Baseball’s first Hall of Fame class is unrivaled and the first induction included only five players. However, the players that were inducted were Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson, making for as star studded a group to be found. Several other years have also had loaded rosters but none will ever top baseball’s inaugural class. Prices for early baseball cards have continued to rise and, unsurprisingly, that has included cards of the first five Hall of Famers.
Of the position players, Honus Wagner is a distinct third to Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb in terms of overall popularity. But Wagner has them beat with the most expensive card in history. All of Wagner’s cards to continue to rise in value but it’s his famous T206 White Borders card that stands out as the priciest card of all time. The card, of course, was famously shortprinted as it was pulled from production early.
Wagner’s T206 card has proven to be one of the better investments in baseball cards of Hall of Famers. It was the most valuable card in the 19700s but was selling only for around $1,500. Today, it is pretty much impossible to find under six figures these days. And even modestly graded examples sell for over $1 million now. A PSA 2, for example, recently sold in a Mile High auction for a cool $1.35 million. The most valuable Wagner sold in a public auction remains the PSA 5 (MC) offered by Goldin in 2016, which raised $3.12 million.
Like the Wagner, Ruth’s most valuable cards have risen sharply, too.
In particular, the Ruth M101-4 and M101-5 issues, generally recognized as his major league rookie cards, have really taken off. For example, a PSA 7 sold via REA in 2017 for $600,000. A decade earlier, PSA 7 Ruth M101-4 cards sold in REA auctions for under $100,000.
Similarly, the Hall of Famer’s more common cards have gotten pricier, too. Ruth’s four 1933 Goudey cards are a good example of that. Not too long ago, these popular cards could be bought in very low grade starting at around $500. That is virtually impossible these days with even low-grade examples usually starting around $1,000.
Perhaps no player’s cards have seen the kinds of jumps as those of the legendary Ty Cobb have. Cobb cards have never been cheap, per se. But the degree that his cards seem to be rising is almost unparalled, save for perhaps Ruth.
Now, virtually all of Cobb’s cards have increased to some amount. But his T206 cards are a textbook case of rarity not always playing the biggest factor in a card’s value.
Cobb’s T206 cards are not wildly abundant but they are not difficult to find, either. Despite that, the cards have climbed in value and are significantly more expensive than they were even a few years ago. His red background portrait card is the most common of the four and not long ago, could be bought starting around $500. In fact, I purchased a raw one for around $350 five years ago. Today, though, you can expect to pay about $700-$1,000 for even very low-grade copies.
Those have risen sharply but his green background card is really the one attracting attention. The card is nearly impossible to find for much less than $1,800-$2,000 today and they were selling for less than half that amount even just five years ago. The really crazy jumps in value have been seen by the mid-grade and high-grade green background cards, which are exponentially more than they used to be and quickly get into five figures.
Cards for the two pitchers in that class, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, have also steadily risen over time.
One of Johnson’s most sought after cards is his T204 Ramly, which is sometimes seen as a rookie card. A decade ago, modest PSA 3 examples of the card were selling for around $6,000-$7,000. These days, that figure is closer to $9,000-$11,000.
Ditto for Mathewson. Mathewson’s cards haven’t seen the kinds of wild jumps across the board that those other players in this class have. But prices for his have certainly increased as well.
One of my favorite Mathewson cards is his T205 card. It’s just an incredibly well done piece of artwork and a really defined portrait card. It remains one of the most popular cards in the entire set and is one that has seen good upward movement. A decade ago, mid-grade PSA 4 cards were, give or take, around the $700-$800 level. These days, however, that card is closer to $1,300-$1,400.
Cards for all pre-war cards have generally been on the rise in the past decade. But the ones of some of the earliest stars of the game have really taken off and that has meant that collectors, unfortunately, can often be priced out of even some low-grade cards.