Collectible Baseball Cards

It is pretty safe to say that no sport loves stats more than baseball, with every single player who has ever played the game essentially ranked on the numbers they put up during their career. Fans of baseball will argue for hours and hours about the value of batting average versus runs batted in, or saves against wins by a pitcher. It is perhaps because of stats alone that collectible baseball cards are the most popular type of trading card out there. The glossy picture of the player on the front is almost completely overshadowed by the stats on the back, although that gets a little more pronounced as the age of the collector rises.

What’s ironic in all of this is that collectible baseball cards have a history that goes all over the place in regards of the types of people that choose to collect them. It can be argued that the very first cards were aimed at adults, as they were put together by companies looking to advertise their services. That notion was made all the more true when major tobacco companies started adding the cards to their packs of cigarettes back in the day, which is not really something that kids would have access to. Even when kids did start to pick up the cards, it was not uncommon for them to put them in the spokes of their bikes, so that they could make a very satisfying clacking sound as they pedaled up and down the street. That has all changed now, though, as baseball cards have not only become collectible, but also valuable. Let’s take a trip back in time to see how they ended up that way.

The History of Collectible Baseball Cards

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that baseball trading cards date all the way back to the 1860’s. The Civil War had ended and Americans were looking for something fun to help them get over the atrocities of the war that had plagues the nation for years. As is often the case in tough times, sports, and in this case baseball, was what served as the medicine to start to put things right. The game itself was still very much in its infancy, but it caught the attention of the American public in a big way. In an attempt to capitalize on that growing popularity of baseball, a sporting goods company named Peck and Snyder started to make what are widely regarded as the first baseball trading cards. The cards were really nothing more than a way to advertise the business, but the general public bought into the idea in a big way, leading other companies to follow suit.

T206 – One of the Most Collectible Baseball Card Sets in History

The next to jump on the collectible baseball cards bandwagon were the tobacco companies, with one in particular perhaps responsible for kicking off the collectability of the cards. From 1909-1911, the American Tobacco Company, through many of its affiliated subsidiaries, issued the T206 series of cards.

One of the most popular players of that time was Honus Wagner. It is estimated that only 60 to 200 Wagner cards were released, as he refused to allow any more of his cards to be printed when he learned his image was being associated with Tobacco.

The T206 Honus Wagner card is now the most sought after of all cards, and it is somewhat ironic that one of the biggest purchases of the card was made in recent years by hockey star Wayne Gretzky, whose rookie and signed cards are among the most collectible out there.

Collectible Baseball Cards Gain Even More Popularity

By the 1930’s, baseball had become big business, thanks to major stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. It shouldn’t really be considered a coincidence that the popularity of trading cards took a real spike during this period. It also helped that the quality of the cards had increased dramatically since the early days, making them all the more collectible in the process. As you might expect, World War II put a little bit of a damper on everything, but the face of the baseball trading card world changed dramatically once the war ended, with a company called Topps leading the way.

Topps Reinvents Baseball Card Distribution

Topps started producing collectible baseball cards in packs, usually with a little piece of bubble gum included, which helped them essentially dominate and shape the way in which the trading card business was run from that point forward. Topps wasn’t the only company (or even the first) to do this, but they were absolutely the most successful.

Rather than the easy availability of cards making them less valuable, the opposite happened. People started to go out of their way to collect whole sets, with many separating their cards by teams in binders with plastic sleeves. Baseball trading cards quickly became big business, with value placed on the quality and desirability of individual cards. A player who went on to great success in the game would soon see the value of his cards, especially the rookie card, skyrocket in value. Perhaps the most valuable card of the post-war era would be the #311 Mickey Mantle card, which is still in high demand to this day.

Over-Production of the 1980s

By the time the 1980s had rolled around, America’s game was at the height of its popularity, and a number of other major trading card companies had joined Topps in trying cash in on the booming markets. Many people had observed the successful growth of baseball card values and many new collectors came to the table. To keep up with demand, many of the card companies increased the production. During the 1980s, the prices continued to surge. However, that growth would be short lived. Soon, when collectors realized how easy it was to get the cards they wanted, the effects of supply and demand took place. Card prices started to fall. Despite the fact that many baseball stars played in the 1980s, many of the cards from that time are not worth a lot today.

On the flip side, all kinds of cool new sets were delivered, with the likes of “Game Used” cards becoming a must have for collectors. These sets would contain little pieces of the player’s jersey, glove, or bat included with the card, making it all the more appealing.

Collectible Baseball Cards Today and In the Future

If you were to ask a collector what the most important aspect of a card is, most would likely say quality. An autographed rookie card that features a major star of the game is great, but it means nothing if the corners are bent or the card looks worn.

Today, many high quality cards are placed in plastic cases or even encased after being professionally graded. This not only keeps the cards in their current condition, but also increases confidence in the actual condition of the card. My personal favorite professional grading service is PSA.

You would think that as we are now in the digital age that trading cards would start to become less popular, but the big companies have now adopted digital cards that can be used in games on specific apps. These aren’t likely to hold any real value in the future, which is good news for those that are holding on to the cardboard cards of old, all of which will only grow in value over time. There’s no doubt that collectible baseball cards are one of the most traded and sought after collectibles in history.

List of Popular Baseball Card Sets

Here is a list of some of the more popular baseball card sets throughout history. Don’t get me wrong; there are other fantastic sets out there, but these are the most collected. If you’re just starting out with collecting baseball cards, then this is the list you should consider starting with. Why? Because, they’re more commonly traded, which means you can more easily build a collection as well as treat them as collectible investments.

Early Popular Collectible Baseball Cards

  • 1887 Allen & Ginter
  • 1909 American Caramel (E91) Set A
  • 1909 Philadelphia Caramel (E92)
  • 1909-1911 T206 Whit Border
  • 1910 E98 Set
  • 1910 Standard Caramel (E93)
  • 1910-1912 Sweet Caporal Pins P2
  • 1911 Mecca Double Folder (T201)
  • 1911 T205 Gold Border
  • 1911 T3 Turkey Red Cabinets
  • 1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folders
  • 1913 Fatima Team Cards
  • 1914 Cracker Jack
  • 1915 Cracker Jack

1930s and 1940s Collectible Baseball Cards

  • 1933 Goudey
  • 1934 Goudey
  • 1934-1936 Batter up
  • 1934-1936 Diamond Stars
  • 1935 Goudey
  • 1936 Goudey
  • 1936 S & S Game
  • 1938 Goudey
  • 1939 Play Ball
  • 1940 Play Ball
  • 1941 Double Play
  • 1941 Goudey
  • 1941 Play Ball
  • 1948 Bowman
  • 1948-49 Leaf
  • 1949 Bowman

1950s Collectible Baseball Cards

  • 1950 Bowman
  • 1950 Callahan HOF
  • 1951 Bowman
  • 1951 Topps Blue Back
  • 1951 Topps Red Back
  • 1952 Berk Ross
  • 1952 Bowman
  • 1952 Red Man Tobacco
  • 1952 Topps
  • 1953 Bowman Black & White
  • 1953 Bowman Color
  • 1953 Red Man Tobacco with Tab
  • 1953 Topps
  • 1954 Bowman
  • 1954 Dan-Dee Potato Chips
  • 1954 Red Hearts
  • 1954 Topps
  • 1954 Wilson Franks
  • 1955 Bowman
  • 1955 Red Man Tobacco with Tab
  • 1955 Topps
  • 1955 Topps Doubleheaders
  • 1956 Topps
  • 1957 Topps
  • 1958 Topps
  • 1959 Armour Coins
  • 1959 Fleer Ted Williams
  • 1959 Topps

1960s Collectible Baseball Cards

  • 1960 Armour Coins
  • 1960 Fleer
  • 1960 Leaf
  • 1960 Topps
  • 1961 Golden Press
  • 1961 Nu-Card Scoops
  • 1961 Topps
  • 1961-62 Fleer
  • 1962 Salada-Junket Coins
  • 1962 Topps
  • 1963 Fleer
  • 1963 Salada-Junket Coins
  • 1963 Topps
  • 1964 Topps
  • 1964 Topps Coins
  • 1964 Topps Giants
  • 1964 Topps Stand Up
  • 1965 Topps
  • 1965 Topps Embossed
  • 1966 Topps
  • 1967 Topps
  • 1967 Topps Red Sox Stickers
  • 1968 Topps
  • 1968 Topps Game
  • 1969 Topps
  • 1969 Topps Decal
  • 1969 Topps Deckle Edge
  • 1969 Topps Supers

1970s Collectible Baseball Cards

  • 1970 Kellogg’s
  • 1970 Milton Bradley
  • 1970 Rold Gold Pretzels
  • 1970 Topps
  • 1970 Topps Super
  • 1971 Kelloggs
  • 1971 Topps
  • 1971 Topps Greatest Moments
  • 1971 Topps Supers
  • 1972 Kelloggs
  • 1972 Kelloggs All Time Greats
  • 1972 Topps
  • 1973 Kelloggs
  • 1973 Topps
  • 1974 Kelloggs
  • 1974 Topps
  • 1974 Topps Team Checklist
  • 1974 Topps Traded
  • 1975 Kelloggs
  • 1975 Topps Mini
  • 1976 Isalys/Sweet Williams Discs
  • 1976 Kelloggs
  • 1976 Topps
  • 1976 Topps Traded
  • 1977 Kelloggs
  • 1977 Topps
  • 1977 Topps Cloth Stickers
  • 1978 Kelloggs
  • 1978 Topps
  • 1979Topps

Modern Collectible Baseball Cards

  • 1980 Kelloggs
  • 1980 Topps
  • 1981 Kelloggs
  • 1981 Topps
  • 1982 Topps
  • 1983 Topps
  • 1984 Donruss
  • 1984 Fleer Update
  • 1984 Topps
  • 1985 Topps
  • 1986 Topps
  • 1987 Topps
  • 1989 Fleer
  • 1989 Upper Deck
  • 1990 Leaf
  • 1990 Upper Deck
  • 1991 Topps Desert Shield
  • 1991 Upper Deck Nolan Ryan Heroes
  • 1992 Bowman
  • 1992 Topps
  • 1993 Finest Refractor

What Next?

You may want to consider adding some collectible baseball cards to your collection. Feel free to reach out to me if there’s something specific that you’re looking for. Also, eBay and Heritage Auctions are both great resources for finding baseball card investments.

You may also want to learn about footballhockey, or basketball cardsNon-sports trading cards are pretty fun too!

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