Last week a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle graded PSA 8 sold for a record high $525,800 in Heritage Auctions, completing a yearlong price surge that included two other sales at over $400,000. For most collectors the ’52 Topps Mantle is now out of reach, but there are several well-known cards that have the potential to rise as interest shifts and more collectors enter the hobby in search of the next big thing.
The iconic Mantle card was not the only rising commodity in 2015, as the 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan and 1986-87 Michael Jordan rookie cards, two mainstays of the hobby since the 1980s card boom, have also experienced a resurgence. While the high-grade vintage card market has been strong as a whole, over the course of this article we’ll evaluate some of the cards that would seem to be candidates for a similar, rapid increase in the months to come.
The easy answer here is that as the stratospheric money puts less wealthy investors into something else, other vintage Mantle cards may benefit. The 1951 Bowman rookie has seen slow but steady increases but recent sales of NM and better examples have been impressive. It only makes sense that Mantle’s true rookie card, even if slightly more available than the ’52, be the one that buyers look to as we pointed out in this story last year.
Babe Ruth cards have always been golden with collectors and investors but it’s sometimes hard to know which ones would stand to benefit from the increased interest in vintage cards. The 1916 M101 series represents the Babe’s first major issue from his big league career but those cards have already seen a major price increase.
In terms of other pre-war issues one player that is sure to continue his ascent is Shoeless Joe Jackson of the notorious 1919 Chicago ‘Black Sox’. If a 1910 Old Mill T210 Jackson should come to auction it should surpass the $100,000 market following an $83,650 sale of a PSA 2 in a live auction last summer, while the more affordable and accessible 1909-11 E90-1 American Caramel card price (currently under $15,000 for lower grade examples) could be driven by a growing number of collectors who wish to add an early ‘Jax’ to their collection.
Ty Cobb is always a ‘must have’ among a diverse field of collectors, most of whom will pursue one of his four poses in the widely collected T206 set – with a particular emphasis on rare and uncommon backs and print freaks whose bubble has shown no sign of bursting. Higher grade Cobbs have rarely disappointed.
Finally, with Ruth and Mantle soaring to pricing unreachable to some, attention should rightly focus on another Yankee great, Lou Gehrig. While Exhibits have often been overlooked by collectors that have preferred more traditional sized issues keeping the demand low and pricing down, the rookie card craze enjoyed by post-war collectors continues to permeate into the pre-war hobby with demand (and value) of Gehrig’s 1925 Exhibit ‘rookie’ likely to steadily – perhaps dramatically – increase in 2016 and beyond.
In terms of ‘hobby love’ Mantle has always eclipsed Willie Mays, although recent acceptance as Mays being the better player – perhaps the greatest player of all time – will continue to drive pricing up. Look no further than his 1951 Bowman rookie card, which, despite being one of the most popular and in demand card of the 1950s, is still relatively affordable. Prices are low enough to entice a broad spectrum of collectors that could push this one up quickly.
2016 marks the 69th year since Jackie Robinson shattered baseball’s color barrier, which many consider the first step in the development of the modern game. This accomplishment, his skill on the field, and his character have led to him being a widely collected player despite the absence of a key, iconic card. Rather than his 1949 Bowman and 1948-’49 Leaf issues, which are rookie cards, look for an increase in his 1952 Topps issue – from the same high number series as Mantle that was discarded – as it is a more visually appealing card from a more noteworthy and widely collected set. A nice mid-grade example remains under $2,000–for now.
With the steroid scandal putting an asterisk on the single season home run records of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire before him, many purists still consider Roger Maris to be the ‘true’ holder of the record. This belief, when combined with the widely documented and beloved 61 in ’61 accomplishment and the enormous collecting base of the New York Yankees, his 1958 Topps rookie card will likely to increase, particularly in higher grade as driven by registry collectors.
Lastly, the 1970 Topps rookie card of Yankees legend Thurman Munson, whose career was tragically cut short by his death in a plane crash in the middle of the 1979 season, is showing increasing strength and interest in Munson’s career remains fervent. With no shortage of Yankees fans in the hobby who consider this card a ‘must have’ the premium for a high grade example should continue to increase.
Vintage Football and Basketball
Baseball is not the only sport with key cards that could jump over the course of the coming year. In football, Joe Namath’s 1965 Topps rookie – a tallboy – has a number of factors going for it. There’s the fan base provided by New York collectors, his devil-may-care personality that results in his name still spoken by today’s NFL fans, and his legendary Super Bowl III guarantee that is often considered as the first great moment in NFL history by a league that largely ignores its history before the proliferation of video footage. It’s a popular card for autographs thanks in part to the size. Challenging in high-grade and not as plentiful as other issues from the era, top grade Namath’s will likely keep growing. A bit challenging above a ‘5’ grade, but they’re out there.
In basketball, the 1948 Bowman rookie card of George Mikan remains the most valuable vintage basketball card and based primarily on that factor it will continue to be a desirable piece that collectors will want to own for its cachet. That will likely continue to mean increase prices – including lower grade examples that are in demand by collectors with more modest budgets that simply wish to own regardless of condition. We’d expect the recent record-breaking sale of the lone PSA 10 via SCP Auctions will trickle down to other Mikan cards like this PSA 7, sold for nearly $13,000 in mid-December.
As the greatest winner in the history of the game, Bill Russell’s accomplishment of eleven NBA championships will likely go unchallenged. With an increased demand in basketball cards as of late – particularly in the Asian markets – collectors who value winning titles will drive up pricing for his 1957-58 Topps rookie card in high grade. It’s on any list of the best basketball cards to own.
Pete Maravich, whose brilliant but short career and untimely death of heart failure at the age of only 40 have made him a beloved and tragic figure in NBA history, is one of the few pre-1980s players whom today’s collectors consider a ‘must have’. Maravich’s 1970-71 rookie card – a tall boy – will increase as a growing number of modern basketball collectors look to marquee names to add to their collection following the landmark sale of a PSA 10 example for in excess of $130,000 this month. You can still own a very nice graded one for under $1,000.
For many basketball fans and collectors the slam dunk remains the most popular and exciting part of the game. Before there was Michael Jordan, ‘Dr. J.’ Julius Erving electrified a generation of Philadelphia fans with his moves. It’s likely that high grade examples of Dr. J.’s 1972-73 Topps rookie card will push upward as he remains a popular ambassador of the game with lasting name appeal and iconic video footage.
For many collectors of vintage Topps cards collecting rookies cards has often resulted in having to add cards that feature a second (or even four) rookie that never managed earlier careers – such as earlier examples Ryan and Munson – but Topps achieved a perfect trio in 1980-81 by featuring rookies Larry Bird and Magic Johnson together (along with the just mentioned Erving). After Jordan’s iconic rookie card, this continues to be the second most collected basketball card of the 1980s and with demand comes the potential for pricing increased. It was on our list of affordable iconic sports cards and it’s already been rising steadily, especially at the higher grade levels. Currently, the price for 8s and 9s generally ranges from $500 to $2,500.
Finally, collectors who can no longer afford Michael Jordan’s rookie card have begun to show interest in his 1987-88 Fleer second year card. Arguably the most popular player in the history of the game – and perhaps the most popular athlete of the last quarter of the 20th century – Jordan’s cards will only continue to rise in value – particularly as the growing number of collectors continue to enter what is a worldwide market for hoops. A graded, mint example is around $200-$225 with 8s at $100-$150. Over the last three years, Jordan’s PSA 10 1987-88 Fleer card has tripled in price, with recent sales at over $3,000.
Which of the mentioned cards do you think are most likely to increase in 2016? How about hockey? If you think we missed any potential sleeper for 2016, let us know.