Rare, Valuable Baseball Cards From History

Collecting baseball cards isn't what it used to be, but for those that do it, it can be quite lucrative. A lot of factors affect the value of a card. Printing errors and small print runs are a given. However, if the player was involved in a scandal, it can affect the price, too. How the public perceives a player can influence a card's value. 

If you're a collector of cards from the 1960s and earlier, however, you needn't worry about scandal ruining your collection - too much time has passed for that to be a factor. But the condition, number of cards produced, and the number of cards still in existence will always be a factor. 

When a card is officially graded, it is done so on a scale of one to 10, with one being the poorest condition and 10 the best. Of the cards on our list, there are not many that have been found that are a "10," also known as "gem mint." If they do exist, one of these rare cards could be valued in the millions. Check out the most valuable baseball cards below. Hopefully, you're sitting on a long lost "gem" yourself!

  •  1952 Mickey Mantle (Topps) 
    Photo: ebay / Fair Use

    What It's Worth: $12.6 million and up
    Why It's Worth So Much: New York Yankee Mickey Mantle's 1952 Topps card is tops in value. The last time one came up for auction in 2022, it sold for $12.6 million, becoming “the most world’s most expensive piece of sports memorabilia.” There were quite a few made; however, not many exist today because hundreds of them were thrown into the ocean. Topps was just over a year old when its second series of baseball cards tanked among buyers, who were kids who generally bought them for a penny a piece at carnivals. After the cards sat for seven years in a warehouse collecting dust, Topps' owner Sy Berger dumped hundreds of boxes of cards in the Atlantic Ocean, inadvertently creating the second most valuable baseball card. 

  • What It's Worth: $3 million and up
    Why It's Worth So Much: The 1909 Honus Wagner is the Holy Grail of baseball cards. It's extremely rare: There were at most 200 ever printed, and there are only about 60 left in the world today. The American Tobacco Company created the cards, but their production was cut short by Wagner, a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, for one of two reasons: He either didn't want his name and face associated with tobacco because many of his fans were kids or he wasn't compensated for the use of his likeness to begin with.

    Either way, he called off production, and in doing so, created the most valuable baseball card in the world. Even those in poor shape command a solid six figures (a "2" went for $1.2 million in 2019), and the highest price ever paid for a Wagner was $7.25 million in 2022.

  • 1909 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson (American Caramel, E90-1) 
    Photo: eBay / Fair Use

    What It's Worth: $660,000 and up
    Why It's Worth So Much: "Shoeless" Joe Jackson's officially recognized rookie card is one of just a few that was made when he was actually playing as an outfielder in the MLB. There aren't very many of these cards in existence, and those that have come to auction aren't in particularly great shape. However, even though it wasn't in mint condition, one sold for $667,189 in 2016. 

  • 1968 Nolan Ryan Rookie Card (Topps)
    Photo: eBay / Fair Use

    What It's Worth: $612,000 and up
    Why It's Worth So Much: The Nolan Ryan rookie card isn't incredibly rare, but those that are in top condition with no printing issues are highly collectible and nearly impossible to find. Depicting the young New York Mets pitcher, Nolan Ryan rookie cards issued by Topps are in high demand, and even the lower-quality cards can get a few thousand dollars at auction. Demand continues to climb for the cards, which can fetch six or even seven figures in "gem mint" condition.

  • 1951 Mickey Mantle Rookie Card (Bowman)

    1951 Mickey Mantle Rookie Card (Bowman)
    Photo: eBay / Fair Use

    What It's Worth: $588,000 and up
    Why It's Worth So Much: Much like his 1952 Topps card, the 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle card commands big bucks. These were also generally collected by kids, played with widely, and printed poorly, so coming across a high-grade collectible isn't easy. However, it has happened. A near-mint card given a grade of "9" sold for $588,000 in the spring of 2019. 

  • 1914 Babe Ruth Rookie Card 
    Photo: eBay / Fair Use

    What It's Worth: $575,000 and up
    Why It's Worth So Much: Babe Ruth rookie card is a high-value collectible. Here, Ruth is a minor league pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. There are less than 10 copies of this card in existence, and they don't come to auction very often. In 2012, a card in "good" condition sold for $575,000. Of course, if one is ever found in "gem mint" condition, it could probably be worth a million or more.