Forty years after he first donned a training camp jersey (#21) at the Chicago Bears’ new Lake Forest, IL training camp, Walter Payton rookie cards remain among the most popular of the modern era. Prices for high-grade examples have been rising at a steady pace since the beginning of the decade. In fact, it’s safe to say they’ve been a pretty good investment.
It’s been 28 years since he played in the NFL, but fans haven’t forgotten ‘Sweetness’. When he retired after the 1987 season, Payton was the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards, and is still the Chicago Bears all-time leading scorer with 750 points. Payton held eight NFL records and 28 Bears records after his career ended. In 1977, at the age of 23, he became the youngest player to be voted NFL MVP. He added a second league MVP award following the 1985 season. During his 13-year NFL career, Payton was named to the Pro Bowl nine times. He was also named a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team.
At the time the 1976 Topps Football packs were released, cards were still thought of primarily as a hobby for kids and keeping them in ‘mint’ condition wasn’t even a thought, let alone an afterthought. A generous supply keeps prices of the thousands of lower grade examples bought and sold every year fairly steady, but at the other end of the spectrum, the move has been noticeable.
Five years ago, a mint 9 graded Payton rookie card typically sold for $450-500. Two years ago, the average range had climbed to $600-800. Even early this year, a ‘9’ could usually be had for $800-$1,000. However, no public sale since March has been below the $1,000 level with the last six sales at $1,200 and up according to VintageCardPrices.com.
From 2007-2012, a PSA 10 Payton typically cost the buyer $3,500-$4,500. Now, you may have to pay three times that much to own one. The card crossed the $10,000 threshold last year and may not be coming back. Most recent sales have been above $12,000, albeit with the same two sellers.
In 2012, most graded NM/MT (8) examples were selling in the $175-225 range. In 2015, they rarely dip below $300. A modest increase, perhaps, but it marks the beginning of the condition level where the trend becomes obvious.
Collectors looking for less expensive options might try some other early Payton issues. He appeared on 1976 Coca-Cola and Crane Potato Chip disc sets that aren’t as plentiful as his Topps card and much less expensive. A Coke disc in PSA 10 will run about $200 with 9s and 8s much less. The Crane disc can be had for $50 and less for a 10 and under $30 for a 9.
Payton’s second year Topps card has held steady at between $300 and $400 for a graded 9, up about $100 from five years ago.
You can see the current market for Walter Payton rookie cards on eBay here.