The checklist is a short one. During his relatively short playing career, Jackie Robinson appeared on baseball cards for a very limited amount of time. While they’re all very desirable and many represent key cards in some very popular vintage sets, high-grade Robinson cards bring robust interest whenever they’re offered for auction.
But which years and brands represent the toughest Jackie cards to find at the highest levels?
Much like we did with our Mickey Mantle rundown, we reviewed the grading company population reports to examine his mainstream issues–those packed with bubble gum during his career. Obviously, Jackie’s apparent decision to have an exclusive deal with Topps beginning in 1952 keeps the checklist of his mainstream cards pretty small.
To simplify things, we eliminated any cards carrying qualifiers from PSA and used their lists to get a read on the total population of cards graded in a specific year and the number of those cards that have been graded NM/MT (8), NM/MT+ (8.5), MINT (9) or GEM MINT (10).
The chart is below but a few quick notes first:
- Not surprisingly, it’s the latter year Topps cards that have the highest population–anywhere from twice as many as the late 1940s issues to nearly five times as many.
- While many don’t consider it a mainstream issue, it’s hard not to include the 1948 Swell Sport Thrills card. It was issued with gum and during Robinson’s playing career. Clearly, his big league debut was big enough news for Swell to include him in their set. We think that even though the set as a whole isn’t chock full of his contemporaries, it’s a card worthy of being examined. And by the way, it’s the toughest of Jackie’s cards to find with only 121 on PSA’s Population Report.
- The only years where fewer than 1,000 unqualified graded Robinson cards exist are the ’48 Swell and ’50 Bowman.
- While most collectors have gravitated toward the 1948 Leaf card (actually believed to have been distributed in 1949) as the ‘real’ Robinson rookie card, the 1949 Bowman really has just as good of a case and the population of high-grade examples is fairly even. Selling prices for each would seem to indicate the 1949 Bowman is undervalued.
- Jackie’s 1952 Topps high number is tough, of course, but not really much tougher than his 1950 Bowman card.
- The 1953 Topps Robinson--#1 in the set–lives up to the old adage of the first card in each vintage set often being difficult to locate in good shape with only 76 cards rated 8-10.
Percentage of Jackie Robinson Cards Graded PSA 8-10, By Year
|1948 Swell Sport Thrills||2.5%|
See all of Jackie Robinson’s graded cards on eBay here.