Unless Santa owes you a really big favor or you have a really close, really wealthy friend who wants to give you the gift of a lifetime, you’re probably not going to find one of the most valuable baseball cards under your tree tonight or tomorrow.
So maybe your significant other can’t afford to give you a T206 Honus Wagner for Christmas nor can you afford to buy one with whatever loot you come into this week. There are some alternatives for those who love cool, old cards but don’t have the resources to go big.
1) We can all daydream but a scant few will ever own a T206 Wagner. At about $400,000 for a ratty one, you’re likely out of luck. However, you can own something from the same year, with the same portrait of the Flying Dutchman. We give you the 1909 Colgan’s Chips Wagner. The cherry on top? You can buy a NM/MT example right now for $2,200. A PSA 4 for about one-third of that.
2) The fastest growing card over the last five years or so has been the 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth card. Call it a rookie. Call it a ‘pre-rookie’…it’s Babe’s first solo appearance on a piece of cardboard. If you don’t have a few hundred thousand dollars to buy one of the ten or so that might exist, try a 1933 Sanella Ruth. Issued by a margarine company in Germany, this is somewhat plain looking, but it’s unique, it’s from his active playing career and a graded EX/MT copy will set you back for a little over $200. Yes, please.
3) The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle is not his rookie card. It’s his Topps rookie card. Still, it’s the one most people talk about. It’s part of the super challenging Topps debut set and it’s big. It’s a six figure card when in high grade. Five figures for a mediocre to low grade example. A very nice PSA 4 1951 Bowman Mantle—his true rookie card mind you—costs less than 5 grand. The guess is that the disparity between the ’52 Topps and ’51 Bowman won’t always be as great as it is right now.
4) The 1914 Cracker Jack set will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. The Joe Jackson card is one of the most sought after in that series but the same card was issued again in 1915. Thanks to a mail-in offer, there are nearly four times as many 1915 Jacksons on the market so unless you’re building complete sets, the ’15 is the better buy (and easier to find in better condition). You can usually find one in a catalog auction and they usually show up on eBay, too (like these). You’ll pay a few thousand for one—but your man cave’s coolness factor will be through the roof.
5) Unless you’re a die-hard vintage collector from way back, you may not realize that Hank Aaron has two rookie cards. The 1954 Topps is the one everyone wants and the one that’ll cost you $3,000 and up for anything close to near mint. That year, however, Milwaukee-based Johnston Cookies produced a set of Braves cards and Aaron is in it. He’s listed on the back as wearing #5, which is what he was originally given when he came up from the minors. That alone makes it a cool alternative. The fact that the Johnston Aaron rookie card can be had for less than $1900 in a PSA 8 holder makes it as delicious as those cookies probably were.