culture

The 16 Most Expensive Trading Cards

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Even if you’re not into trading cards now, there’s a good chance that the culture of cards was a part of your childhood in some form. I remember arguing with friends about if certain cards were ‘real’ or ‘fake’, being able to spot what markings on the card let you know. I also can recall the tension of opening a Match Attax pack and just being happy to find some Manchester United players in there. I remember trying to craft the perfect Yu-Gi-Oh! deck, with a good balance of magic, trap, and attack cards.

But trading cards have been around a lot longer than the 2000s when I was at school, and a lot longer than when you were likely at school if you’re reading this. In fact, how long a certain card has been around is intrinsic in calculating its value. Other factors include how many of the cards were produced, what condition it is in, and who or what is on it.

Beyond just that trading cards are now a very lucrative career for some and side hustle for many. The collectors who held onto those cards from their youth may be paying huge dividends today.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of the 16 most expensive and/or valuable trading cards ever. To make things fair, because baseball was going to take up almost every single slot, we’ve including the most expensive trading cards in a few different categories like basketball and football too.

1. Honus Wagner 1909-1911 ATC T206 ($3,120,000)

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Wikimedia Commons

This card is the holy grail of all trading cards of any and every kind. The card is so valuable and famous that many only know Honus Wagner because of it. Even the versions of this card that aren’t the best condition around have sold for exorbitant amounts of money, with one PSA 5 selling for an unimaginable $3.12 million in 2016.

2. Tournament Black Luster Soldier ($2,000,000)

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eBay

While other monsters have more value – Blue-Eyes White Dragon, Slifer The Sky Dragon, Dark Magician – it’s the context which makes the Tournament Black Luster Soldier easily the most valuable Yu-Gi-Oh! card in the world. It was awarded during the 1999 Championship in Japan and is printed on stainless steel. It is rumored that it has been bought for $2 million.

3. Babe Ruth 1915-1916 Sporting News ($1,350,000)

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Wikimedia Commons

Babe Ruth already appeared earlier on this list for his 1914 card but incredibly, his 1915-1916 card is worth even more. A PSA 8 of this rookie card can easily get over $1 million at an auction. On the card, Babe wears a Red Sox uniform because it’s from before he was traded to the Yankees.

4. Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps ($1,135,250)

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Wikimedia Commons

Coming in at number four is… Mickey Mantle. What’s so special about this card is it’s a Topps card from 1952, which was the company’s first year doing sports trading cards. Automatically, everything from that year is more valuable. In 2016, a PSA 8.5 sold for $1.135 million at Heritage Auctions.

5. Joe Jackson 1909 American Caramel E90-1 ($667,189)

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Wikimedia Commons

As the name suggests, this Joe Jackson card came with caramel candy. 107 years later in 2016, a PSA 8.5 sold for $667,000. Since Joe Jackson was famously banned from the sport, fewer of his cards are in circulation today, only leading to more profit for those who have one in the stash.

6. Mickey Mantle 1951 Bowman ($580,000)

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Wikimedia Commons

Mickey Mantle’s Bowman card from 1951 is his only recognized rookie card, making it even more sought after. It is also one of the more unique ones, with Mantle’s name appearing horizontally on it. An ultra-rare PSA 9 easily cleared the half a million-dollar mark in 2017.

7. Babe Ruth 1914 Baltimore News ($575,000)

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Wikimedia Commons

This Babe Ruth rookie card from 1914 was issued before he was in the big leagues. In 2007, a collector paid close to $200k and while he didn’t intend on selling it, in 2012 someone was willing to pay nearly $600k for it, an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

8. Tom Brady 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket Autographed ($450,000)

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eBay

Autographs are a tricky business. Depending on a few factors, they can either dramatically increase the value of something or dramatically decrease it. For this Tom Brady rookie card, it increased it. Beckett Grading Services gave a particular card a 9 and it sold for nearly half a million dollars at an auction.

9. Roberto Clemente 1955 Topps ($432,690)

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eBay

The first Latin American and Caribbean to enter the National Baseball Hall Of Fame, Roberto Clemente’s 1955 Topps rookie card managed to bag just over $432k at the Dmitri Young Collection.

10. Eddie Plank 1909-1911 ATC T206 ($414,750)

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Wikimedia Commons

It is estimated that no more than 100 of these cards exist. Rumors state that Eddie either wanted to be paid more for his likeness or didn’t want to endorse tobacco to children who would covet the card. At the Robert Edwards Auction in 2012, one of the cards sold for just over $414,000.

11. Hank Aaron 1954 Topps ($358,000)

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Wikimedia Commons

Over the years, PSA 9-10 copies of this Hank Aaron card have consistently sold for over $300,000, with the highest being $358,000 in 2016. Funnily enough, not only does this card being rare to justify its price point, but the fact that it’s Hank Aaron does too. To this day, Hank remains a fan favorite in the game of baseball.

12. Pre-release Raichu ($250,000)

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eBay

As you know by now, the rarer a card is, the more valuable it is. This Pre-release Raichu card fits the bill. It is rumored that only 10 were ever made, solely for employees of Wizards Of The Coast, the distributor at the time. While sale information is hard to find, experts value this card higher than some that have sold for $200k before, so a quarter of a million seems like a fair asking price.

13. Bronko Nagurski 1935 National Chickle ($240,000)

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eBay

One of these cards was given a SGC 96, which means it was ranked 96/100 for the condition. This is quite rare as not only does it mean that the holder kept it in great condition, but that everything was printed perfectly on it too. The result? Nearly a quarter of a million dollars at an auction once.

14. Pikachu Illustrator ($224,500)

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This card was given out to winners of a comic book contest in 1997/1998. 39 were made, but less than 10 exist today in good condition if any at all. At an auction late last year, the card sold for an initial payment of $195,000, with other fees cranking up the price to a whopping $224,000.

15. Kangaskhan Parent/Child Promo Card ($133,000)

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eBay

In 1998, there was a parent/child Pokémon tournament where teams made up of a parent and their child took on other teams of a parent and child. One of the rewards at the event was a Kangaskhan card. There is a very limited amount of these around, thus increasing their value incredibly.

16. Michael Jordan 1986-1987 Rookie Card ($100,000)

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eBay

Easily the most popular and valuable basketball card ever made, the 1986-1987 Michael Jordan rookie card is not as rare as other entries on this list. However, in 2011, a card graded a 10 by Beckett Grading Services did sell for a whopping $100,000. With time, this will increase drastically.

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