What Is The Rarest Baseball Card?

There is a massive industry around baseball trading cards, where the rarest cards can sell for millions.

Whether you are an avid baseball card trader, a rookie collector, or just interested in some of the rarest and most expensive cards that have been on the market – this is the article for you. Read on to learn all about pricey baseball cards.

What Determines The Rarity And Price Of A Baseball Card? 

There are a number of factors that determine how rare and valuable a baseball card will be. There are so many different varieties of baseball trading cards, all of which have their own class.

Not only are different sets, different players, different teams, and different eras, but cards are also graded/valued based on their condition, scarcity, and whether it has been signed. 

So, a first edition card of a popular player (where there were not many produced) which is in excellent condition, or has been signed by the player, will be worth a lot more than a second edition card of the same player, which is dog-eared, creased, bent, stained, or scratched. 

Typically, the price of any given card depends largely on its rarity and condition with a common card costing less than a rarer one.

However, because of the size of the card collecting community, even a common card can fetch you a fair bit of money if it is in the right condition, so don’t go throwing them out. 

1. Honus Wagner – Last Sold For $6,606,000

The front and back of the T206 Honus Wagner sold by Robert Edward Auctions.
 ROBERT EDWARD AUCTIONS

The most valuable baseball card of the 20th century is the 1911 Tobacco Company card of Honus Wagner, who was known as “the flying Dutchman” because of his speed. He had 3,420 hits, 723 steals, and 896 walks in his career.

He led the National League in batting eight times, stolen bases, and runs batted in five times each. He also led the National League in doubles twice. Wagner was inducted into the very first Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.

The legendary Wagner T206 card is an iconic baseball card, as it is incredibly rare. There are a few stories that explain the card’s rarity.

In one legend, Wagner, who was a teetotaler, hated that his image was being used to promote smoking, which is why so few cards were produced.

Another story is that Wagner demanded more compensation for appearing on the cards, so the company could only produce a limited run.

Regardless of the reasoning behind it, the  Wagner T206 card remains to be one of the rarest cards and is sought after by many collectors. This has driven the price up astronomically, with one card selling for $6,606,000 in August 2021. 

2. Mickey Mantle – Last Sold For $5,200,000

From: PSA

Mickey Mantle is a notable and notorious player –  he was the first superstar baseball player since Babe Ruth to win MVP awards in both leagues (1955 & 1956), and then went on to win three World Series titles.

He had a record 536 home runs during his career and was known for being a tremendous all-rounder player, with a proven record as a great hitter, fielder, base runner, and pitcher.

He was elected into the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1973. Out of all of his cards, the Topps1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card is his most iconic because it shows him in his prime. 

In 1952, Topps owner, Sy Berger let the printing press run for some of his company’s cards. But, as they were released in the late summer, collectors weren’t mad about the card, and cases of the products went unsold.

In 1960, Berger had as many as 500 cases of the cards, including Mantle’s now valuable card, dumped into the Hudson. This makes the card pretty rare and gives it a fabulous backstory, which has made it a popular collector’s item. 

3. Babe Ruth – Last Sold For $4,212,000

From: PSA

Babe Ruth was the game’s original superstar. He was also known as “the Sultan of Swat,” and “The Colossus of Clouts.” In fact, when he retired, he held the record for most career total bases (3,964), runs batted in (2,721), and home runs (714).

He was named an All-Star in 14 consecutive seasons, won eight World Series titles, and hit 60 home runs in a single season. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.

In 1933, just after Ruth’s final World Series title, the Goudey Gum Company printed a 240-card set, including four Ruth cards.

The collectors’ favorite (and, as usually is, the rarest) was card No. 53, with Ruth standing against a sunny yellow background, and it remains the standard to this day.

This iconic card was graded in mint condition by a Professional Sports Authenticator and subsequently sold for a whopping $4.2 million. 

4. Mike Trout – Last Sold For $3,900,000

This Trout card is one of 25. PHOTO BY GOLDIN AUCTIONS

Trout is widely considered to be the game’s best active player. He has won three American League MVP awards, and he is also a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. This particular card displays a lot of star power. It is an icon among baseball fans.

The specific card that sold for $3,900,000 features Trout’s signature and his number 89 on the back. It is his 2009 Bowman Draft BDPP89 Superfactor, sold to an unknown buyer in August 2020. 

Topps, the company which produces Bowman cards, also started to create “parallel” cards in 1992, short-printed versions of base cards, making them far rarer (and more valuable).

The Superfractor version of Trout’s Bowman Draft autographed rookie card is a metallic gold color and was limited to just one copy, setting the record for highest card sale until it was eclipsed several times in both 2020 and 2021.

Final Thoughts 

To conclude, there are many different factors that determine what is the rarest baseball card. Some of these include popularity, scarcity, value, and demand.

These factors can change over time, so you should always keep up with current trends. For example, if a player retires or moves to another team, their value will decrease.

Conversely, if a player becomes a free agent, their price will likely increase. 

Overall, there are a number of incredibly rare and expensive cards that baseball card collectors across the globe have their eyes on. 

Bruno Breen
Latest posts by Bruno Breen (see all)