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I have collected baseball cards since 1973, and almost everyone who knows this asks if the little cuts of cardboard are worth anything. No matter the audience, regardless of the year or circumstance, eventually someone will ask how much money you have stored away.
Yes, baseball cards are worth something, both in monetary and sentimental values.
That is, almost all baseball cards command a price, whether it be 1 cent or $1 million. If they are in good condition or better, they are worth something. Baseball card grading became an industry because baseball cards grew so much in value after the 1980s.
Not only do they have a price, they also could be valued by the person who owns them, because a particular card means something to them. Baseball cards are so valuable because the demand by so many people who want them, especially older versions.
Usually, when asked whether or not baseball cards are worth something, I take a deep breath, and exhale slowly while thinking how best to put it. Baseball cards have value. They’re just not terribly easy to sell, to cash in on the value.
The big questions usually are: How much can you make? Which cards are worth anything? And, the inevitable inquiry, Why do people pay so much?
There is no single answer to this, except maybe to say, unlimited depending on how much money you have to invest in baseball cards, and how much time you can dedicate to selling. The actual selling of baseball cards can be quite time-consuming.
There are indeed people out there who make their living selling baseball cards. There’s just not too many of them.
Are there particular baseball cards that are worth anything? See below for our Top 20 types.
Not all baseball cards are valuable. In fact, a vast, vast majority of them are worthless. Any significant damage to any part of a card, and Bam! No value.
Rare or unusual baseball cards can be expensive, mainly due to their rarity. It’s the same with coin collecting: the age and condition of the item mostly dictates its value. Experts in card collecting know the details of how baseball cards are graded, and even what might make particular cards valuable in coming years.
Ultimately, it’s just a matter of how badly someone wants it. Because there are people out there who want specific baseball cards, and are willing to pay for what the owner asks, card values go up.
Baseball cards are quite the unique commodity, as the sport maintains a long history and traditions, and certain older players remain very popular even long after retirement. A lot of people love Mickey Mantle, for example, and many of them might want just a single card from any year of The Mick just for personal satisfaction.
Baseball cards also were the first to gain mass popularity as trading cards. While there were other types of trading cards before it, baseball was the national pastime when printing them en masse became easier, so a lot of timing was involved.
Baseball cards have just been around a lot longer than cards for the other major sports, which all have struggled to make trading cards a big part of their operations.
New to baseball and struggling to figure out which players are popular, or which baseball cards may make you money down the road?
A solution for the novice collector is to keep an eye out for the types of baseball cards worth money. These are:
The very first printed baseball card of any player with his top-level team is called his rookie card. If you want to really gamble with cards, pick a handful of rookies coming up through the minor leagues, and buy their cards in bulk while they’re worth just pennies. Then you hope and pray some of them will become Hall of Famers over the next 15 years or so.
Note: Be sure a card is indeed the “rookie card” of a player before investing. Rookie cards may come out well before a player reaches the major leagues, and in fact a lot of minor league cards or even U.S. Olympic team cards are considered rookies. Also, in the past especially, Topps would include 3 or 4 “future stars” on a single card ~ and if 1 of them became a superstar, that was considered his “rookie card” even though he shared it. Notables for this are the Pete Rose and Nolan Ryan rookie cards of the 1960s.
These are cards that had some sort of an error on them, either during the print process, or something found later like an objectionable part of a photo. Mostly these are cards with misspellings or other text errors, which when fixed by the manufacturer reduced the amount of a version or a revised version.
Some of these cards are extremely valuable, like the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken ~ because of an offensive phrase teammates wrote on the bottom of his bat knob as a joke. A mint version with the phrase can be listed for over $10,000. The fixed version? A few bucks, depending on whether it was blacked out, or image-edited out. There are many types of error cards, including those mis-cut from a printed sheet; photo mistakes (like Ripken’s); photos printed backward; wrong set number listed; or just flat-out missing information on a card.
An authentic autograph on a baseball card of any star player carries value. These cards, when graded by a professional grading company, are assessed only by the card itself, as if the ink was not there. However, add the ink, and as long as it’s not smeared, or the card otherwise damaged, the value is what someone is willing to pay for it. That is, more than the card without the John Hancock.
Longtime baseball collectors will usually have a cutoff year for cards they prefer, like “pre-1970s” (very popular), or “before 1980” (quite common). Older cards are more valuable because there are fewer of them, and fewer versions in sellable condition. Every year a card rests with an owner there is potential for water damage, or for a box to be dropped, or even (gasp!!) for them to be thrown away by mom. Every card destroyed in a set increases the value of the others ~ because they are harder to find.
From the 1950s to 1980, Topps held a monopoly on cards featuring MLB players. A court decision opened the door for competition, and in 1981, Fleer and Donruss introduced sets. Soon the race was on and over the years many card companies came and went. A big change immediately was in the quality of the cards, and the quantity. Most 1980s cards, for instance, carry little value because the manufacturers printed so many. In general, cards before 1981 are worth more. It might be easier to say “1970s and before,” which some collectors do often.
Cards from some series, like the 1971 Topps with black edges that are easily chipped, are even more valuable if maintained in near-perfect condition. The 1975 Topps is a good example, with its color bleed to the edge of the front, making dings, dents, and chips more noticeable. Most baseball cards have white edges which can better mask flaws. Not so with the dark edges.
These are individual cards valued by collectors more so than others for a unique reason. See the 1976 Topps “Bubble Gum Blowing Champ” card as an example. It’s complete with the bracketed tournament results on the backside (won by Kurt Bevacqua of the Brewers in a memorable shot on the front side).
Some baseball cards are valued more by collectors due to the photo included, such as the 1973 Topps Reggie Jackson, or the Pete Rose card of the same year ~ because he was captured in a goofy pose watching a foul ball in game play. Older cards were more notable for real “in action” shots than many more modern sets.
These are cards that are manufactured with the main photo “sideways,” or in printing terms, in landscape view. If not every card of a set is in landscape style, then the few that are can be more desirable than others. See Steve Garvey, 1974 Topps.
Unusual Team Baseball Cards
Long before the Washington Nationals joined the major leagues, the San Diego Padres were rumored to move to Washington, D.C. Topps for whatever reason began printing cards in 1974 before even knowing what the team name would be, e.g. “Washington NAT’L LEA” for a general National League team. However they changed their minds, so you can find old Dave Winfield rookies where he’s either playing for the Padres, or some mysterious D.C. team. Of course the Padres never moved, making Topps change the cards back accordingly ~ making both versions more valuable than normal.
Almost every season, a baseball player breaks a significant Major League Baseball record, like Aaron Judge hitting 62 home runs in 2022 to break the American League all-time record of 61 long held by Roger Maris. The year after, a manufacturer might produce a special card to celebrate the record ~ or even multiple cards in a mini series.
These cards celebrate a player reaching a certain MLB milestone, like Cal Ripken playing in the most consecutive games ever, or Hank Aaron topping Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. The special Aaron cards in the 1975 Topps set come to mind.
In 1975, a warning about a potential national paper shortage nudged Topps to produce smaller cards than normal, during an already very popular set. The mini versions are worth more than the regular versions, especially the rookie cards of Robin Young and George Brett.
These are the small “series within a series” cards that are all connected in some way, like the photograph puzzle on the backside of some of the 1972 Topps “In Action” cards. Collectors needed to get all 6 pieces to get the complete photo of the player ~ like a puzzle!
Some collectors will put on the market every single baseball card for a single player, a la Pete Rose during his whole career. These single-player lots are worth quite a bit. This was much easier to do when Topps was the only card-maker, as today there are almost too many manufacturers to count. Usually these are collectors who became a big fan of a player early on in his career, then went on each year to collect all of his cards. It is much harder to go back after a player retires to accomplish this.
Starting into the 1990s and continuing today at various levels is the practice of adding certain touches to a limited number of cards, which makes these versions more rare and therefore more valuable to collectors. These touches can include foil, special stamps, and more to make them look “better” than the normally produced card. Sometimes these cards were distributed as “inserts” into regular packs, making them even harder to collect from stores.
As more baseball card-making companies surfaced post-1980, so too did competition to stand out. In the 1990s, a style began when manufacturers began attaching a tiny piece of a real game-worn jersey by a player on his baseball card. These cards are kind of neat to see, and maybe touch, but the overall added value is lukewarm.
During some seasons, notably in the mid-1970s, Topps printed new cards mid-season to indicate a player traded. Some of these cards are the very first of a player with a certain team, a la Willie McCovey with the San Diego Padres, and are considered novelty. Sometimes Topps quickly painted over the caps and logos of the old teams, making some of these cards look rather goofy.
As most fans know, originally baseball cards were inserted into packs of cigars, partially just to give packs backing for protection. Baseball was quite big in the early 20th century, so tobacco companies realized the popularity value of the cards and started producing more of them. All tobacco-era baseball cards are valuable, and the final amount of course dictated mostly by the player, and condition of the card. It is very rare to find a tobacco baseball card in good condition.
Baseball Cards as an Investment
We have readers who ask relatively often, Are baseball cards are a good investment? The answer is, they can be. Many longtime collectors would say baseball cards can be a good investment if the investor is committed to ongoing education and research on the industry.
Baseball cards can be particularly attractive for long-term investing, since the values of top baseball cards rise with time, most of the time.
However, many of those baseball card experts, along with financial advisors not involved with trading cards, would advise that baseball cards should not be your main focus for investing.
Notes on Baseball Card Condition
Please note that you get the highest sale price for cards that are in perfect, very perfect shape. Collectors want cards listed as in mint or near-mint condition (or graded with a 9 or higher out of 10).
Because of this, an entire industry began in the 1980s with manufacturers tinkering with the best baseball card storage options. Once you take the plunge and invest in these trading cards, visit Baseball Scouter again for suggestions!