Learn more about the rarest and most valuable sports cards in the cards collecting market
Rarity is a factor that greatly increases the sports cards values. Generally speaking, rare sports cards are the ones with the highest price in the market provided that they are in demand by many sports memorabilia collectors.
Here are the top ten most valuable sports cards of all time. The list is composed of vintage baseball cards which are significant in the sports trading cards history and remain to be sought-after even by modern sports cards collectors.
The Most Valuable Rare Sports Card: T206 Honus Wagner baseball card (inset) is considered the “Holy Grail” of all sports cards. This shows Wagner’s original photo where the T206 card is based from.
- 1954 Bowman #66A Ted Williams
The 1954 Bowman #66A Ted Williams baseball card is considered to be one of the most important sports trading cards produced after World War II. Williams is famed as among the greatest hitters in baseball.
When Bowman, a manufacturer of bubble gum and cards, produced a set of baseball cards in 1954, Major League Baseball (MLB) left fielder Ted Williams was lined up for the #66 card. However, the card was pulled early from the production since Williams was supposed to be under an exclusive contract with Topps (another top maker of trading cards) during such time.
Still, few examples of the card made it to the packs and were sold. The #66 slate in the set had to be replaced by a Jim Piersall (center fielder in MLB) card and it was termed by sports collectors as #66B with Williams’ card as the #66A.
Because of this event, the 1954 Bowman #66A card is indeed a rare sports card. An SGC (Sportscard Guaranty) 95 graded 1954 Bowman Ted Williams #66A sports card was priced $13,500 in cheap-baseball-cards.com.
- 1951 Bowman #305 Willie Mays
Willie Mays or popularly known as The Say Hey Kid has the title of being the greatest all around player. During his baseball career he made 660 homers and 3,238 ball hits (he was the first to ever reach 500 homeruns and 3000 hits). He was also granted 12 Gold Glove and 2 Most Valuable Player awards and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1979.
The 1951 Bowman Willie Mays #305 is the only recognized rookie card of Mays making it one of the rarest sports cards and most exceptional rookie cards. It is considered very valuable for many long-time sports collectors. This card is among the best sports cards:
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A PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) 9 graded 1951 Bowman #305 Willie Mays card was sold in Memory Lane Incorporated for $73,000. High-graded and well-centered #305 Bowman is very hard to find.
- 1938 Goudey Heads Up R 323 #274 Joe DiMaggio
The 1938 Goudey Heads Up R 323 set has featured two Joe DiMaggio – cards #250 and #274. The #250 only bears Joe’s image while the 1938 Goudey #274 Joe DiMaggio card has drawings surrounding his picture. The #274 card is harder to locate nowadays than the other DiMaggio card in the set. This perhaps explains why the latter is not as expensive and desired by collectors.
Popularly referred to as Joltin’ Joe, this sports star is one of the so-called New York Yankee legends together with Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Lou Gehrig. In the Sports Market Report price guide in 2005, a 1938 Goudey #274 Joe DiMaggio card cost $45,000.
- 1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth
A 1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth is a very scarce sports card; you could hardly find samples of it from online auctions. Also known as the Yellow Ruth, the #53 card is one of the four in demand Ruth cards in the 1933 Goudey set – three others were the #144, #181, and #149.
The 1933 Goudey set of sports trading cards are the first cards ever issued by the Goudey Gum Company and is considered to be among the top three important card sets in the sports collecting hobby. It featured many baseball legends and Hall of Famers.
One of the most expensive sports cards, a 1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth PSA NM-MT 8 was sold for $43,614 in 2005
- 1949 Leaf #8 Leroy “Satchel” Paige
The 1949 Leaf #8 Leroy “Satchel” Paige card is one of only three cards produced during his baseball career (with the entire 1949 Leaf sports card set very rarely found in good condition). The other two were issued by bubble gum companies Bowman and Topps in 1949 and 1953 respectively. This Leaf Satchel card is well-known as the toughest, post-war rare sports card there is.
Satchel Paige was the oldest man to debut in the major leagues at the age of 42. New York Yankee icon, Joe DiMaggio called him “the best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced.” Paige was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the year 1971.
The 1949 Leaf #8 Leroy Satchel Paige card was truly a valuable sports card at $82,000 in the April 2005 Sports Market Report price guide.
- 1914 E-145-1 Cracker Jack #30 Ty Cobb
A real desirable sports card for passionate collectors is the 1914 E-145-1 Cracker Jack #30 Ty Cobb. The eye appeal of the card is excellent with the striking picture of Cobb emphasized by the deep red background. Since 1914 Cracker Jack sports cards are inserted in caramel coated products, it can be hard to find them without stains. In sports cards grading, stains and other blemishes (aside from print defects) can decrease the card quality.
Tyrus Raymond “Ty” Cobb was regarded as the best player of the dead ball era (a term to describe the period in baseball between 1900 and the coming of Babe Ruth; this age is distinct for its low-scoring games and lack of homeruns).
In 2005, the Cracker Jack #30 Ty Cobb card was valued $60,000.
- 1914 E145-1 Cracker Jack #103 Joe Jackson
The 1914 E 145-1 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson #103 is a unique sports card in the card collecting world. Unlike the majority of the most valuable baseball cards of all time, Joe Jackson was not a Hall of Famer and became more popular because of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. It was said that he was bribed to lose a game in the World Series. The controversy had led people to even buy more Joe Jackson collectibles.
A sample of the Cracker Jack #103 Joe Jackson card PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator grading services) was priced in eBay for $65,000. A 1914 Cracker Jack set that included the #103 Joe Jackson and #30 Ty Cobb cards was sold for $960,000 in an auction in 2008.
- 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle
The 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle is one of the greatest, if not indeed the greatest, sports cards classics produced in the post-war era (coming from the most important card set in the industry).
Other than his remarkable batting statistics, his love for the game and for his fans has made him very well-loved as well. Mickey Mantle holds the records for most World Series home runs and had won three American League MVP titles. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.
Memory Lane Incorporated had closed an auction of 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle at $240,500. It was a graded sports card – PSA Mint 9.
- 1933 Goudey #106 Nap Lajoie
This 1933 Goudey #106 Napoleon Lajoie card is considered as one of the great rarities of all sports trading cards. The first issue of the 1933 Goudey set of cards did not include the #106 card. Customers demanded for the missing card to complete the set. This led to producing the Nap Lajoie in 1934 and these were mailed to the complaining card collecting customers. Aside that the 1933 Goudey #106 is rare, it is also difficult to locate it in good condition (some of the cards were paper clipped during mailing which resulted to ugly wrinkles on the card).
A high-graded card from this set, therefore, is highly expensive. During the Mastro Auctions in 2006, a 1933 Goudey #106 Nap Lajoie PSA mint 9 had a final price of $141, 281.
- 1909 T206 #366 Honus Wagner
No card in baseball and all sports trading card history had yet to surpass the importance of a 1909 T206 #366 Honus Wagner sports card. It is considered “The Holy Grail”, “The Mona Lisa”, or the most valuable baseball card. It is very expensive that even a Honus card with the lowest grade of 1 (poor condition, with wrinkles and signs of wear) was sold for $300,000 in 2008.
This vintage sports card produced by The American Tobacco Company had been the most-sought after among serious sports hobbyists. Considered to be very scarce, it is said that only 50-60 specimens of this Honus Wagner vintage sports card exist (and not all of them are in collectible condition). This was because the production of the sports card in 1909 had been stopped in the demand of Wagner himself. Some say he did not want his name to be associated with the use of tobacco, especially that he had children supporters. On the contrary, other reports claim that the Wagner halted the production because he was not well-compensated for his appearance on the card.
Here is a list of the increasing values of this rare sports card, the 1909 T206 #366 Honus Wagner, through the years:
- 1930 $50
- 1985 $25,000
- 1987 $110,000
- 1991 $451,000
- 1995 $500,000
- 1996 $641,500
- 2000 $1,265,000
- 2007 (February) $2,350,000
- 2007 (September) $2,800,000
See the complete pictures of these highly expensive and rare sports cards in the Top valuable sports Cards Gallery.