Sports memorabilia and trading cards might once have been just a fun hobby of collecting pieces from your favorite teams and players, but these days it’s become a mainstream industry that sees huge sums of money thrown around for the most sought-after cards.
Specialized sports collectible auction houses, like Heritage Auctions and Goldin Auctions, help facilitate the mammoth sports card market of today – Card grading services, like PSA, SGC and BGS, have also helped, with their condition evaluation and card authentication services.
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The Most Expensive Cards For Top Sports
Most Valuable Baseball Card:
1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311
Most Valuable Football Card:
2017 Panini National Treasures RPA (Shield) Patrick Mahomes II #161
Most Valuable Basketball Card:
2009-10 Playoff National Treasures RPA (Logoman) Stephen Curry #206
Most Valuable Hockey Card:
1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky #18
Most Valuable Soccer Card:
1958 Alifabolaget Pelé #635
The 10 Most Valuable Sports Cards Ever
10. 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky #18
May 2021 – $3.75 million, PSA 10
Number 10 on the list of the most valuable sports cards of all time, the 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky, is the most expensive Hockey card ever sold, and an iconic rookie card.
Gretzky himself is established as a legendary sportsman, with a name that carries clout in the collectibles space; He’s undisputedly hockey’s greatest ever.
The O-Pee-Chee brand is the Canadian counterpart to Topps releases in the US, which often featured an almost identical design, with the different brand logo.
Wayne Gretzky’s 1979 rookie card has both a Topps version and an O-Pee-Chee version, but the Canadian-distributed O-Pee-Chee version is harder to come by, especially in good condition, and it holds a lot more value.
The record previous sale of $3.75 million, in May 2021, was a PSA 10 graded copy of the card.
9. 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket Autograph Tom Brady #144
February 2022 – $3.8 million, BGS 9
Tom Brady is widely recognized as the best quarterback in NFL history, and one of the best football players ever.
The 7-time Super Bowl champion, and 3-time NFL MVP has an impressive résumé of records and accolades, and unsurprisingly he’s one of the most collected names among football card enthusiasts.
Brady’s Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket Autograph card, released during his rookie season in 2000, is one of the most recognizable and iconic football cards ever released.
The Championship Ticket parallel, which is limited to 100 copies, sold in 2022 for $3.8 million, making it the second most valuable football card sale in history. It was graded a 9 by Beckett, with a 10 for the autograph.
8. 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractor Autograph Mike Trout #BDPP89
August 2020 – $3.84 million, BGS 9
Few baseball fans will disagree that Mike Trout is one of MLB’s greatest ever players, and few players have ever burst onto the big league scene like he did.
The 2012 AL Rookie of the Year and multiple-time AL MVP is an established and collectible name.
His best baseball card is this 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects autographed card.
Although it’s considered a prospect card and not a true rookie card of Trouts, it will likely remain the key card for the baseball great, and for a while it was the most expensive card ever sold, but it’s now down to the 8th on the list of the most valuable sports cards of all time.
The record sale is the 1-of-1 Superfractor version of the card, with a mirror-like surface, which features Mike Trout’s blue-ink signature.
The card is a cornerstone of the modern baseball card collecting hobby, and a significant piece of memorabilia for one of the sport’s greats.
7. 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth #53
July 2021 – $4.21 million, PSA 9
A card that showcases the legendary baseball icon Babe Ruth is always going to be popular with hobbyists – He’s top, or near the top, on most people’s list of the greatest players to ever play the sport.
The 1933 Goudey baseball card set is a significant and iconic one, which actually featured 4 different Ruth cards. The first, #53, which is sometimes referred to as “Yellow Ruth” is the most sought-after and valuable, because it’s the hardest to find in good condition.
The card’s status and rarity in good condition make it one of the most valuable sports cards of all time. The record sale, via Newman Auctions in July 2021, is a copy that achieved a remarkable PSA 9 grade; According to PSA’s population data, it’s the only copy that has achieved that grade or higher from them.
6. 2017 Panini National Treasures Rookie Platinum NFL Shield Autograph Patrick Mahomes II #161
July 2021 – $4.3 million, BGS 8.5
Patrick Mahomes II didn’t waste any time setting records in the NFL. He became the youngest quarterback ever to be named Super Bowl MVP, plus the youngest to achieve 4,000 passing yards; That kind of impact gets noticed in the football card hobby, particularly for a quarterback.
Another record that Mahomes holds is for the most valuable football card in history, with his 2017 Panini National Treasures RPA Platinum NFL Shield card from his rookie year.
The appealing card is backed by the brand prestige of National Treasures, which holds plenty of clout in the football card collecting hobby, to go with his signature and player-worn NFL shield logo piece.
The 1-of-1 card was graded an 8.5 by Beckett, and the record sale of $4.3 million came in July 2021 with a private sale via PWCC Marketplace. It was purchased by LJ’s Card Shop, from Ohio, who described the card as a piece of art which they were honored to add to their collection.
5. 2018-19 Panini National Treasures Rookie Logoman Autograph Luka Doncic #127
February 2021 – $4.6 million, Ungraded
Panini National Treasure Logoman cards are some of the most desirable and popular high-end modern trading cards out there, and this Luka Doncic 1-of-1 Logoman card is a gem from his first year in the NBA.
Doncic hit the ground running in the league, and his NBA rookie cards attracted a lot of interest – A few years later, in 2021, his ungraded National Treasures RPA Logoman card sold for $4.6 million in a private sale, the highest amount ever for an ungraded sports card, and for a short time a record basketball card sale.
The blockbuster card features the Slovenian star in action for the Dallas Mavericks, with his blue-ink signature and the coveted Logoman patch piece.
Almost 2 years after the record $4.6 million private sale, the 1-of-1 card sold at a public PWCC auction for a lower $3.12 million, after it had been graded a 9 by BGS.
4. 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Rookie Patch Autograph Gold LeBron James #78
April 2021 – $5.2 million, BGS 9
LeBron James’ best card, and it’s unsurprisingly one of the highest selling sports cards. He’s one of the greatest NBA players of all time.
Upper Deck’s innovative Exquisite Collection changed the sports card hobby in the early 2000s with their super-premium autographed patch cards.
The King’s rookie year was spent with the Cleveland Cavaliers, in 2003-04, and his top rookie card option was this Exquisite Gold parallel RPA card from that year, which features a hard-signed autograph, plus a jersey patch, and is serial-numbered to just 23 copies.
In 2021, the card sold for a huge $5.2 million in a BGS grade 9, which smashed the record for a basketball card sale at the time – The record breaker was number 7 of 23. According to their population report data, Beckett has graded multiple copies in a 9.
The scarcity and status of being the best LeBron James rookie card contributes to the high value of the card.
3. 2009-10 Playoff National Treasures Rookie Logoman Autograph Stephen Curry #206
July 2021 – $5.9 million, PSA 8
A revolutionary figure in the NBA, Stephen Curry is credited for helping to change professional basketball, and inspire more three-point shots.
The Golden State Warriors superstar is regarded as one of the greatest shooters, and players that the sport has ever seen, with multiple NBA Championship titles, and MVP awards.
Steph Curry’s trading cards have long been popular among collectors, and none more so than his National Treasures Rookie Logoman Autograph card, from his rookie year in 2009, which is a 1-of-1.
Quite fittingly for Curry, the card was one of the architects of a new way of buying and selling sports cards, after the card vault and trading card platform Alt purchased a 51% stake in the coveted basketball card.
Curry’s autograph is featured alongside a genuine NBA logoman patch, and It’s the most valuable basketball card ever sold, and in the top 3 for sports cards in general.
2. 1909 Sweet Caporal T206 Honus Wagner
August 2022 – $7.25 million, SGC 2
The 1909 Honus Wagner T206 card is a treasure in the world of sports cards, featuring the esteemed Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop.
There’s an interesting story behind the card, which explains its extreme rarity – The baseball legend withdrew his card from the release, and while it’s not 100% confirmed why, it’s widely believed that he did it because he didn’t want his name associated with cigarettes.
The American Tobacco Company, who owned the Sweet Caporal brand, had to stop production of his card soon after the initial release, and it’s estimated that no more than 100 copies were ever distributed, probably as little as 50.
The scarcity adds to the allure of owning one of the surviving Honus Wagner T206 cards, and for a time it was the most expensive sports card ever sold, with a $6.6 million sale in 2021, followed by its current record sale of $7.25 million in 2022, with Goldin Auctions – For now, it takes the number 2 spot on the list.
The age of the card, mixed with the limited initial pool, makes them very hard to find fully intact, so even the highest sales are versions of the card that have discoloration and damage; The record breaker was an SGC 2, but the grading company do report some higher graded versions, which would likely sell for more if they were to auction today.
🚨 BREAKING: Goldin Shatters Record for Most Expensive Trading Card Ever With $7.25 Million Private Sale of Honus Wagner T-206 Card 🚨— Goldin (@GoldinCo) August 4, 2022
The T-206 Wagner is one of the undisputed pinnacles of trading cards, with fewer than 50 authenticated copies on earth.https://t.co/0UwSHKLSFx pic.twitter.com/bs4WpAJqq9
1. 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311
August 2022 – $12.6 million, SGC 9.5
Here it is, the most expensive sports card in history is the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card (#311).
The card, which was issued as part of Series 2 of Topps baseball cards released in that year, is an iconic piece of sports memorabilia, which features the legendary baseball player, who was a 20-time All Star, a 7-time World Series champion, and a 3-time AL MVP – There’s no denying Mantle’s superstar status.
We’ve seen multiple public sales of the card in the past with eye-watering amounts of money involved – In August 2022, a version of the card graded 9.5 SGC, broke the $10 million barrier for the first time in the sports card hobby, and sold for $12.6 million with Heritage Auctions, to make it the most expensive card of all time.
The scarcity, historical significance, and Mickey Mantle’s enduring popularity all contribute to the card’s status as a desirable and valuable collector’s item among not just sports card hobbyists, but all sports memorabilia enthusiasts.
The condition of the card for the record sale definitely contributed a lot to its price – It’s rare to see a card so old (70 years at the time of sale) achieve such a high grade, like a 9.5 (Mint+) from SGC.
According to their population report, there are no other versions graded 9.5 or higher, however there are multiple PSA 10s. BGS report none graded 9.5 or higher on their population report, so that proves the rarity of it in mint condition.