Topps baseball cards have been some of the most valuable pieces of sports memorabilia. Starting as a small family business, the recent Fanatics acquisition of the Topps brand signals the company’s prosperous future.
Updated Mar 17, 2023
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The Topps Company founded in 1938 by the four iconic Topps brothers is renowned more for its classic trading cards than its stale bubble gum. Originally selling single pieces of penny gum, Topps took a big leap in 1947 and introduced Bazooka Bubble Gum—much to the delight of kids everywhere.
After Bowman Gum Company paved the way in 1951 by marketing baseball and football card premiums, Topps followed suit and debuted two 52-card sets in jest. Little did scoffers know, Topps's cards would go on to become a multi-million dollar industry.
In 1956, Topps acquired Bowman Gum Company before finalizing the standard 2.5" x 3.5" card size the following year each featuring an illustrative athlete portrait and full history and stat details.
Topps cards truly have a special place in history, with an ever-growing list of precious, ultra-valuable cards in circulation. From Ken Griffey, Jr. and Nolan Ryan to Mike Trout and Reggie Jackson, each Topps baseball card features one of baseball's star players. The first baseball card in each set often serves as a visual timestamp of the greats, from the early 1950s to the present day.
Topps baseball cards are still highly sought-after collectibles as evidenced by the $500 million acquisition of Topps's name and sports and entertainment division by U.S. sports merchandise retailer Fanatics. This acquisition meant Fanatics got exclusive rights to produce Major League Baseball (MLB) cards and fast-tracked its original plan—to release MLB trading cards by 2026.
Also, the sports card industry has seen a surge in interest after the pandemic, with Yahoo! News reporting that seven of the ten most expensive sports cards in history were sold during lockdown. Similarly, eBay hosted four million more trading card transactions in 2020 than in 2019—a 142% growth rate.
Baseball cards have been a beloved collectible item since the early 20th century, and Topps dominates the industry. Some of the most expensive cards in the hobby include old sports cards like the 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson and newer ones like the 2011 Topps Update Mike Trout—all worth serious money.
Topps cards are highly sought-after due to their rarity, iconic imagery, and collectability, with the most expensive being the 1952 Mickey Mantle card, which sold for $2.88 million in 2018.
Collecting baseball cards isn’t just a hobby, but also a popular form of alternative investing. And with Topps now owned by Fanatics, their trading cards are set to remain a stalwart of baseball.
Let’s take a closer look at eight of the most expensive Topps baseball cards and why their worth money.
A 1952 Topps Willie Mays card fetched $478,000 at auction in May 2016.
The 1952 Topps Willie Mays card is one of the most important and valuable post-war sports cards—capturing the on-field accomplishments of one of baseball’s GOATs.
Mays was a 24-time All-Star, two-time NL Most Valuable Player, 12-time Gold Glove winner, and 1951 Rookie of the Year. He also made one of the most memorable plays in baseball history in 1954 known today as "the catch.”
These stellar accomplishments have resulted in a card that’s in high demand among collectors. The front of the card shows a young Mays dressed in the classic New York Giants road uniform, with a somewhat disgusted look on his face as if you shat in his Wheaties.
On the reverse side, it reads "Willie Mays, New York Giants" and lists his statistics and accolades, like being the 1951 Rookie of the Year, having 660 career home runs—the third highest, behind Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth, by his retirement—and a .302 batting average.
This baseball card is prone to tilt or diamond cuts and centering problems, but that hasn't stopped Mays fans from investing in one. Willie Mays was an incredible player and his 1952 Topps card does his career justice.
A PSA 9 grade is ultra rare and can set you back by up to six figures, with the average price of one currently sitting at around $245,000. But if your pockets aren't that deep, you could still find lesser-graded cards for as low as $1,000.
With Mays being one of the few players in history to have eight consecutive seasons of topping the 100-RBI mark, it's easy to see why this card has gone on to become one of the cornerstones of post-war baseball card collections.
A 1968 Topps Mets Rookies Jerry Koosman/Nolan Ryan #177 card sold for $612,359 in August 2016.
Source: Heritage Auctions
Pitching phenomena Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan are the two dominant Mets rookies featured on this iconic 1968 Topps card. Not only did they anchor the 1969 Miracle Mets to an improbable World Series Championship, but they also left an indelible imprint on sports. The rookie card featuring both stars has since shot up to unprecedented heights of desirability and value.
The card showcases the faces of two of the greatest Mets of all time—Ryan's eight-time All-Star selection, 11 league-leading strikeout titles, and 324 wins are enough to make any collector drool. Not to be overshadowed, Koosman provided a superb crusade of his own with an impressive 17-9 record, 2.28 ERA, and 180 strikeouts in the same year.
Though their careers took them on different paths, the two dominant players undoubtedly had a powerful impact on baseball. The pairing was prophetic, and the 1968 Topps card featuring both Ryan and Koosman has become a cherished item in the hearts of not just Mets fans, but baseball fans everywhere.
The 1963 Rookie Stars card featuring four legends of the game fetched $717,000 at auction.
The 1963 Topps Rookie Stars card features four legendary players at the beginning of their careers whose names would go down in baseball history. Pete Rose is the standout of this card as the all-time Hit King. He was an unrelenting force throughout his 24-year career, where he broke records in hits, at-bats, and games played.
Despite his controversial post-career scandal and banishment from the game, Rose’s career achievements are impossible to deny. He was a 17-time All-Star, NL MVP in 1973, and also won two World Series titles. Although his .303 career batting average pales in comparison to the other three players on the card, his 2,165 runs, 160 home runs, and 4,256 hits make him one of the most prolific offensive players of all time.
Also featured is Al Weis, a journeyman centerfielder who made a name for himself during the Mets's 1969 season thanks to his ninth-inning single in Game 2 of the World Series and a seventh-inning home run in Game 5. His 346 career hits are an impressive feat, yet nowhere close to that of Rose.
Weis played six seasons in Chicago before being traded to the New York Mets in 1968 and is remembered for his dependable fielding and clutch hitting.
The Pedro Gonzalez on this Rookie Stars pack also adds immense value. A natural lefty, Gonzalez joined the Cleveland Indians in 1965 as a switch-hitter and quickly established himself as a formidable power hitter. He would go on to be named an All-Star three times, with a .244 career batting average, 8 home runs, and 70 RBI.
Ken McMullen rounds out the quartet. The former California Angels third baseman played for six different teams in his 18-year career and was known more for his glove than for his bat. His .248 lifetime slugging average is not as impressive as the other three, but his 568 career runs and 606 RBI are nothing to sniff at.
This valuable Rookie Stars card, with a stained blue shelf along the top that’s susceptible to chipping, features four of the most iconic players to ever grace the diamond.
Pete Rose is unquestionably the star of the show, with his all-time records in games played, plate appearances, at-bats, and hits.
The others on the card are no less impressive, with Al Weis coming through with his clutch hits in the 1969 World Series, Pedro Gonzalez providing powerful home runs, and Ken McMullen getting it done with the glove.
With its precarious border and uneasy history, this baseball card will remain inextricably linked with these four great and powerful players. In August 2016, a PSA 10-graded card fetched $717,000 after going for just $157,000 at an auction four years prior.
The 1963 Topps Rookie Stars card is a timeless piece of baseball's greatest plays and most exciting moments—not even the print defects, lousy centering, and the occasional counterfeits can ruin that.
A 1952 Topps Jackie Robinson card that sold for $984,000 at Goldin Auctions in 2021 remains one of the most expensive sports cards ever sold.
Jackie Robinson is an icon of baseball forever remembered for breaking the color barrier and having a lasting impact on the game. His 1952 Topps card is a beautiful and important part of MLB history, featuring a happy Robinson, full of potential despite the racial discrimination he faced.
His stats tell us he was really something special, with a .308 batting average, 19 home runs, 24 stolen bases, and a remarkable .440 OBP to set a league-high. His bat control was also legendary—despite 5,000 at-bats in his career, Robinson struck out only 291 times—an awe-inspiring feat.
To honor Robinson's legacy and impact, MLB retired his number 42 in 1997, and he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. The value of the 1952 Topps Robinson baseball card has no doubt been bolstered by the player’s remarkable achievements.
Jackie Robinson's 1952 Topps card stands as a tribute to a man who changed the game for the better. He found a way to smile through the hate and, with this gorgeous card, fans can still appreciate his contributions.
A PSA 9 1952 Mickey Mantle Card sold for $2.8 million at auction in 2018.
The Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps rookie card is the most valuable piece of sports memorabilia in the world, with an estimated value of up to $4.2 million. It’s the most coveted baseball card in the legendary 1952 Topps set, which includes 407 cards and an all-star cast of iconic baseball players like Phil Rizzuto, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Monte Irvin, Warren Spahn, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, and Pee Wee Reese.
This rare baseball card is not only valuable because of its limited quantity—with only a handful in PSA 9 condition—but also due to its representation of the legendary Yankees outfielder, who earned seven World Championships, three American League MVP Awards, and the 1956 Triple Crown.
But the 1952 Topps set is also famously known for “The Find” of 1986 when a massive collection of high numbered cards were discovered in a New England home. With up to 75 Mickey Mantle rookie cards in gem mint condition, these cards are now in PSA sleeves and are arguably the most coveted modern sports cards.
If you want to be the envy of your friends, it's time to search for that elusive Mickey Mantle rookie card. Mantle's 1952 Topps #311 baseball card is the undeniable poster child of sports memorabilia collecting.
A signed silver mint card of Roberto Clemente raked in over a million dollars at an auction in 2021.
The 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente rookie card is a jewel of a baseball card. It's the one all other baseball cards aspire to be—sparking conversations at card shows and drawing the eyeballs of admirers and collectors.
Not only does it feature a beautiful design—it's also one of the rarest rookie cards in the Topps set, with a base production of just 22. Roberto Clemente was a 15-time All-Star and four-time batting champ, solidifying his status as a Hall of Fame outfielder.
In March 2021, a PSA 9 card sold for $1,050,000 at an auction. For those who know their cards, that auction marked the second time a card from Clemente had ever sold for more than seven figures. No one can resist a piece of baseball history and amazing art, but what makes the 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente rookie card so valuable is its rareness and proud history.
When Roberto died in 1971, the Hall of Fame waived a rule in order to induct him. Plus, in 2022, this baseball card was used to celebrate the 21st annual Roberto Clemente Day—that tells you something. Collectors have recognized the rarity and significance of the card.
Roberto Clemente’s 1955 Topps rookie cards are the perfect centerpiece for any collection. It stands out among other cards and carries a history of rarety, reverence, and nostalgia through its vibrant colors and detailed card back. Not only that, it provides a great investment opportunity for collectors.
With only one PSA 10 in existence, this baseball card is expected to fetch even higher sums in the future. So if you're a fan of the great Roberto Clemente and enjoy investing in quality cards, this is one you should most definitely have your eye on.
The 2011 Topps Update Mike Trout Target Red Border is worth up to seven figures.
Mike Trout is an All-Star Silver Slugger Award-winning outfielder who’s had a remarkable career since his rookie debut in the 2011 regular season. He has dominated the American League MVP voting, finishing first or second in the voting five times, and even broke a record by winning three consecutive Silver Slugger Awards.
Mike has tallied an impressive 382 hits, 134 RBIs, 129 runs, and 49 stolen bases, as well as 36 home runs, 111 RBIs, and 115 runs in 2014 alone. With even more awards and achievements under his belt, Mike Trout is truly a force to be reckoned with, and it's no wonder why he's one of the biggest stars in the MLB.
The Mike Trout Topps Update card is an incredibly sought-after item among investors and sports collectors. For example, an ultra-rare 2011 Topps Mike Trout Platinum card sale made waves in the sports collectible world when it fetched over $1 million in a private sale.
Versions of the 2011 Mike Trout update have fetched the highest price ever for a post-1960 Topps flagship baseball card, making it a must-have for serious baseball card collectors. The Red Border version is definitely the winner of the bunch, having matched its color scheme with the Angels logo.
A PSA 10 1969 Reggie Jackson (white border) #260 sold for over $1 million in February 2021.
Reggie Jackson's 1969 Topps rookie card #260 is truly a sight to behold, with its beautiful blue background and the classic portrait of the future Hall of Fame slugger himself. But what makes it valuable is how difficult it is to find top-graded ones without defects like image tilts or dull colors—not just any old copy of the card will suffice.
What’s even more impressive is that—when you find this baseball card with all the centering and color elements intact—it’s a real testament to who Mr. October was, a player that could perform on the biggest stage of them all.
A PSA 10 1969 Jackson rookie card sold for $1,005,600 at Heritage's February 2021 Platinum auction.
The Jackson card attests to the surge in interest seen in the hobby during the pandemic, with long-time collectors rediscovering their beloved hobby and an influx of new buyers investing in the market.
Jackson had a long and successful career, starting with the Oakland A’s through his time with the New York Yankees. He’s considered one of the best players of all time, so his cards are undoubtedly highly sought-after and valued by collectors.
The 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson card is a perfect keepsake of the start of Jackson’s stellar career, which makes it a particularly desirable item for baseball memorabilia collectors. The fact that it’s in perfect condition would only add to its value.
The baseball memorabilia market has been further fueled by cash-rich collectors and companies buying up valuable cards and selling shares of high-priced items, with Heritage auctions enjoying many spectacular outcomes in the past few months. Its May 6-8 catalog auction is expected to auction more sought-after cards, collectors anticipate a heated bidding war.
However, Heritage VP of Sports Dan Imler warns that the market is a bit suspect from a stability standpoint because investors may sell when things pull back a little. As such, the hobby needs to be sustained.
The importance of baseball cards is evidenced by the surge in interest and record-breaking sales during the pandemic. Collecting Topps trading cards has been a national pastime for 75 years and, with its recent acquisition by Fanatics, the brand is set to continue to be a permanent fixture in the baseball world.
As such, baseball cards can be a lucrative investment, with some of the highest sales in history happening in the past two and some-odd years. Baseball cards also have nostalgic value, with many sports fans returning to the hobby as a way to get their kick.
The best baseball cards are popular alternative assets to invest in. The global sports card trading market was valued at more than $13 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach more than $49 billion by 2032. Autographed sports cards, card flipping, and buying and holding cards are some of the common strategies investors use. Buying and selling cards can be done at trade shows, auctions, online, or brick-and-mortar retailers.
Many investors diversify their valuable card collections by trading in rookie cards, cards with printing errors, autographed cards, and cards from different sports, players, and series, and generations should all be considered.
From Andy Pafko in 1952 to Mike Trout in 2020, the lead-off card in their flagship set has featured some of baseball's greatest greats. This has resulted in collectors having a visual history from the first Topps baseball card in every set to the most recent.
Fanatics's acquisition of Topps' name, sports, and entertainment division for $500 million will give them exclusive rights with MLB. That could mean that the Topps name could be retired or transformed into a Fanatics sub-brand. Whatever the case may be, Topps cards are sure to maintain their legacy as the ideal collectors cardboard, both within and outside of sports.
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