It’s not rare. Over 8,000 have been graded by PSA and SGC alone and ungraded examples are sold every day online, in stores and at shows. Make no mistake, though, the market for high-grade examples of the 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan rookie card has been very, very good to collectors—and investors.
Ryan’s status as a Hall of Fame favorite among fans who recall the seven no-hitters, the strikeout records and 300+ wins has seemingly grown by leaps and bounds in the 22 years that have passed since he threw his last pitch. Iconic images of the tough, aging Texan pounding on Robin Ventura during their donnybrook and memorable pictures of a blood-stained Ryan standing on the mound after taking a liner off his lip have done wonders for his image.
Of all of the rookie cards printed by Topps since the Dodgers and Giants left for the west coast, none are as sought after as the one picturing the young Mets aces–Ryan and Jerry Koosman. Demand drives prices of Nolan Ryan rookie cards for sale and much like the double-printed 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, there simply aren’t enough quality examples to feed the masses. Unlike the demand for Mantle’s first Topps card, however, the value of the Nolan Ryan rookie card has been skyrocketed in a relatively short period of time.
The most noticeable increase has come at the highest levels but slightly lower grade examples have also moved upward by a significant margin over the last couple of years.
From 2007-2012, mint, graded Ryan rookies were somewhat volatile but selling prices generally settled between $3,500 and $5,500. Since then, the card has been riding a rocket ship. In May of 2014 a Ryan ‘9’ sold for what was thought to be a whopping $23,129 including the buyer’s premium. That record didn’t last long. The card saw sales surpassing $30,000, then $40,000 and in June 2016, one sold for an incredible $72,000.
In fact, since June 2015, no Ryan rookie card graded 9 by PSA has sold for less than $22,000.
Here are the highest prices paid for Ryan rookies in PSA 9:
- $72,100 on eBay, June 2016
- $41,825 at Heritage Auctions, May 2016
- $40,630 at Heritage Auctions, November 2016
- $37,103 on eBay, April 2016
Prices can vary based on the overall appearance of the card.
Those huge numbers aside, it hasn’t been necessary to spend five figures to see appreciation.
Those rated NM 7 by PSA have gone from $700 in 2014 to approximately $2,000.
PSA says the only Ryan rookie rated ’10’ sold privately in 2013 for over $400,000. That card was scheduled to go on the auction block in the summer of 2016 with a deep six figure sale likely.
The Topps version may be fairly easy to acquire, but there’s also a Ryan/Koosman rookie in the 1968 O-Pee-Chee set. Only two are currently available on eBay. Tom Salem, who deals extensively in the Canadian cards via his OPCBaseball.com website, says demand far outweighs supply.
“The only challenge with the 1968 Ryan rookie is finding it – in any condition,” Salem told Sports Collectors Daily. “Seems every time someone offers us 1968 OPC cards, the Ryan rookie is always missing.”
Ryan is among the most collected players of the post-War era and competition is stiff for any rare Ryan card with the OPC rookie card at the top of the list. In September 2012, Memory Lane sold an OPC Ryan rookie card graded BGS 9.5 for $40,000.
“Low end condition will sell just as easy as higher end,” Salem explained. “The Ryan OPC rookie in PSA 8 has a population of just 10 with none higher where the Topps version has a population of 596 with several higher. If a PSA 9 Ryan OPC rookie ever comes along, there’s no telling how high it would sell for.”
While it’s impossible to predict what may happen over the next few years, the status of the 1968 Nolan Ryan as one of the hobby’s most important rookie cards is as secure as the records he set as one of the greatest power pitchers of all-time.
The good news is that if you are looking for a Nolan Ryan rookie card for sale, you can easily find one. You can see plenty of them on eBay here. It’s highly recommended you buy one that’s professionally graded.
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