October 2022 Update: Mike Trout is in with another entry thanks to the recent 1MM+ sale from a couple of weeks ago. More info below!
When it comes to the most expensive trading cards ever, is it safe yet to assume that the title will always be held by pristine vintage, or will we continue to see this trading back and forth between antique baseball cards and modern spectacles?
Tough to say, and time will tell! If anything it just goes to show the range of this “hobby” or “business” however you want to look at it. Meaning, there is something for everyone, with people in both camps – modern and vintage – willing to pony up big investments for the cards they either love and/or believe will increase in value in the future.
So, let’s take a look at the most expensive trading cards ever. Of course, some of the most valuable still might be sitting on someone’s shelf and not for sale, so all of this will be based on past sales.
You’ve probably heard of this one given it is the most recent record-breaking sale of its kind. A holy grail of sorts in its own rights even as a beat up raw/ungraded card, the $12.6M record-breaking card wasn’t just any 1952 Mickey Mantle, but a graded 9.5 by SGC.
A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card called “the finest known example in the world” was sold this morning by Heritage Auctions for the record-setting price of $12.6 million. My bid came up just short. pic.twitter.com/DYX3D13uZs— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) August 28, 2022
As the article notes:
“That is the most money anyone has ever paid for any type of sports item, card or memorabilia.”
The question I and many others have is, what if it was graded by PSA? And if you don’t know what I mean by that, but generally, cards graded by PSA sell for more than their counterparts graded by SGC and other companies.
Now, can you even imagine a card selling for more than $12.6M? I can’t, which makes me believe that the grading company in this situation doesn’t really matter as long as it is a reputable one. Then again, I couldn’t have ever imagined a card selling for $12.6M to begin with, so who knows.
When the Mantle sold, I was thinking to myself that it didn’t take long for us to move on from the previous big sale of the T-206 Honus Wagner that surpassed $7M in August 2022. It also makes you think about what might come next.
If anything, this much is clear—for a card to surpass $7M and then $12M, it most certainly will need to be a vintage or antique baseball card, and graded at that.
🚨 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
Interestingly enough, this one was only a “2” but also from SGC, who off these most recent (and most expensive) card sales, is getting a lot of good press.
Basketball, yes, basketball! If you were told a basketball card was on this list, it’s a little harder to believe because basketball cards don’t go as far back in age as say something like a Honus Wagner. Secondly, one of the greatest players of all time, Michael Jordan, didn’t play that long ago, relatively. Meaning, his rookie card in decent condition is a lot easier to find than someone like Mickey Mantle.
All that said, we aren’t even talking Michael Jordan here, but Stephen Curry, and our first example of wow, sometimes you don’t have to get lucky with a box full of cards in your grandparents’ attic to cash out with cards.
The 2009-10 Playoff National Treasures Rookie Logoman Autograph Stephen Curry has set a new sports card RECORD when it sold for $5.9 million!!! 🚀— PRIMO CARDS (@primocards1) July 7, 2021
#thehobby #whodoyoucollect #primocards #nbacards #nba pic.twitter.com/nzqZKrZqHd
What do you get when you combine the legendary Hank Aaron, his 1954 Topps rookie card, and a grade of “9” from the top grading company around, PSA? Well, only about $720,000 compared to the cards worth millions on this list, but a record for a Hank Aaron card.
:// Generate —> #CardLadder #AllTimeHigh— Card Ladder (@CardLadder) August 20, 2022
The 1954 Topps Hank Aaron Base #128 PSA 9 (pop 25) set an all-time high when it sold for $720,000.00 (Aug 18, 2022) via Auction with PWCC Premier. The card sold for $504,000.00 (Oct 23, 2021) 10 months ago. It’s up 42.86% ($216,000.00). pic.twitter.com/Ry3VwhI7Gz
With this one being a 9, it does leave the door open for a much larger sale if a 10 is ever found, which my brain just can’t compute. Another thing that has me a little backwards is just how much more the above Steph Curry card sold for, but I guess one can make the argument that the Curry card is truly one of a kind.
Alas, non-sports has made it onto the list, and of course it is Pokémon, but probably not the character you’d immediately think of. Well, if you’re new to flipping Pokémon cards, the name Charizard is no secret, but might be a surprise who only knows Pokémon through the popular Pikachu.
:// Generate —> #CardLadder #LadderHeadlines— Card Ladder (@CardLadder) March 22, 2022
The 1999 Pokemon Game Charizard 1st Edition Holo #4 PSA 10 (pop 120) set an all-time high when it sold for $420,000.00 (Mar 19, 2022) via Auction with PWCC Premier. The card sold for $311,800.00 (Mar 28, 2021) a year ago. pic.twitter.com/ZdnTHrCXKI
This card was a 1999 Charizard Pokémon, selling for $420,000 thanks to its Gem Mint 10 grade from PSA. The article goes on to mention that even of the few 10s in existence, this is one of the cleanest.
Mantle, Aaron, Charizard, Kobe—the list goes on and on, and we haven’t even mentioned Brady or MJ. Anyway, I love this entry for the fact that it isn’t a rookie card, and growing up a 90s insert collector, it being a beautiful 1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Emerald takes my breath away.
In fact, speaking of PMGs, you might have seen Jordan cards in the headlines again with the new release and chase of 2021 Upper Deck Skybox (maybe we will see it on this list some day!)
🚨Most ever paid for a Kobe card🚨— PWCC (@PWCCmarketplace) February 22, 2022
This record-setting Kobe Bryant Green PMG sold for $2 Million in a private sale!🔥 pic.twitter.com/1o7cFJA5um
For Kobe, only 10 of this card exist, and this one is only a BGS 8.5 with subgrades. It’s amazing to think what a version in better condition would sell for, and how much above the $2 million price tag it would go.
You just knew Brady was going to be on this list, right? The question is, of all the Tom Brady cards to collect, which one would it be.
If you guessed the coveted Gio Carmazzi dual rookie, you’re absolutely…wrong, though still a cool card! No, we are talking about the 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket Auto. The card was graded by Beckett as a 9 with subgrades of 9.5 for centering and corners, and 9s for the edges and surface. The auto was graded a 10.
On a list full of GOATs, this Mahomes card sale is more than a bit surprising, not to mention the enormous $4M+ price tag. Don’t get me wrong, Mahomes is great and has accomplished a ton in his young career, but he isn’t Tom Brady, and not the Stephen Curry of football.
We just brokered a record-breaking $4.3 million private sale for a 2017 National Treasures NFL Shield Patrick Mahomes Rookie Auto 1/1 to LJ’s Card Shop.— PWCC (@PWCCmarketplace) July 28, 2021
This is the highest price ever paid for a football card! pic.twitter.com/CQ7rQ3MWW5
Either way, in July of 2021, his 2017 National Treasures (which is the brand for modern football and basketball rookie cards) sold for $4.3M. The card isn’t only autographed, but is a 1/1 featuring the coveted NFL shield patch as well!
There he is—Mike Trout, my friends! This is actually the second-highest Trout sale, but being so recent, I had to include it. 1,080,000 for a 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Red Refractor Auto /5 grade by Beckett as a 9.5 with 10 centering. Big WOW.
The second highest sale from the October Premier Auction is also the second highest sale for any Mike Trout card. 🐟— PWCC (@PWCCmarketplace) October 24, 2022
This marks a new record for Trout’s 2009 Red Refractor as well as the first public sale of this card in over two years. pic.twitter.com/dFWrUlxWqq
The thing about Michael Jordan in comparison to everyone else on this list is that he doesn’t have a ton of “rare” cards—meaning, when you think about a Mantle in great condition, it’s going to be hard to find given its age, and a 1/1 Patrick Mahomes will be rare because, well, it’s a 1/1.
But Michael Jordan cards were part of the 80s boom, and MJs exclusive Upper Deck contract has kept him out of the modern card spotlight.
Michael Jordan is a billionaire, and now his rookie card is a millionaire.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) June 14, 2022
In a record sports card sale, an autographed 1986-87 Fleer Jordan rookie card sold for $1.008 million with the auction house “Christie’s” on Tuesday.
📸 @ChristiesInchttps://t.co/6C6gMRaRbJ pic.twitter.com/iYRR2UagJg
All that said, we have a million-dollar entry and while it is a rookie card, it has a modern twist thanks to the autograph and the fact that the card was a buyback edition.