Every collection has its Holy Grail and within the Top 10 Most Valuable Baseball Cards, there are several candidates. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner...the Hall of Fame roll call boasts several potential cardboard denizens who could claim the title of Most Valuable Baseball Card, yet only one can rise to the top of the cardboard heap. Below are ten cards that have achieved distinction as being listed among the world's most valuable baseball cards.
It is important to note that several different sales of different grade Honus Wagner cards would actually occupy several of the top spots, but for the sake of this list only the best one is listed. A third party authenticator to guarantee condition and authenticity almost always grade cards of this magnitude. Normally, either the Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) or the Sportscard Guaranty Company (SGC) does this. The evolution of grading standards and these non-partisan graders have led to an explosion in prices as the wealthiest collectors attempt to acquire the highest graded examples of their favorite players. The most expensive baseball cards are very sensitive to condition. Cards that are not terribly valuable in a lower grade can be hundreds of times more valuable in mint condition. Because this is such an important component of price the company and grade are also shown below.
The Ten Most Valuable Baseball Cards
The Mick's true rookie card has slowly been commanding respect with collectors. This high grade example offers a slightly more affordable alternative to the 1952 Topps issue.
10) Eddie Plank-1909 –1911 T206 PSA 6 $188,000
The first of three cards from the legendary T206 tobacco card set to make the list of most valuable cards is for legendary hurler Plank. Again, this is a real rarity. The cause for the scarcity is sometimes attributed to a broken printing plate. The real answer will probably never be known. There are only around a hundred known to exist.
This minor league card of Shoeless Joe has hovered near the Top 10 for a decade. It was only a matter of time before a high enough graded example came to auction to crack the list. Robert Edwards Auctions served this beauty up to the tune of almost $200,000. It is hard to guess what a truly high grade my bring. Many speculate it could be the next million dollar card!
The most famous member of the infamous Black Sox, Joe was banned from baseball for life. He was one of the purest hitters that the game has ever known. His popularity only rises with time. His role in the World Series fix is debatable and each year efforts are mounted to enshrine Joe in the Hall of Fame. This scarce issue is highly sought.
7) Honus Wagner –1910 Standard Caramel PSA 9 $219,000
He and Mickey Mantle are the only two men to appear on the list twice. Again, like the Goudey Gehrig, this card is priced mainly because of the impeccable condition. Caramel issues are especially difficult to find in mint shape.
Breathing down Gehrig's neck comes career batting leader Ty Cobb on a rare regional issue. Incredibly scarce card of the superstar Cobb. It remains an elusive find to even the most advanced collector.
The legendary Iron Man is featured in the highly collected Goudey set. This particular card breaks the top ten on the strength of condition alone. 1930s cards are extremely rare in a PSA 10 grade and when the card happens to be Larrupin' Lou...well the result is over a quarter of a million dollars.
4) Mickey Mantle – 1952 Topps PSA 9 $282,000
The most popular player of the 1950s captured on a card from what has become the most collected set of the '50s. Beloved by countless Baby Boomers, the image of Mickey at the plate or in the field is indelibly stamped on the minds of the American conscious. He remains the only post-war player to break the top ten in value. Beware, though, this is a favorite card of baseball card counterfeiters!
3) Joe Doyle – 1909 – 1911 T206 (New York, Nat'l variation) SGC 50 $329,000
Another super rarity from the legendary American Tobacco Company set. The company confused this card of Slow Joe Doyle, the Yankee pitcher with Laughing Larry Doyle of the National League. To distinguish the two, they applied the Nat'l designation on the wrong card. When this error was realized the plate was pulled and circulation of the card was stopped. It remains one of the rarest of all cards with only around six examples known.
A real rarity! Only around a dozen examples survive of this early International League card of a young, lanky Baltimore pitcher named Ruth. It is unknown how much more a finer example would bring if one were ever to surface. Ruth remains, arguably, the most popular player to ever wear a baseball uniform.
1) Honus Wagner – 1909 – 1911 T206 PSA 8 $2,800,000
This is the Crown Jewel of the cardboard community. While there are many rarer cards, none have elicited as much excitement and controversy as this little tobacco card. Production of the card was stopped quickly and only a few hundred made it into circulation. Reasons for the shortage are Wagner's possible aversion to tobacco or the fact that he wasn't being compensated. As long as there are men to argue, this disagreement will continue. The finest example of this card has been the subject of much speculation regarding condition (is it trimmed) and origin. Even a book, The Card, was written about it. Once owned by Wayne Gretzky, the highest graded example has traded hands numerous times and currently tops out just shy of three million dollars. The T206 Honus Wagner has been the world's most valuable baseball card for several decades and may hold the title as most expensive baseball card for years to come.
All of these legendary players are Hall of Famers with the exception of Doyle and Jackson (who probably will be enshrined someday). They still enjoy a wide fan base with modern collectors because of the beauty, rarity, and hobby significance of the issue. As discussed, the role of condition is obvious in the pricing of the issues above and just as a real estate agent boasts of "location, location, location", the mantra of the advance collector is "condition, condition, condition". Baseball cards far exceed the prices commanded by any other sports cards (see Top 10 Most Valuable Football Cards, Top 10 Most Valuable Basketball Cards or Top 5 Most Valuable Golf Cards) and will remain good investments.
New and rare finds are still being made and the taste of collectors is fickle. Prices for the truly rare issues will be driven higher in the future and other cards like the 1910 T210 Joe Jackson, 1938 Goudey Dimaggio and the 1933 Larry Lajoie may still find favor with a larger audience and might crack the top 10 most valuable baseball cards in the future.
*UPDATE - 2011. As predicted a high enough grade T210 Joe Jackson finally emerged at auction and easily garnered enough attention to jump into this list. It is a welcome addition to the best cardboard classics of all time and he now proudly occupies the 9th slot.