While some are icons that have been sought after by collectors for decades, others are only a few years old and represent players whose careers are still developing.
In 2000, a baseball card made history when it became the first sports card to sell for more than $1 million. Two decades later, the list of most expensive sports cards includes 20 that have cracked the $1 million threshold, with cards featuring stars from baseball, basketball, football and hockey.
The following cards make up the current list of the most expensive sports cards ever sold. While some are icons that have been sought after by collectors for decades, others are only a few years old and represent players whose careers are still developing. Overall, the list makes it clear that sports card collecting is a hobby that is alive and well and more profitable than ever.
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Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps – $12.6 million
On Sunday, August 28, 2022, a Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps card shattered the record for most expensive sports card when it was sold for $12.6 million by Heritage Auctions.
The 1952 Mickey Mantle card, which has been referred to as the Chairman of the Cardboard, is an iconic card for a number of reasons. For one, it is impossible to deny the superstar status of the player it features. Mickey Mantle is known as one of baseball’s greatest sluggers and a legendary switch hitter. He holds the record of being the only player in history to hit 150 home runs as both a right-handed and left-handed batter.
Scarcity is another reason the card carries a multi-million-dollar price tag. As the story goes, the Mantle card was issued as part of the second series of Topps cards released that year. By the time they hit the shelves, the kids who bought sports cards had shifted their attention to football cards. Many of the boxes of cards that contained Mickey Mantles reportedly languished on shelves until they were thrown in the trash.
Finally, the 1952 Topps set was the first set put out by the beloved sports card company. These factors have led to the card being one of the most famous and sought-after cards in history. For information on other Mickey Mantle cards graded by CSG, click here.
Honus Wagner T206 – $7.25 million
Legend says it is a card that never should have been printed. Apparently, baseball legend Honus Wagner did not want his name associated with cigarettes, so he did not agree to appear on the baseball cards issued by the American Tobacco Company between 1909 and 1911 as part of its T206 set. But somewhere between 50 and 200 Wagner cards were printed prior to Wagner’s refusal. Today, they are considered the Holy Grail of baseball card collecting.
The Honus Wagner T206 has held onto the record for most expensive sports card since August 2021, when one was sold for $6.6 million. Nearly a year to the day of that sale, in August 2022, an example sold for $7.25 million in a private sale.
Wagner played major league baseball from 1897 to 1917, mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He led the National League in batting for eight seasons, a record that still stands today. He also led the league in stolen bases five times, a feat that earned him the nickname the Flying Dutchman. In 1936, he was one of the first players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Steph Curry 2009 Panini National Treasures Rookie Patch Autograph – $5.9 million
Longtime fans of the NBA know that the game has changed in recent years. The new style of gameplay is fast-paced and marked by a ton of three-point shooting. Some have dubbed it the NBA’s 3-point revolution. Steph Curry, the superstar point guard for the Golden State Warriors, is one of the revolution’s principal architects.
Considering the role that Curry has played in changing the NBA, it seems fitting that a Steph Curry rookie card recently made headlines as part of a new kind of sports card transaction that promises to change the way sports cards are sold. In July 2021, alternative asset investment platform Alt announced it had acquired a 51 percent stake in a 2009 Panini National Treasures Steph Curry Rookie Patch Autograph. Alt reports that the card, which is a 1-of-1 that features the NBA’s logoman patch, is valued at $5.9 million. Alt did not share how much it paid for the majority ownership nor details about others who own shares of the card.
Curry was selected by Golden State in 2009 as the seventh overall pick in the draft. He led the Warriors to become NBA Champions in 2015, 2017, and 2018, and was named the NBA MVP in 2015 and 2016. He holds the record of being the fastest player in the league to achieve 2,000 career three-pointers and the record for being the fastest to score 100 three-pointers in a season.
LeBron James 2003-04 Rookie Patch Autograph Upper Deck Exquisite – $5.2 million
It seems fitting that the most expensive basketball card ever sold would feature the highest-paid basketball player in the history of the sport. LeBron James, who played his rookie year with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003-2004, has career earnings of more than $390 million over his 19 seasons in the NBA. His Upper Deck Exquisite Rookie Patch Autograph (RPA) card set a record in April 2021 when it sold for $5.2 million.
The James RPA card, which is numbered 7 of 23, features a photo of a very young looking 18-year-old James, his autograph, and a patch from a white, gold and red Cavaliers jersey. The 2003-2004 Upper Deck Exquisite collection is considered the set that launched the high-end sports card craze. The LeBron James rookie card was the ultra-rare chase card that collectors were after when paying $500 for the five-card packs.
Luka Doncic 2018-2019 Panini National Treasures Rookie Patch Autograph – $4.6 million
The 2018-2019 Panini National Treasures Rookie Patch Autograph Luka Doncic is a fantastic card with a fantastic story. The card features Slovenian superstar Luka Doncic, who is well on his way to being one of the all-time NBA greats. In only his third season, he surpassed a record set by Michael Jordan for the most consecutive games with 20 points, five assists and five rebounds.
The card that sold for $4.6 million in early 2021 is a one-of-one that features as its player-worn patch the NBA “logoman” section of the Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks jersey. It shows Doncic in action directing traffic on the court and includes his signature in blue ink.
The card first appeared to the world during a “live break” video streamed by Layton Sports Cards in Apopka, Florida. The purchase of the card was announced via Instagram on Luka Doncic’s birthday, February 28, 2021. Then in October 2021 the authenticity of the signature on the card was called into question. In an exposé published in The New York Times, it was revealed that some collectors believe Doncic’s mother is responsible for the signature. She denies the accusation.
Patrick Mahomes 2017 Panini National Treasures Rookie Patch Autograph Platinum – $4.3 million
After only four seasons in the NFL, Patrick Mahomes has already compiled an impressive list of records. He was the youngest quarterback ever to be named Super Bowl MVP, the youngest to play in two Super Bowl games and the fastest to achieve 4,000 passing yards. His dominance in the game has already led him to be considered one of the best quarterbacks in history.
Off the field, Mahomes holds a significant record, as well. At $4.3 million, his 2017 Panini National Treasures Rookie Patch Autograph Platinum card is the most expensive football card ever sold. It topped the next closest card, which features a rookie Tom Brady, by more than $1 million.
The Mahomes Rookie Patch Autograph (RPA) card is impressive. It is a one-of-one rookie card from the popular Panini National Treasures collection that features an NFL Shield logo on the patch incorporated in the design. As with all RPAs, the patch comes from a jersey that was “player worn.”
Babe Ruth 1933 Goudey #53 – $4.2 million
The iconic 1933 set of baseball cards issued by the Goudey Card Company includes four Babe Ruth cards. The #53 card, which is also known as the “Yellow Ruth,” is the most cherished because it is the most difficult to obtain in good condition. The Yellow Ruth that sold for $4.2 million in July 2021 was considered to be in top condition, especially for a card issued nearly 90 years ago.
The four Ruth cards included in the 240-card 1933 Goudy set are differentiated by the colors that are used as their backgrounds. The Red Ruth and Yellow Ruth both show the Sultan of Swat from the waist up with a bat over his shoulder. Twice as many copies of the Red Ruth were printed, making it less valuable to collectors. The third Ruth, known as “the batting pose,” zooms out to show Ruth standing on the field and swinging a bat. The fourth card features a more casual pose and a green background.
Babe Ruth was already a superstar by the time the 1933 set was issued. He had won the World Series seven times and led the American League in home runs 12 times.
For information on examples of this card graded by CSG, click here.
Mike Trout 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractor Autograph – $3.9 million
In the world of baseball cards, the top sellers have always been the classics — Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Mike Trout is an exception to that rule. When the 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Mike Trout Superfractor Autograph sold for $3.9 million in August 2020, it became the most expensive sports card ever sold, surpassing by nearly $1 million the previous record held by a 1909 Honus Wagner card.
Bowman’s Superfractor cards are a variant of the refractor card, which has a reflective coating that displays a rainbow pattern when viewed at a certain angle. The Superfractor is the rarest variant and is a one-of-one card. The Mike Trout Superfractor denotes its one-of-one status with a gold “1/1” on the back of the card and features Trout’s autograph in blue ink on the front.
Surprisingly, this was not a true Mike Trout rookie card. While 2009 marked the first year that Trout appeared on an MLB card, his true rookie season with the Los Angeles Angels did not occur until 2012. He broke numerous league and franchise records that year, including being the first rookie to hit 30 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season, and was named the Rookie of the Year.
Wayne Gretzky 1979 O-Pee-Chee – $3.75 million
Any discussion about iconic rookie sports cards must include the 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky is professional hockey’s undisputed GOAT and often included on lists of the top ten professional athletes of all time. When his rookie card sold for $3.75 million in May 2021, it surpassed by nearly $2.5 million the previous sales record for a hockey card, which was also a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky.
O-Pee-Chee is a Canadian brand whose card releases track closely with what Topps issued in the US. There are both O-Pee-Chee and Topps versions of the 1979 Wayne Gretzky rookie, with the same image, card number and stats included on both cards. To collectors, the O-Pee-Chee card has been more desirable because less examples in good condition have been offered for sale. The highest selling Topps version of the card sold for $720,000 in December 2020.
For information on examples of this card graded by CSG, click here.
Tom Brady 2000 Playoff Contender Championship Rookie Ticket Autographed Card – $3.1 million
There are 44 Tom Brady rookie cards. Only one of them bears his autograph. Is it any wonder that the 2000 Panini Playoff Contenders Tom Brady Rookie is considered by many to be the “holy grail” of football cards? At least six versions of the card sold for more than $1 million in 2021, with the most valuable one fetching $3.1 million in June.
Panini’s Contenders football cards are one of the most popular lines of NFL cards. Each year the series features a handful of Rookie Ticket Autograph cards that are favorites of collectors. The Tom Brady Rookie Ticket Autograph, of which 100 were issued, features Brady in his white New England Patriots jersey in action and about to pass. The card that sold for $3.1 million is numbered 8 of 100.
Tom Brady, considered the GOAT when it comes to professional football, has led his team to a Super Bowl victory seven times, been named the Super Bowl MVP five times, earned the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award three times and was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 2005.
For information on another sought-after Tom Brady rookie card graded by CSG, click here.
Babe Ruth 1916 M101-4 Sporting News – $2.46 million
Look at any list of the greatest baseball players of all time and you will find Babe Ruth in the top spot. The Sultan of Swat, as Ruth came to be known, is considered one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game. In 1916, however, Babe Ruth was a rookie pitcher for the Red Sox who had yet to achieve superstar status.
As a result, the Babe Ruth card issued that year by the Sporting News did not receive the same attention as those featuring Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and other all-stars. Only six of the cards are known to have survived, which certainly played a role in the recent record sale of one of them for $2.46 million. The card, which was found to have better centering and printing than any yet offered to the public, exceeded the next highest price by more than $1 million.
The card is simple compared with the design of modern cards. The only text notes Ruth’s name, position and team. The back of the card is blank. The picture is a photo that shows the 21-year-old having just delivered a pitch. Ruth had a 23-12 record that year as a pitcher, his 1.75 ERA ranking the best among American League pitchers.