Sports cards have long been the objects of desire for preteen boys with an allowance burning holes in their pockets. Most today are truly worthless — cards, not kids — and it’s been that way for a very long time. However, there are a few still in circulation that we would love to get our hands on.
While the long-term prospects of trading cards as an investment are pretty poor — at least if you are collecting ungraded cards — many of the rarer, higher quality items still command a lot of money on the collectors market. It’s all in the grading.
In fact, the Motley Fool recently conducted an in-depth report showing the differences in value between ungraded and graded cards. Their findings: while ungraded values plummeted with time, cards that had been vetted by professional services like Beckett actually made for sound investments.
Whichever camp you’re in, we think you’ll agree that if you see any of these 11 sports cards then you’ll want to snatch them up right away.
11. Wayne Gretzky 1979 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card
When you think of valuable sports cards, a hockey player isn’t what you would expect to see on the front of it. Of course, Wayne Gretzky isn’t a normal hockey player. He’s only one of the greatest to ever take the ice and his rookie card from O-Pee-Chee will bring bank if you can find it in top condition.
10. Max Baer 1933 Sport Kings Boxing Card
We’re not quite sure what a 1933 Baer card would bring, but we’d love to have it anyway on account of the fact that it’s a boxing card. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, you just didn’t see many of those. Baseball, football, and basketball had the market cornered. However, if you visit sites like AmericasGreatBoxingCards.com, you’ll find there’s a whole community of boxing cards out there that have been flying under the radar for most general sports card collectors. Baer, one of the best heavyweight champions to step foot in the ring, is one of many we’d like to get our dukes on.
9. PSA 8 Sid Luckman 1948 Leaf (yellow background) Football Card
Chicago Bears quarterback Sidney Luckman worked in the T-formation as a brilliant painter might work with oils or clay. He was selected as the second overall pick of the 1939 NFL Draft out of Columbia University. Luckman won four NFL Championships (1940, 1941, 1943, 1946) and played his entire career for the Monsters of the Midway. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965. This card went for such a high price because out of 83 cards PSA had graded at the time of sale only two had received a grade of NM-MT 8 by reputed grading company PSA. There aren’t any other copies of this card graded higher.
8. BGS 10 Michael Jordan 1986-87 Fleer Basketball Card
A private collector on the West Coast recently picked up a Perfect grade rookie card of Michael Jordan from the 1986-87 Fleer set for low six figures. The card fetched a handsome sum because there were only three copies graded as a BGS 10 out of more than 5,500 cards that had been submitted to Beckett Grading Services for examination. “Cards with poor centering, miscut edges, printing spots, rough edges, or damage through the years will not receive a 10,” explained ESPN.
7. George Mikan 1948 Bowman Basketball Card
He was one of the game’s first big men at six feet, 10 inches tall and 245 pounds. Making life worse on defenders, he had an ambidextrous jump-shot that would have really sucked to guard against if you were an average basketball player in the 1940s. Mikan played in the National Basketball League (NBL), the Baksetball Association of America (BAA), and the National Basketball Association (NBA). No wonder they called him Mr. Basketball! This 1948 Bowman card of Mikan is probably the most valuable the sport has ever seen. (And will probably stay that way.)
6. Bronko Nagurski 1935 National Chicle SGC 96 Football Card
Place yourself in the cleats of a standard 1930s lineman, and you wouldn’t want to be there for long if you came off a block and saw fullback Bronko Nagurski of the Chicago Bears running full-steam at you. Nagurski helped the Bears to two NFL Championships during his time with the organization (1930 to 1937). While this isn’t his Rookie card, it’s one of the few surviving that’s still in circulation, and that means it’ll fetch a pretty penny. Nagurski would later become the NWA Wrestling Champion.
5. Ty Cobb 1911 General Baking Co. Baseball Card
The legendary outfielder for the Detroit Tigers played 22 seasons for the organization and finished his career with the Philadelphia Athletics in one of the most prolific contributions to the sport of baseball ever made. He was a superstar and a mentor as evidenced in his tenure as player and manager for the Tigers from 1921 to 1926. This card from the General Baking Co. came very early on in Cobb’s career, which began in 1905.
4. Lou Gehrig 1933 Goudey Baseball Card
Lou Gehrig’s 1933 Goudey baseball card may not be the most expensive sports card currently on the market, but it could still purchase a house outright. Couple that with the fact he was one of the nicest guys and biggest legends and I think it’s safe to say that any guy with a love of sports wouldn’t mind stumbling upon this card in a box at a yard sale.
3. Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps Baseball Card
Mantle’s true Rookie card may have been the 1951 Bowman No. 253, but the 1952 Topps was the first Mantle ever produced by the company and it remains the most valuable in part due to the sad fate of several crates full of the things that ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a really long story and Bleacher Report has a fantastic recap of it. All we know is that it takes the meaning of “sea sick” to a whole new level.
2. Babe Ruth 1914 Baltimore News Baseball Card
Everyone thinks of Babe Ruth as the original Yankee Slugger — the Sultan of Swat — but only the die-hard baseball fans and historians realize that he was an Oriole before he was a Yankee, and he was a pitcher before he was a hitter. Those realities are commemorated on this 1914 Baltimore News card, and if you can find it then you’re probably going to pay more than a half-million dollars for it.
1. Honus Wagner 1909-11 ATC T206 Baseball Card
Value: $2.8 million
Sports cards don’t get any more valuable than the Honus Wagner T206 tobacco card. At nearly $3 million, it’s hard to imagine that anything will ever surpass it. While there is significant controversy surrounding the card, it will likely always be considered the holy grail of sports card collecting. Wagner was a terrific player and coach and one of the true greats of the sport. His career as a player began in 1897 and ended 20 years later. In 1933, he would become the coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he would stay until his retirement in 1951. The famous T206 baseball card from American Tobacco Company is the most expensive sports card ever because of its rarity and its grade of PSA 8 by Professional Sports Authenticator. As of 2013, only 57 are thought to exist.