Baseball, America’s pastime, is synonymous with sports cards. Topps baseball cards are thought to be the earliest type of sports trading card. The first baseball cards are thought to have been printed in the 1860s.
Americans cited baseball as their favorite sport when Gallup first started recording the statistic in 1937. Baseball held the distinction as the most popular sport in America until the early 1960s when football became Americans’ primary sport of choice. It should not be surprising, then, that the most expensive baseball cards today are decades old (and in the case of Honus Wagner’s iconic trading card, more than a century old).
The Honus Wagner T206 paces the market for trading cards. Printed in 1909, it fetched $3.12 million the last time that it was sold, in 2016. Unlike some other sports, value in the baseball card game is linked in many cases to the age of the card.
If you can find a baseball card that is old, features a prominent player, and is in good condition, then you have the makings of a valuable item. This holds true for the most expensive Topps baseball cards of all time.
Topps cards have a rich history dating back to 1938 Brooklyn. What started as a chewing gum brand evolved into a “Photo Card” brand, and eventually one of the best-regarded sports card brands in the game.
10 Greatest Topps Baseball Cards of All-Time
Let’s take a look at the best Topps baseball cards from an investment standpoint, meaning the top ten cards that have the most significant long-term ROI (return on investment).
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10 Most Expensive Topps Baseball Cards of All-Time
Topps notes that 1952 was the first year of the “Modern Baseball Card Era”. It is no coincidence, then, that our list of most expensive Topps baseball cards start right around 1952.
9. 1952 Topps #1 Andy Pafko
Andy Pafko is one of the less recognizable names on this list. However, he proves that name recognition is not the end-all, be-all when it comes to baseball card value.
To be clear, Pafko was no slouch. He had more than 1,700 career hits and 213 career home runs. However, the 1952 Topps #1 Andy Pafko is important because it was the first card in this set. PSA calls this card the “most important #1 card of the postwar era”.
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The card itself is nice, but not anything particularly memorable. Pafko smiles into the camera in his white Brooklyn Dodgers uniform and matching blue cap. The iconic early-era Topps nameplate sits at the bottom of the card, containing the plain text “Andy Pafko” along with a printed version of his signature.
Finding a mint Topps #1 Pafko is exceptionally difficult. The price that this card can fetch (six figures) is a reflection of how rare and iconic the card is. Because, let’s be honest, the name Pafko isn’t the reason why this one made the list.
8. 1954 Topps #128 Hank Aaron RC
Hank Aaron is not a name that even casual baseball fans would be shocked to see on this list. His recent passing sparked a number of fitting tributes, but Aaron was always revered. Baseball purists and baseball card enthusiasts alike put the respect on Aaron’s name that it deserves.
In terms of cards, respect translates to resale value.
Even if this card was of a lesser player, it would be one worth collecting. The design is iconic, with Aaron’s face printed prominently on the right-center portion of the card.
An orange background sits behind the old Milwaukee Braves logo in the top left corner. A small, black-and-white image of Aaron fielding a grounder occupies the bottom-left portion of the card.
Copies of this card graded mint or better will generally command a six-figure price point.
7. 1956 Topps #135 Mickey Mantle
The most recent sale price for this 1956 Topps Mickey Mantle #135 was $360,000, according to PSA.
With only four known Gem Mint versions of this card in circulation and an always-high demand for old Mantles in pristine condition, its future value knows no limits.
1956 was no typical season for Mick. He won the Triple Crown with 52 home runs, a .353 average, and 130 RBIs. Those are steroid-era numbers, for Mickey’s sake!
Unlike most other baseball cards of the era, this one has a horizontal design. A headshot of Mantle dominates the right side, showcasing Mantle’s New York-ready grin and blue eyes.
The left side of the card features Mantle leaning into a sea of fans to snag a foul ball. Below that image is a facsimile signature in black ink. And you thought Mickey was just a bat…
Mint Mantles are among the most valuable baseball cards you can own. With cards from this era being frequently damaged, securing this card in good condition could be a windfall.
Of course, securing it will cost you a windfall as well. Were a mint version to become available today, its asking price would make the 2017 sale prices of $360,000 pale in comparison.
6. 1952 Topps #261 Willie Mays RC
Continuing the trend of expensive rookie cards from Topps 1952 set, we have the 1952 Topps #261 Willie Mays RC.
In the signature style of this set, the image of Mays contains only his mid-torso and upward. Mays, who looked like a seasoned vet even as a rookie, furrows his brow as he stares into the camera. He wears a blue Giants cap with an orange, stylized “NY”.
Like the other rookie cards in this set, Mays’ RC contains a white nameplate bordered by a black-and-yellow trim. His laser-printed signature is located beneath the printed text of his name, while a Giants logo forms the upper left corner of the nameplate.
For collectors seeking an investment virtually guaranteed to appreciate with time, you can do far worse than a Willie Mays RC in good condition. It will likely cost you near $200,000 or more, though.
5. 1955 Topps #164 Roberto Clemente RC
One of the most iconic players ever to put on a Major League uniform, Roberto Clemente was the first Latin player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. His tragic death caused by an airplane accident has only enhanced the mystique of Clemente, who was known as a charitable force off of the field as well as a dominant player on the diamond.
The 1955 Topps #164 Roberto Clemente Rookie Card is one of the most coveted pieces for any collector’s lot. It features a headshot of Clemente sporting his movie star grin in a Pirates batting helmet. Sitting on his left shoulder is a smaller image of Clemente at-bat.
A swashbuckling Pirates logo occupies the top-right corner of the card while a faux signature is also present. Mint versions of this card generally fetch at least $300,000 and could draw significantly more.
4. 1953 Topps #82 Mickey Mantle RC
When it comes to valuable baseball rookie cards, Mantle is a name that consistently appears near the top of the list. Were it not for a guy named Honus Wagner, Mickey Mantle would have the most expensive baseball card in existence (more on that in a bit).
The 1953 Topps #82 Mickey Mantle RC shows a drawn image of Mantle, blue eyes affixed upward and to the left, in his dark blue Yankee cap. A stadium backdrop frames Mantle’s likeness in what could easily double as a movie poster for a James Dean film.
The bottom of the card features a red nameplate with Mantle’s name, team, and position. A Yankee logo stands to the right of the nameplate.
Have a few hundred thousand dollars and a yearning for one of the most iconic cards ever? This is the card for you.
3. 1968 Topps #177 Nolan Ryan RC
It’s unlikely that we ever see a career like Lynn Nolan Ryan, Jr.’s again. He lasted an MLB record 27 seasons with the Mets, Angels, Astros, and Rangers.
Do you know what kind of filthy stuff you’ve gotta possess to last 27 seasons as a pitcher in Major League Baseball? Nolan Ryan-level filthy stuff, that’s what kind.
Former two-time MVP Dale Murphy has said that Nolan Ryan is the only pitcher he started worrying about two days before he faced him. You’re darned right his rookie card is primo stuff.
His 1968 Topps RC #177 features Ryan’s needle-sharp jawline pictured next to fellow rookie pitcher Jerry Koosman. Sorry Jerry, but we’re here for The Ryan Express.
The players rock pinstriped white jerseys with blue hats embroidered with the orange “NY” Mets logo that the team still sports today.
The card is as predictably unflashy as you might expect a 1968 baseball card to be.
A rounded rectangular border surrounds the player images. Each has a black and white nameplate, while “1968 Rookie Stars” sits in red letters atop their pictures.
Flash or no flash, a Nolan Ryan rookie card is a Nolan Ryan rookie card. Even if he’s sharing the spotlight with Jerry freakin’ Koosman.
A Gem Mint copy of this particular card sold for $500,000 in August 2020. It has been listed for twice that amount since then.
2. 1963 Topps #537 Pete Rose RC
The 1963 Topps Pete Rose RC #537 isn’t a Pete Rose rookie card alone. It also features Pedro Gonzales, Ken McMullen, and Al Weis.
When they print these cards, the manufacturers don’t always know who’s going to go on to become Charlie Hustle, and who will be stuck as Al Weis.
As you know, Pete Rose went on to become Charlie Hustle. More importantly, he went on to become the all-time leader in Major League hits with 4,256.
This is not only a valuable card but a fun one as well. It has a floating-head effect, with all four players’ domes placed in the center of red circular backgrounds.
A yellow background contrasts those red circles. A thing white border leads into a baby blue rectangle up top. Inside that rectangle is “1963 Rookie Stars” in plain white text.
Rose, in his red-and-white Cincinnati Reds “C” cap, has a boyish look that would fit into a high school squad (or a squad of floating heads).
There is only one known Gem Mint version of this card. Its last known sale price, according to PSA, is north of $700,000.
Its next known sale price will be higher. You don’t have to be Pete Rose to bet on that.
1. 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle RC
It can’t be said enough: when you’re talking trading card investing, Mantle is money. Quite literally.
Proven to be one of the two or three most valuable baseball cards on the planet, the highest-graded versions of the 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle RC come with a multi-million-dollar price tag.
The card shows Mantle, two hands on his bat which he rests on his right shoulder, looking away from the camera over his right shoulder.
The color-drawn photograph is stunning in its iconography and simplicity. A white nameplate (with the trademark yellow and black Topps trim) contains a printed autograph.
There is just something about this rare, expensive card that catches the eye. Apparently, there’s also something about this rock-solid investment of a card that catches the wallet as well.
Most Expensive Topps Baseball Cards: Investment Outlook
From Mantle to Aaron and even Pafko, old is good when it comes to baseball card investment.
Because so few older cards are kept in tip-top shape or even kept around, rarity is generally the case when it comes to baseball cards from the 50s. It’s no surprise that the most valuable Topps cards of all time come from that era, with the exception of one Mickey Mantle card printed in 1961.
Each of these cards has shown strong appreciation over time and is a high-priced yet sound investment for any card collector who can justify the purchase price.
Which Topps baseball cards are worth the most money?
Topps baseball cards worth the most money are the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card (1), the 1953 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card (2), and the 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente rookie card (3).
What is the most valuable Topps baseball card?
The most valuable Topps baseball card is the 1952 Mickey Mantle Topps rookie card selling for $5.2 million in February of 2021.
Are there any valuable 1989 Topps baseball cards?
The most valuable 1989 Topps baseball card is the 1989 Topps Traded #41T Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. In February 2021 this card sold for $9,700 via eBay auctions.
What baseball cards from the 80's and 90's are worth money?
There are thousands of baseball cards from the '80s and 90's worth money but our favorites in terms of ROI is the 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck rookie card #1 and the 1987 Barry Bonds O-Pee-Chee OPC rookie card #320.