cards. That helped a lot. Here we are today, and a lot of that stuff is super valuable. Today, there’s less focus on those special insert cards, and more focus on different parallels and variations, like refractors. 1 of 10 orange refractor, 1 of 5 red refractor, whatever, as opposed to signature cards or swatch cards. 

Rich: There was a really major explosion in the number of sets issued every year in the 90s.

There was Topps Stadium Club in ‘1991. Leaf produced their 1990 set that was considered high end at the time and was a big hit. You started seeing a lot of premium sets that were produced from that point on and competition really fueled a lot of that. The companies were always trying to outdo each other. There were a lot of advances in design.

Later in the 90s, you started seeing the jersey cards, then the in-pack autograph cards, and parallel sets which were unheard of before then. Parallels and inserts started becoming more popular than standard cards, because collectors love a chase. They want to find the Ken Griffey Jr. Refractor or a serial numbered card.

The hobby used to be about collecting sets, but as we got into the 90s, there were so many sets, and no chance for everyone collecting everything, so you had to pick and choose. It became more of a chase or a gambling game, rather than a hobby where you collect to complete a set of something.

The sales must have been proving to the card companies that this was a popular thing. With the rise in the cost of producing cards, they had to start making more of them and selling higher priced products. Collectors started really chasing after those because that was the piece de resistance of the hobby. Base cards in many ways became passe as we saw more and more inserts, parallels and autographs.

The attitude of younger collectors is much much different than when I was a kid. Their attitude toward collecting is so much different; they open a pack and discard everything except the autograph or relic card. It’s just a different time, a different era.

2009 – 2022: A New Asset Class

Please note that the cards in the collage are not the exact dimensions or cards that were sold from every year.
  • 2009: Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects #BDPP89 Mike Trout Autograph Superfractor – BGS MINT 9/BGS 10 – $3,840,000
  • 2010: Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects #BDPP78 Christian Yelich Autograph Superfractor – PSA MINT 9 – $111,000
  • 2011: Bowman Chrome #175 Mike Trout Superfractor – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $216,000
  • 2012: Panini Prizm #50 Mike Trout Gold – 10 BGS 9.5 GEM MINT – $37,528.51
  • 2013: Bowman Chrome #AJ Aaron Judge Superfractor – 10 BGS 9.5 GEM MINT – $324,000
  • 2014: Bowman Chrome Prospects #BCP73 Jacob DeGrom Superfractor – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $156,000
  • 2015: Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs #BCAP Cody Bellinger Red Refractors – BGS MINT 9/BGS 10 – $75,030
  • 2016: Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs #CPAVG Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Red Refractors – BGS 10 – $543,329
  • 2017: Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs #CPARA Ronald Acuna, Jr. Red Refractors – BGS PRISTINE 10/BGS 10 – $361,200
  • 2018: Bowman Chrome #SO Shohei Ohtani Red Refractors – PSA MINT 9 $312,000
  • 2019: Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs #WF Wander Franco Red Refractors – PSA GEM MINT 10- $193,000
  • 2020: Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs #CPAJDO Jasson Dominguez Superfractor – PSA GEM MINT 10 – $474,000
  • 2021: Topps Tier One #BR Babe Ruth Cut Signatures Relics – PSA MINT 9 $76,100
  • 2022: Topps 1st Edition #215 Wander Franco Platinum – PSA NM-MT 8 – $78,000

Ryan: A lot of the new cards at the top end are signed cards, where it’s one of a kind. Or it’s a special refractor of a card. Back in the day, there was just one card. There could be 18 different version of a card today, and 1 of the 18 is the card that’s worth the money. The #2-4 are the mid-range, and the rest are common. Go back to 1990, there’s literally one version of the card.

Imagining being that kid, being 8, 9, 10, 12, and collecting just seems so much harder. It’s way more expensive. You ask your parents what they paid for a pack of cards, back in the day it was 10 cents or a quarter. We paid a dollar. Today, a pack could be $20. The cost of entry has increased, just to have fun. Younger individuals, kids who are looking to buy and sell, they’re doing it more for the business, to make money, rather than fun to start. When you look 5 or 10 years down the road, will the prices keep going up, or will there be massive corrections? I hope younger generations are able to collect because it’s fun.

We’re in the now generation. You want instant success. Sometimes when you buy a card, you have to take a loss. You buy a card for $5k, and it goes down to $4k. We have a generation that doesn’t understand that sometimes you have to sell and buy something else. I find a lot of new people who are younger haven’t had that experience of cutting your losses and re-investing.

Michael: Some of the modern higher-end cards are going for six or seven figures. I think a lot of it is pure speculation, and look out down below. A guy hits three home runs in a game, but three weeks later he gets injured or traded. All of a sudden that million dollar card is $300,000. There’s a lot of money being lost, and a lot of people are getting wrecked, and they might not come back into the hobby. They’re getting wrecked with Franco, Acuna, Doncic. 

We need those people. There’s a vintage market, and a modern card market, and I worry about that. 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen more and more young people, which is great, but I do feel like there are too many people who are trying to chase the dollar. These people go from gimmick to gimmick. They go from the meme stocks, AMC to Gamestop, to crypto, to Luka Dončić cards, NFTs. It’s the newest hottest thing they flock to, and they get burned every time. 

When the overall market tanks, and we go into recession, someone who bought something a year ago might be down on it. Long-term, hopefully the prices increase.

Rich: It’s really hard to predict what the market will do. Some people think we’re just in the early stages of this incredible explosion of what’s happened in the last couple of years, and their cards will become a major asset class for people who want to invest 6 or 7 figures into non-traditional investments. Others look at these prices and say this can’t possibly continue because it’s such a huge gamble. We can look at today’s players and say Mike Trout is a sure thing, but there’s nothing that says that he won’t suffer some kind of injury in the next year and doesn’t regain anything close to what he had at the time he was great. I worry about people who invest in cards of players who are in the first year or second; Juan Soto seemed to be a can’t-miss player, and he’s struggling this year. Jacob deGrom is another one who looks like a sure thing at times but also can’t stay healthy. Who knows what the end result will be. It’s a huge gamble with huge rewards potentially, but if you’re playing the game at that high-end level, you need to be prepared to lose.

Love of the Game Auctions is an internet sports auction house catering to the passionate collector of memorabilia and cards, brought to you by longtime hobbyist Al Crisafulli.  Established in 2012 with the goal of being a trustworthy resource for hobbyists to buy and sell quality material, the company has quickly grown to be one of the most widely respected auction houses in the industry. Are you considering selling baseball cards or football cards, or sports memorabilia? Learn more about our consignment program today.

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