The most valuable baseball cards of all time have all been sold in recent years, and as you might expect, they’re all vintage.
There’s a couple of big names that have missed out, from most of the fabled T206 set to Joe Jackson, and you’re unlikely to find one hidden away in the back of your couch.
With a trio of cards selling for seven figures, it’s easy to see why there’s always interest when a rare edition becomes available.
Only two originated in the pre-war era, and they don’t have to be perfect to go for the biggest bucks imaginable. Here’s a rundown of the five baseball cards that have sold for the most at auction, along with why they went for so much money.
5. Pete “The Hit King” Rose, 1963 Topps – $717,000, PSA: 10
The first to make the list is Pete Rose’s only recognized rookie card. Featuring four players, it’s seen as one of the most important from the 1960s, and it’s the key to the set. The “Hit King” was eventually banned from baseball and missed out on being considered for the Hall of Fame, but not before he was named to 17 All-Star teams in five different positions.
As well as Rose, the card shows the New York Yankees’ Pedro Gonzalez, Ken McMullen of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Al Weis of the Chicago White Sox. The rarity stems from issues with the card itself, including print defects, poor centering and a border that chips easily.
This means that a PSA 1 graded card is worth around $250, and prices go up drastically depending on the grade. In 2016, a PSA 10 version sold for $717,000 at auction, making it the joint-fourth most expensive card on our list.
4. Babe Ruth (Pre-Yankee), 1916 Sporting News – $717,000, PSA: 7
One of the most recognizable names in baseball, Babe Ruth is synonymous with the sport. His pre-Yankee card hails from 1916, and it’s his first-ever big league rookie card. Considering his legacy and his popularity, it’s understandable why the 1916 Sporting News makes the list, and a PSA 7 went for $717,000 a few years ago.
As with the card above, they were both sold at Heritage Auctions’ 2016 August Sports Collectible Platinum Auction. It’s a decent chunk of change, although most of us won’t be able to wait a century to cash out on our prized collection.
Many of the 1916 Sporting News cards have a blank back, and the one that sold was no different. However, there are only six other versions that have achieved the same grade, and this one has great centering, inflating the final price.
3. 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle – PSA: 9 $750,000
Mickey Mantle is an iconic player, and his 1951 Bowman card is synonymous with a lost era of baseball. Given the age, it’s rare to find a copy with a decent grade, and a PSA 9 copy of the 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle sold for $750,000.
2. Mickey Mantle, 1952 Topps Major League – PSA: 9, $2.88 Million
What a difference a half-point makes! A PSA 9 version of the card above sold for over twice the price of the 8.5, lifting Mantle’s 1952 Topps to second on the list. At the time, it was noted that the same card could be bought for $3,330 in 1988.
The card was sold by former NFL offensive lineman Evan Mathis and was auctioned by Heritage Auctions. Mathis sold 90% of his extensive card collection to acquire a mint PSA 9 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle and cashed in just two years later in 2018.
It went for 10 times more than the last publicly sold mint version, which was just $282,588 in 2006. Without factoring in for inflation, it’s an incredible rise, and why his card could be the one to hold the top spot soon.
1. Honus Wagner, 1909-1911 ATC T206 – $3.12 Million, PSA: N/A
The T206 Honus Wagner edition is another card known for being the holy grail of collectible baseball memorabilia. The set itself is legendary, packed full of cards that can easily sell for six-figures.
Wagner’s card is one of the rarest you’ll find, likely because of his anti-tobacco stance which halted production. (Either that or an argument about the fee he was supposed to receive.) In any case, there are only three known to be in decent shape.
This particular card was sold back in 2013 when an anonymous buyer paid $2.1m. They decided to cash in on their investment just three years after, flipping it for a record $3.12m at a public auction.
Meanwhile, it leapfrogged ahead of a second Wagner card formerly owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky, which sold for $2.8m privately in 2007. Despite being found to have been doctored by industry expert Bill Maestro, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ owner Ken Kendrick has claimed to have turned down offers of $10m for his T206 Wagner.