60 Most Valuable Baseball Cards: The All Time Dream List
The most valuable baseball cards in the hobby can easily fetch six and seven figure price levels these days.
Think about that for a second:
People are spending as much on old pieces of cardboard as most people spend on a house. And very nice houses at that.
So, whoever says that baseball cards are no longer valuable simply doesn't know what he or she is talking about...
Sure, the massive print runs during the late 80's and early 90's killed the value of most post-1980's cards.
But what most usually don't realize is that many pre-War and even high grade post-War vintage baseball cards can go for BIG money.
Ross Uitts - Owner
Buying or selling vintage baseball cards? If you need help buying, selling or simply want to connect then enter your name and email, click the blue button and I'll be in touch with you right away!
To build this list, we relied on PSA's Sports Market Report online price guide. We've included any baseball card valued by PSA to be greater than $100,000 on the open market.
The 60 Most Valuable Baseball Cards Guide
Here's the complete list of the sixty most expensive cards. Each short summary gives a brief explanation of the history of the card, what makes it so valuable, and is accompanied by a look at the card itself.
I hope you enjoy reading the list as much as I did creating it!
1909-11 T206 White Border Honus Wagner
Considered the Holy Grail of all trading cards, the 1909 American Tobacco Company T206 Honus Wagner remains the symbol of trading card collecting today. Even in poor condition, they routinely sell for over $1 million. Most cards in the T206 set are not rare but the Honus Wagner cards are because they were pulled from production early. And no one is quite sure why. Was it because Wagner wanted to be paid by the tobacco company to use his image? Or, as most believe, was it because he didn’t want to be involved in promoting tobacco use to children? Whatever the reason, there are only approximately 50-75 or so known copies in circulation today as a result. This card has been and will likely remain the most valuable baseball card for years to come.
1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle
The most important post-war card in the hobby, price movements of the 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle baseball card are often seen as an indicator of the health of the sports card market overall. The card is key for three main reasons:
1) 1952 was the first year Topps entered the sports card market so the set itself is wildly popular and even common cards in mint condition can fetch over $1,000.
2) Being a “high number” card (cards 311 – 407 in the set) means that fewer Mickey Mantle rookie cards were printed than the average 1952 Topps baseball card in the first place.
3) Many high number cards were famously dumped into the ocean leaving even less of them in existence.
Even though it is not Mickey Mantle’s official rookie card it is definitely his most important.
1909-11 T206 Ty Cobb Tobacco (Ty Cobb Back)
The T206 set is special for many reasons but one of them is no doubt the numerous brand advertisements on the backs–16 different backs in total. Estimates place the number of front/back combinations around 5,500 which led to this set being nicknamed “The Monster.” With approximately 22 or less known to exist, all in low grades, the Ty Cobb back is the rarest of them all. In 2016, seven copies of this card were miraculously found in an old paper bag. The find has since been dubbed “The Lucky 7” find. In PSA 4.5 grade, it is estimated this card would reel in over $1 million.
1916 (M101-5) Sporting News Babe Ruth Rookie Card
It should come as no surprise that the rookie card of the greatest player who ever lived would be on this list. The card shows a young Ruth in a Boston Red Sox uniform before they traded him to the rival New York Yankees. This card, the key to the 200-card M101-5 set, is often found off-center and features a variety of advertising backs, although most existing copies exhibit blank backs. It is one of the most difficult cards to find overall, making it one of the most important cards on this list. In PSA 8 condition, this card would likely sell for $1 million or more.
1916 (M101-4) Sporting News #151 Babe Ruth Rookie card
Babe Ruth rookie cards are also part of the 1916 M101-4 Sporting News set that is believed to have been printed shortly after the M101-5 set. M101-5 cards are more difficult to find than the M101-4 cards but pricing of the M101-4 version is also expected to realize around $1 million in PSA 8 condition. Since they are both card #151 in their respective sets, it is nearly impossible to tell which set the card belongs to unless the back of the card features an ad unique to either of the sets. For example, one easy way to tell if you’ve got a M101-4 Ruth rookie is if the Sporting News ad is on the back of the card as no M101-5 Ruths featured that ad.
1914 Baltimore News #9 Babe Ruth
This “pre-rookie” card of Ruth is one of rarest cards in the hobby with 10 copies known to exist and can be found with either blue or red borders. In early 1914, Jack Dunn of the minor league Baltimore Orioles signed Ruth to a professional baseball contract. Financial problems would cause Dunn to sell Ruth’s contract to the Boston Red Sox later that year, however. Conditions of these cards are not very good but even a PSA 4 is expected to bring in roughly $900,000. Who knows what a high grade example of this card would go for? The price would certainly be astronomical.
1909-11 T206 White Border Eddie Plank
This is the second most desirable card in the famed T206 set and the only pose of the HOF pitcher. To this day, there is no clear explanation for the rarity of this card, a card that is nearly as tough as the Honus Wagner from the same set. The most prevalent theory is that the card suffered from a poor printing plate, resulting in many of the cards being destroyed since they could not pass quality control. In addition, many of the known examples are found with poor centering from top to bottom. The centering can be so severe that it will cut into the text along the bottom.
1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle Rookie Card
While his 1952 Topps card is more popular and more expensive, some collectors forget that this is the only recognized rookie card of The Mick. Mantle is easily one of the most, if not the most, widely collected player in the hobby. This incredibly important card is beautiful in design, depicting nice artwork of Mantle ready at the bat. Unfortunately, as with most high-numbered cards in the set, Mantle’s rookie card often suffers from print lines, poor centering and wax stains on the back. So, if you can get your hands on one of these cards in high grade then you are looking at some big bucks.
1909-11 American Caramel E90-1 Joe Jackson Rookie Card
Because of his alleged participation in the Black Sox Scandal during the 1919 World Series, Jackson was banned from baseball during his prime. As a result, there weren’t many Joe Jackson baseball cards produced. So those that remain are some of the most sought after in the hobby. Especially his American Caramel E90-1 rookie card on which he is shown leaning on his bat against a purple backdrop. Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner also appear in this set but Jackson’s card is easily the most important and most valuable card in the set.
1909-11 T206 White Border Joe Doyle (N.Y. Natl.)
Not many people outside of the baseball card hobby know who Joe Doyle is. So why would one of his cards be so expensive? When the infamous T206 set was being produced, Doyle was pitching for the New York Highlanders of the American League. However, there are a handful of his T206 cards that were produced with “N.Y. Nat’l” along the bottom before the error was corrected. Larry Doyle, a second baseman, played for the New York Giants of the NL at the time so most likely that is the reason for the mix-up. Error cards like Joe Doyle’s that make it into circulation usually end up being very popular with collectors and this one is definitely no exception.
1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth
There are four different Babe Ruth cards in the 1933 Goudey set, #s 53, 144, 149 and 181. All of them are on this list of most valuable baseball cards so that speaks to their importance and desirability. The “Yellow Ruth”, #53, is considered to be the toughest, closely followed by the #149 “Red Ruth” that shows the legendary slugger in an identical pose. While the #144 “Full Body Ruth” was double-printed and isn’t as scarce, it is actually harder to find in high-grade than the #181 “Green Ruth”. Since it’s not his rookie card or his most scarce, the 1933 Goudey #53 isn’t his most expensive card but it is arguably one of his most beautiful cards.
1955 Topps #164 Roberto Clemente Rookie Card
Demand for Clemente’s rookie card has skyrocketed over the past couple of years. While a PSA 10 Gem Mint copy sold for $432,690 in 2012 a PSA 9 copy sold for an even higher amount, $478k, in 2016. That tells you how much the prices of Clemente’s rookie card have increased. His aggressive play on the field and his generous ways off the field made him a special individual. His legendary career and life were cut short on December 31, 1972, when he died in a plane crash while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Along with the Killebrew and Koufax rookies, the Roberto Clemente rookie card is an anchor in the 1955 Topps baseball card set and the most expensive of the three.
1948 Leaf #79 Jackie Robinson Rookie Card
It’s nearly impossible to describe the importance of Jackie Robinson to baseball and American history after breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. So it’s no wonder that his 1948 Leaf rookie card is such and important piece of the hobby. In addition to the Satchel Paige and Stan Musial rookie cards, Robinson’s rookie is key to the set. But it’s also one of the issue’s more difficult cards since it typically suffers from poor print quality and coloration. Whether you can find one in high grade or not, though, it’s a superb card for any collector to own. This is the key Jackie Robinson baseball card you should add to your collection.
1951 Bowman #305 Willie Mays Rookie Card
The “Say Hey Kid” was arguably the greatest all-around player to step on the field. Mays could hit, throw, field and run with the best of them. His 1951 Bowman issue is his only recognized rookie card and along with the Mantle rookie is the key to the entire set. Mays put up monster numbers over his career and shares the record for most All-Star Game appearances (24) with Hank Aaron and Stan Musial. That production boosted his legend and popularity making him one of the most highly collected players in the hobby. Of all the Willie Mays baseball cards out there, this is his most important.
1909-11 T206 White Border Ty Cobb (Bat Off Shoulder)
The four Ty Cobb cards in the T206 all differ in popularity, scarcity and appearance but they are all just as important to the hobby as the 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth quartet. If you asked collectors, most would probably say they prefer the portrait poses with the green portrait more preferred to the red due to its scarcity. The “Bat On Shoulder” and “Bat Off Shoulder” would then follow. But what puts the “Bat Off Shoulder” relatively much higher on this list than the others is that you can find this card in PSA 9 Mint condition unlike the others. So, although not as desirable as the others, the fact that it exists in such great condition brings a steep price tag.
1910 T210 Old Mill Joe Jackson
The T210 Old Mill set features hundreds of minor league ball players that most people have never heard of before. But, Joe Jackson is instantly recognizable on this card depicting him as a member of the Cleveland Naps’ minor league team, the New Orleans Pelicans. After spending 1908 and 1909 with the Philadelphia Athletics, they quickly gave up on him and traded him to the Cleveland Naps for the 1910 season. What a mistake that was! Jackson absolutely dominated the minors that year and the Naps called him up late in the 1910 season. The rest is history. There are only a handful of known copies of this card in the hobby making it a rare and highly demanded issue. However, as with any colored borders, the surrounding red borders of this card are susceptible to wear making it very condition sensitive.
1952 Topps #261 Willie Mays
This is the first Topps card to feature Willie Mays, putting it high on Mays collectors’ wish lists and making it a key card in the hobby overall. As with Mantle’s 1952 Topps card, some still mistake this card as Mays’ rookie, too. Being card #261 in the set, it’s not a high number card (#311 – 407) which means it is not as scarce as Mantle’s #311 card. And if you remember, the 1952 Mantle card is relatively more expensive than his 1951 Bowman card. With Mays, the opposite is true: his Bowman rookie card is worth more than his 1952 Topps card. It just goes to show that scarcity and condition can have just as much of an impact on the value of a card as the player who is on it. Like many 1952 Topps cards, this Mays issue is prone to tilt and centering problems.
1953 Topps #82 Mickey Mantle
Some argue that this is Mickey Mantle’s most beautiful card. But what’s not up for debate is whether it’s one of his most important. Collectors go wild for it. Especially for high condition copies of the card. Centering and chipping along the red bottom border are usually obstacles to achieving a higher grade. And because it features a close-up of Mantle, print defects on his face can also sometimes turn off collectors. It should be no surprise that this card is the key to the entire set with the Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson cards coming in second and third place, respectively.
1948 Leaf #8 Satchel Paige Rookie Card
Considered one of the the toughest post-war cards to collect, Leroy “Satchel” Paige’s rookie card is a key to this set along with rookie cards of Jackie Robinson and Stan Musial. A true baseball legend who spent most of his career in the Negro Leagues, Paige finally got his shot in the majors at the age of 42 with the Cleveland Indians. Although past his prime, he still achieved success in the Majors and was twice named an All-Star. Poor print quality and focus plague this short print card making high grade copies nearly unachievable. inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. There aren’t many Satchel Paige baseball cards in the hobby but this is definitely a great looking card of the legendary pitcher.
1910 Tip Top Bread Pittsburgh Pirates D322 Honus Wagner
Where have you seen this pose of Wagner before? Isn’t it funny how one card can feature the exact same image of a player yet not be as expensive? That’s baseball card collecting for you. After being used on the legendary T206 Wagner issue, Carl Horner’s famous shot of the Flying Dutchman once again made it onto a baseball card. This time as part of a 25-card set by the Ward-Mackey company to help promote its Tip Top Bread brand. The set is limited only to members of the 1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates with Wagner’s card no doubt being the key to it. This regional set is fairly scarce but it is unquestionably very popular with Wagner collectors.
1911 T3 Turkey Red Cabinets Ty Cobb
There’s just something about this card. It’s majestic. It’s visually stunning. These 5¾ by 8 cards were part of a redemption program where collectors sent in coupons in exchange for them. Either 10 Turkey Red Cigarette coupons or 25 Old Mill or Fez Cigarette coupons would earn you one card. Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Cy Young were also featured in the set but Cobb’s issue is undoubtedly the most desired. Collectors got a glimpse of what it was like to be a pitcher in that era with Cobb intensely staring them down before the pitch. There are two varieties of these cards with one version featuring a tobacco advertisement on the back and the other a checklist. Neither make a difference when it comes to value, though.
1933 Goudey #149 Babe Ruth
The second toughest of the four 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth cards, the #149 “Red Ruth” is every bit as appealing as the #53 “Yellow Ruth”. However, it just isn’t as often found in high grade as #53. That’s the key differentiator in value. Ruth was at the tail end of his career in 1933 but he still produced well enough to be named a starter in the All-Star game at Comiskey Park that year.
1948 Leaf #4 Stan Musial Rookie Card
Most players on this list only have one recognized rookie card to their name. Musial has two. Although not as popular as his 1948 Bowman rookie card, his 1948 Leaf rookie card is the tougher of the two. On the surface, the 1948 Leaf card with its use of color appears to be more attractive than the 1948 Bowman card. Distracting print lines usually hold this card back from higher grades, though. Not many players were as consistent as Musial was over their careers as he went on to win seven batting titles and three MVP awards. Maybe the most shocking Musial stat of all was that he hit exactly the same number of hits at home as he did on the road: 1,815 each way for a total of 3,630 hits. His incredible career make Stan Musial baseball cards extremely popular with collectors.
1954 Topps #128 Hank Aaron Rookie Card
“Hammerin’ Hank” needs no introduction. Over his remarkable career, Aaron made 24 All-Star appearances, a record shared with Mays and Musial and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. Once the owner of the career mark for home runs (755), Aaron possessed some of the strongest hands and wrists that produced some of the quickest bat speed the game has ever seen. This card is a key classic in the hobby and is Aaron’s only recognized rookie card. It is by far the most important of all Hank Aaron baseball cards. By 1954, printing quality had improved greatly so even though centering is still a challenge with this card, finding high-end copies is not as tough as some of the others on this list. Try finding something to not like about this card! A PSA Gem Mint 10 #128 Aaron sold for $357,594 in 2012, a price that would easily be overcome in today’s market.
1939 Play Ball #92 Ted Williams Rookie Card
It’s amazing to think of the stats that Williams could have produced had he not missed nearly five full seasons of his prime to military service. Arguably the greatest hitter of all time, Williams posted some truly jaw-dropping numbers over his career: a .344 batting average, a .483 on-base average and a .634 slugging average. And with those five prime seasons back, he quite possibly could’ve added enough home runs to his career 521 total to challenge Ruth’s record of 714 before Aaron did. The 1939 Play Ball #92 issue is the Splendid Splinter’s only recognized rookie card. This Ted Williams card features a superb black and white image of Williams following through on his classic swing.
1915 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson
This card is often thought to be Jackson’s most attractive and popular baseball card. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s his most expensive. Although it features identical imagery as his 1914 Cracker Jack issue, most high-end examples of these two issues are of the 1915. While collectors could pull 1914 Cracker Jack cards directly from the box, that also meant they usually had caramel stains on them. The 1915 version were part of a redemption program, however, thus better preserving their condition.
1933 Goudey Sport Kings #2 Babe Ruth
One of the most popular 1930s sets, the 1933 Sport Kings R333 set consists of 48 cards in total. Top athletes from baseball, football, hockey, tennis, golf, boxing, swimming, horse racing and even dog sled racing are showcased in the set. But, the Great Bambino is the number one card to own out of all of them. Centering that favors the bottom and slight angular cuts are usually the factors that prevent these cards from reaching higher grades. The card features a great image of Ruth and it remains one of his most desirable cards.
1952 Topps #407 Eddie Mathews Rookie Card
No matter where Eddie Mathews appeared in the 1952 Topps set, his only recognized rookie card would be worth a lot. But, the fact that his is the last card in the iconic 407 card set gives it an extra bump due to the inherent difficulty in collecting the card. A high number card, Mathews’ rookie is extra tough to collect since it was positioned at the bottom corner of print sheets and usually is found off-center as a result. Mathews had a prolific career as a feared power hitter and spent many years alongside Hank Aaron to form one of the greatest home run hitting duos the game has ever seen.
1933 Goudey #181 Babe Ruth
The “Green Ruth” is the last of the four Babe Ruth cards to appear in the 1933 Goudey set. The card features a great image of the Sultan of Swat seated in pinstripes looking over his right shoulder. The green background really makes this card pop. While not as pricey as the “Yellow or Red Ruth’s” of the same set, it’s still a very expensive card and a key member of the Ruth quartet.
1911 T205 Gold Border Ty Cobb
Collectors love the eye appeal of this beautiful pre-war set. However, the gold borders of the T205 cards leave them vulnerable to chipping and wear. Cobb turned in an absolute monster of a season in 1911 as he set career highs in batting (.420), hits (248), doubles (47), triples (24), RBI (127), runs (147) and slugging percentage (.621). As with pretty much any pre-war set that features Cobb, his card is the heart and soul of this legendary set. Just be prepared to put up big money if you want one in high grade.
1914 Cracker Jack Christy Mathewson
The 1914 Cracker Jack Mathewson is one of the great rarities in the hobby and easily the most difficult card to find in this amazing set. As you already know, there wasn’t much difference between the 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack sets except that 1915 Cracker Jack cards are usually found in better shape since they were a redemption set. But, there are two major glaring differences overall between Mathewson’s cards. Mathewson is the only player in both the 1914 and 1915 sets whose poses are entirely different. He’s also the only key player in the 1914 set on a horizontal layout. Most collectors will tell you they prefer the eye appeal of his 1915 Cracker Jack card but his 1914 version is clearly the more rare and valuable of the two.
1933 Goudey #106 Napoleon Lajoie
Interestingly, this card was not originally part of the 1933 Goudey set. And it’s extremely rare–one of the rarest in the hobby. For some reason, collectors had to send in for the card a year later in 1934 by contacting Goudey if they wanted to complete this set. And, unfortunately, Goudey mailed the card with a paper clip on it that left indentations on the card. That story is enough to make any collector cringe. Napoleon Lajoie was considered the best defensive second baseman of his day and won three batting titles, had 3,242 total hits and a .338 average.
1933 Goudey #144 Babe Ruth
The last of the legendary quartet of 1933 Goudey Ruth cards on our list is the #144 “Full Body Ruth”. This one was double-printed meaning there were more of them in circulation but it’s still surprisingly tougher to find in high grade than the #181 “Green Ruth”. If you look closely at each of the double prints of this card, you’ll notice that one version shows better clarity and focus than the other. But the value between the two isn’t affected. Collectors will pay big money for either version as long as its in high grade.
1952 Topps #1 Andy Pafko
This card is a prime example of an instance where neither being a star nor an error card can bring in big bucks. The 1952 Andy Pafko card is so expensive simply because it resided at the #1 position of the most important set of the postwar era. Because of its position on the print sheet and the fact that many kids wrapped rubber bands around their stacks of cards (this one on the top), finding Pafko’s card centered and in good shape is very tough. In one of the great stories about this card, a collector once purchased an unopened five card pack of 1952 Topps and pulled the only Pafko to ever be graded PSA Gem Mint 10. That card was later sold for $250,000 in 2007.
1955 Topps #123 Sandy Koufax Rookie Card
Considered by most to be the greatest lefty of all-time, Sandy Koufax has one rookie card to his name and this is it. His career cut short by arthritis in his pitching arm, he went on to become the youngest player ever elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972. “The Left Arm of God” as he was known, Koufax possessed raw power that helped him once strike out an astounding 382 batters in a season. He was also clutch, maintaining a sub-1.00 World Series ERA and twice being named series MVP in 1963 and 1965. Centering issues as well as dark print blotches in the yellow background are usually the two issues that challenge collectors of this card. This is my favorite Sandy Koufax baseball card and one of the best-looking cards of the 1950’s in my opinion.
1914 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson
Identical in imagery as its 1915 Cracker Jack counterpart, the 1914 version is equally as visually pleasing. However, as mentioned earlier, the 1914 Cracker Jack cards were packaged directly inside the boxes so they’re usually more difficult to find in good condition. The potential for caramel stains don’t bode well for collectors of this card. Many collectors are happy to just be able to own one of these legendary cards in the first place, though.
1909 Ramly Cigarettes T204 Walter Johnson
Not many baseball cards possess as much elaborate and ornate decoration as those of the 1909 Ramly Cigarette T204 set. This card is as visually stunning as it is rare. The fancy gold borders that surround Walter Johnson’s black and white portrait are a thing of beauty. As with any colored border, though, they’re susceptible to showing chipping and wear. This card can be quite challenging and is clearly the key to the set. Johnson is considered by many to be the best pitcher of all time after turning in an amazing 12 seasons of 20 or more victories, including two with more than 30. He also posted what many believe to be the greatest single season for a pitcher in 1913 after going 36-7 with a 1.14 ERA. The Big Train is a true legend of the game and this card is a great tribute to him.
1909-11 T206 White Border Ty Cobb (Green Portrait)
Part of the great quartet of T206 Cobb cards, the “Green Portrait” version is the toughest of all of them to collect. Many collectors prefer the portrait versions of Cobb’s T206 card and specifically the “Green Portrait”. That is unless you’re talking about the “Red Portrait” with the Ty Cobb back that was showcased earlier on this list. The card is subtle in design and imagery but remains a truly majestic card for any serious collector to consider.
1909-11 T206 White Border Christy Mathewson (Portrait)
Mathewson appears three times in the T206 with the “Portrait”, “White Cap” and “Dark Cap” variations. The White Cap variation is considered to be the most difficult of the three Mathewson cards, but the Portrait is the most popular. Moreover, the Mathewson Portrait is one of the toughest HOF portraits in the entire set. Mathewson won 30 or more games four different times in his storied career, attributing much of his success to a specialty pitch that was comparable to a screwball. His career ERA of 2.13 proves just how difficult it was to hit off of him.
1912 Plow’s Candy E300 Ty Cobb
One of the rarest pre-WWI candy issues ever distributed are the 1912 Plow’s Boy Candy cards that included 69 different baseball players. Only 7 of the Ty Cobb cards have ever been submitted to PSA for grading which speaks to the rarity of them. As with most early candy or tobacco issues, this card with the image of the “Georgia Peach” ready to swing is the most valuable and sought after in the set. When these cards come up for auction, collectors really take note. Many baseball historians still consider Cobb the greatest all around player that ever graced a baseball diamond. The card is a true giant in the hobby.
1933 Goudey #160 Lou Gehrig
The Iron Horse appears twice in the 1933 Goudey set with card #’s 92 and 160 to his credit. Interestingly, the same image is used on both cards. However, #160 is the more difficult of the two to find in high grade so it generally fetches higher prices. You’ll typically find that #160 shows whiter borders and a lighter blue background, too. And while they are keys to the set and arguably the most popular Lou Gehrig baseball cards, they are still overshadowed by the Ruth quartet.
1934 Goudey #37 Lou Gehrig
Gehrig again appeared on two different cards, #37 and #61, in the 1934 Goudey set. While both are classics, there is no doubt that #37 is the more popular and difficult of the two. On it, Gehrig is shown with a huge bright smile atop a yellow background giving the card tremendous eye appeal. Although kind of normal for Gehrig, his offensive production was extraordinary in 1934. After hitting .363 with 49 home runs and 166 RBI he would go on to win the Triple Crown. Remarkably, he still only finished fifth in the MVP race!
1911 George Close Candy Co. E94 Ty Cobb
The 1911 George Close Candy (E94) baseball card set may not be as popular as others of the pre-WWI era but it is still iconic in the hobby. Each of the 30 unnumbered cards in the set feature an artist rendering of players atop colored backgrounds. Not surprisingly, Cobb’s card is the cornerstone and to the set. There are 11 different backside variations in total each with “The George Close Co.” printed on them.
1915 American Caramel E106 Ty Cobb (With Bat, Facing Front)
Produced in 1915 by the American Caramel Company of York, Pennsylvania, the E106 set consists of 48 different cards, including two varieties of the legendary Ty Cobb. The set is one of if not the most condition sensitive of the early “E” class era. Cobb is pictured is his Detroit Tigers uniform leaning on his bat atop a multi-colored background. This card actually shares its front design with several others of the era (Dockman & Sons, Nadja Caramels, etc.).
1954 Wilson Franks #20 Ted Williams
The 1954 Wilson Franks Ted Williams baseball card is definitely one of if not the most important regional card ever produced. Because they were distributed in packages of hot dogs, it’s extremely difficult to find them in high grade. They’re undoubtedly very condition sensitive. In fact, those that have been found in high grade are thought to have never been packaged and instead left the factory by hand. It’s arguably the most visually pleasing and desirable of all the Ted Williams baseball cards in the hobby.
1909 Nadja Caramel E92 Ty Cobb
Nadja was a brand name of the Blake-Wenneker Candy Co. of St Louis and the set features 62 cards in total. Caramel cards are usually more scarce than tobacco cards since they were sold to children rather than adults. You can imagine the wear and tear that children put on the cards by comparison. As with the American Caramel Cobb card mentioned just a bit ago, the design of the card isn’t unique but it is certainly one of the more desirable Cobb poses in the hobby.
1912 Plow’s Candy E300 Christy Mathewson
The 1912 Plow’s Candy E300 Mathewson features a large photographic image of the legendary pitcher of the Dead Ball Era framed by text reading “Plow’s Candy Collection” and “Mathewson, New York Nationals.” The E300 issue is one of the scarcest prewar sets and had really been unknown until the 1960s. Its so rare, in fact, that no complete set has ever been assembled. Collectors who take on the challenge of completing this set are no doubt in for an extremely tough challenge. Any collector lucky enough to get his hands on Mathewson’s card is sue to be ecstatic.
1887 N172 Old Judge Cap Anson (Uniform)
Many believe the 1887 N172 Old Judge set to be most important 19th Century set in existence. Several player variations exist, some with as many as 12, so the series boasts well over 3,000 different cards in total. The legendary Cap Anson appears on two different cards with the uniform version being the rarer of the two. It’s so rare that only a handful exist and not many collectors have even seen one in person.
1915 American Caramel E106 Ty Cobb (With Bat, Facing To Side)
The 48-card 1915 American Caramel E106 shows some nice artistic renderings of players of the National, American and Federal Leagues. The glossy coatings of these cards presents a bit of an issue with cracking at times but they are nonetheless some terrific cards. Centering can also be a challenge as with most cards of the era. Who’s the most desired player in the set? You guessed it, Ty Cobb.
1932 U.S. Caramel #32 Babe Ruth
The 1932 U.S. Caramel set is one of the most desirable and challenging prewar sets in the hobby. Babe Ruth’s card is the key and most valuable of the 32 card set. If you remember, during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs, Babe Ruth made his famous “Called Shot”. A fantastic portrait of the Sultan of Swat wearing a tilted Yankees cap is shown atop a bold, red background. The card is one of Ruth’s most desired of all.
1909-11 T206 White Border Sherry Magie Error Card
Together with the Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb (Ty Cobb back), and Eddie Plank the T206 Sherry Magie error card is one of the rarest of the entire set. And it’s one of the most famous error cards in the entire hobby, too. So what makes this an error card? If you look at the bottom, Sherry Magee’s last name is mistakenly spelled “Magie”. The error was quickly caught, though, so there aren’t many copies in existence.
1909-11 T206 White Border Cy Young (Portrait)
A record that is pretty safe to say will never be broken, Cy Young totaled an incredible 511 wins over his career. Surprisingly, many don’t even consider him the best pitcher ever, though. But nevertheless, the annual award for best pitcher in the Majors does bare his name. Young appears appears three time in the epic T206 set with this being the most desired and priciest of them all. It’s an extremely tough card to find in high grade.
1911 George Close Candy Co. E94 Honus Wagner
George Close Candy cards are among the scarcer pre-WWI caramel issues and the Honus Wagner is one of the keys to the set. There are 30 cards in total and each include seven different possible color backs. The famous Pittsburg Pirate shortstop is shown ready at the bat with his name “Hans” along the bottom border of the card. While Ty Cobb might be the most desired player in the entire set, there is no doubt that Honus Wagner is also an incredibly sought after player as well.
1911 T205 Gold Border Christy Mathewson
This instantly recognizable card is easily one of Mathewson’s most popular. It’s a very tough card, too. The card features a great close-up of the star pitcher surrounded by the famous T205 gold borders. Matty was on the backside of his career in 1911 but still managed to lead the league in ERA (1.99) and put up 26 wins. This is no doubt one of the most sought after cards of one of the game’s best pitchers of all time.
1914 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb
There is no doubt that this is one of Ty Cobb’s most demanded and popular baseball cards. The eye appeal is top notch, as with most 1914 Cracker Jack cards. It’s pretty much identical to his 1915 Cracker Jack issue except for the fact that the back of the 1915 version is turned upside down and was printed on thicker paper stock. Cracker Jacks cards are wildly popular and the serious-looking Cobb is one of the keys to this set.
1915 American Caramel E106 Honus Wagner (Batting)
The E106 American Caramel cards are some of the scarcest Honus Wagner cards in the hobby (but obviously not his most valuable baseball cards if you look at the top of this list). Seldom seen at auction, the 48 card set distributed by the American Caramel Co. of York, Pa. released some of the rarest type cards in existence. Their glossy obverse surface usually results in creasing and cracking issues making it tough to find these in high grade. Considered to be one of the more obscure Honus Wagner type cards it’s value continues to remain strong.
1915 American Caramel E106 Honus Wagner (Throwing)
Another obscure and rarely seen card, the 1915 E106 American Caramel Honus Wagner “Throwing” variation is just as much of a classic. The E106 cards feature identical artwork on their fronts as the E90-1 and E92 caramel issues but differ by the advertising on their backs. Again, the biggest condition issues with this card will arise from the glossy coating on the obverse that usually ends up cracking or creasing.
1933 Goudey #92 Lou Gehrig
This card should look very familiar. Identical in imagery to the 1933 Goudey #160 Lou Gehrig that you saw earlier on this list, this card does usually present whiter borders and lighter blue backgrounds than its #92 counterpart. Gehrig was one of a long line of Yankee legends and no doubt put up some of the greatest hitting statistics of them all. His record for most games played in a season stood for decades until 1995 when Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,131st straight game. A truly great baseball card of the legendary icon.
1953 Topps #244 Willie Mays
Key to the 1953 set is the #244 Willie Mays baseball card. One of his most important all, the card shows some beautiful artwork of a young Mays fielding a baseball in his New York Giants uniform. Bowman did not include them in their 1953 set so that makes his Topps card of that year even more sought after. And it can be tough to find in high grade, too. While not his most expensive baseball card, it’s arguably the most visually pleasing of them all.
1954 Topps #94 Ernie Banks Rookie Card
This is Banks’ only recognized rookie card in the hobby and along with the Hank Aaron and Al Kaline rookies, a key to the 1954 Topps set. The card’s design is beautiful and easily distinguished from others of the 1950’s. Two great images of Banks are show atop a white border than can be notorious for showing print defects. Centering is also a tough issue for this card.
1963 Topps #537 Pete Rose Rookie Card
The 1963 Topps Pete Rose rookie card shows the all-time hit king along with Pedro Gonzalez, Ken McMullen and Al Weis as one of 1963’s most promising youngsters. In poor condition this card would fetch hundreds of dollars but if you’re lucky enough to land a copy in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition then you’re talking big-time money. There’s only one single PSA 10 copy currently in circulation, however, which makes it extremely difficult to find even if you have that kind of money to spend. That PSA 10 copy sold for $717,000 in 2016.
1968 Topps #177 Nolan Ryan Rookie Card
Ryan’s rookie card appears in the 1968 O-Pee-Chee, Topps Milton Bradley and Venezuela Topps sets as well but it’s the regular Topps Nolan Ryan rookie card that stands apart in value from the rest. Heritage Auctions sold a copy of this card graded in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition for a jaw-dropping $612,359 in August of 2016. There’s only one copy of the card currently graded in that condition, however, so otherwise it would not quite make this list.
Most Valuable Baseball Cards In Review
So, there you have it: the most expensive baseball cards that you’re ever likely to encounter.
If you’re lucky enough, that is!
Wagner, Ruth, Cobb, Mantle and Mays are just several of the baseball greats that reside on this list of cardboard rarities. And their continued popularity and demand prove that baseball cards still do hold great value.
That is a fact not likely to end any time soon. Only a finite number of them still exist and as likely as it is that baseball will remain a very popular sport, collectors will do anything to get their hands on them.
The question is: where do you start on this list? With so many greats, how do you choose between them?
If you’re a collector, just stick to what you love and collect only what you love. With that strategy, you can never go wrong!