The 1981 Topps baseball card set was one of the most iconic releases of the 1980s and contains some of the hobby’s most coveted rookie cards and valuable legends. While the 1979 and 1980 Topps sets fetch higher average prices due to the likes of Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken Jr.’s rookie cards, the 1981 set produced several cards that have seen massive appreciation over the decades and remain highly sought after by collectors. Here are the 10 most valuable 1981 Topps baseball cards based on the average sold price of high-grade PSA 10 specimens when available:

#20 Nolan Ryan (Houston Astros) – Arguably the greatest strikeout pitcher of all time, Ryan’s nine no-hitters are a MLB record. His 1981 Topps card as an Astro averaged around $180 in PSA 10 condition. Ryan was already established by this point but hadn’t yet joined the Angels or Rangers for his later primes.

#132 Fernando Valenzuela (Los Angeles Dodgers) – “Fernandomania” took LA by storm in 1981 as the 20-year old Mexican rookie went 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA and won Rookie of the Year and Cy Young honors. His iconic rookie card averaged around $190 in a PSA 10.


#5 Mike Schmidt (Philadelphia Phillies) – Schmidt was one of the premier power hitters of his era and won 10 Gold Gloves and the 1980 NL MVP as one of the Phillies’ “Wrecking Crew”. His 1981 sold for a robust $200 average in top condition reflecting his Hall of Fame status.

#181 Tim Raines (Montreal Expos) – “Rock” Raines was one of the best leadoff hitters and baserunners ever but it took many years for Hall of Fame voters to recognize him. His rookie card averaged around $210. Raines is a model of early 80s Expos excellence before the franchise’s dark days.

#444 Dale Murphy (Atlanta Braves) – Nicknamed “Murph”, Murphy won back-to-back NL MVP awards in 1982-83 and was a perennial All-Star and Gold Glove center fielder in Atlanta. His $210 average value demonstrated the immense popularity of this homegrown Atlanta hero.

#534 Dave Stieb (California Angels) – Stieb threw a no-hitter for the Angels in September 1981 but had an otherwise unremarkable career. Still, his no-hitter card is highly desired and routinely sold for around $220 in top grade due to its scarcity and subject matter.

#92 George Brett (Kansas City Royals) – Brett was the consummate all-around star third baseman for powerhouse Royals teams in the 1970s and 80s. He hit .300 fourteen times and his trademark hitting prowess kept his 1981 valued very highly at around $230 on average.

#1 Nolan Ryan (Houston Astros) – Ryan’s main rookie card from his early Astros days was one of the most widely distributed in the set but also one of the most valuable. The sheer star power and recognition of Ryan’s name and image drove a robust $240 average price.

#550 Robin Yount (Milwaukee Brewers) – Yount was one of baseball’s most talented and versatile stars, winning AL MVP awards at shortstop and in center field later in his career. His rare rookie card averaged an impressive $260, much like fellow shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.


#562 Joe Charboneau (Cleveland Indians) – “The Bird” took the AL by storm in 1980 with a huge rookie campaign before injuries derailed his career the next season. His ultra-short print run rookie averaged an eye-popping $280 due to its unavailability and connection to Cleveland sports lore in the 1970s and 1980s.

The 1981 Topps set saw many of its biggest names like Schmidt, Ryan, Brett, and Yount reach the height of their fame while also capturing the early careers of stars like Raines, Murphy, and Valenzuela. Rarer cards like Dave Stieb’s no-hitter and Joe Charboneau’s rookie led the way in overall value due to scarcity factors. The designs, photographs, and players featured ensured this set would become one of the iconic releases in the entire history of the hobby. Vintage 1981s in high grades will likely continue their strong appreciation for years to come.

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