The hobby of collecting vintage baseball cards has skyrocketed in popularity and valuation in recent years. As the collectibles market has boomed, so too have the prices achieved for the rarest and most coveted cards from the earliest days of the game. 2022 saw several baseball cards shatter previous auction records, with eight-figure sums becoming increasingly common for internationally acclaimed specimens.

The top card of 2022 in terms of sale price was the 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner card, often referred to as the ‘Mona Lisa’ of baseball cards due its rarity, condition and subject. Just 60-100 examples are believed to exist in the world, making each discovery an important event. In January 2022, one such Wagner card went up for auction through collectibles dealer SCP Auctions and sold for an unprecedented $7.25 million. This surpassed the previous record, set in August 2021 when another Honus Wagner card changed hands for $6.6 million. Both purchasers opted to remain anonymous, adding to the mystique surrounding this elusive collectible.

The record-setting $7.25 million price tag affirmed the Honus Wagner’s status as the most valuable trading card in existence. Its value is largely attributed to the fact that the famous Pittsburgh Pirates’ shortstop apparently did not approve of his likeness being used to promote tobacco products for children. As such, the number of surviving 1909-11 T206 Wagners is thought to be exceedingly low. Their scarcity has long garnered appreciation from collectors with steep wallets. The latest nine-figure auction continues a trend of accelerating prices, showing no signs of the baseball card investing craze losing momentum.


Claiming the number two spot for 2022’s priciest card sale was an ungraded 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in gem mint condition. It exceeded pre-sale estimates by bringing in an eye-watering $5.2 million through Heritage Auctions in August. The ’52 Mantle is widely recognized as one of the most iconic cards ever produced, with its subject requiring no introduction as perhaps the finest all-round player in baseball history. This specific PSA-graded Gem Mint 9 copy attracted major bidder attention due to its exceptionally well-preserved visuals that could almost pass for having just been pulled from a fresh pack. Dozens of six-figure bids drove the final hammer price far higher than initially anticipated.

In third position is a rare 1909-11 T206 Frank Friel card. Considered one of the most elusive non-star subjects from the iconic tobacco era set, it achieved $3.12 million at auction through SCP. Most notable is the fact this was the very first Friel to ever appear on the market graded by Professional Sports Authenticator, adding quite significance to its discovery. Fewer than a dozen are known to exist in collectors’ hands today. Its sale therefore represented an important moment, valued as highly as a complete set of common T206s would be. The rarity-enhanced price tag proves some lesser known pre-war issues can attain wealth on par with the stars given the right conditions of scarcity.

A PSA 8 rated 1909-11 T206 Eddie Plank found a buyer for $2.88 million at Heritage that same summer month. One of the finest examples of ‘The Whiting Wonder’s’ card to be offered in years, it possessed excellent centering and color for the grade. Plank’s significant baseball accomplishments and Hall of Fame playing career added to the desirability. Combined with his image being relatively scarce within the high-value tobacco set, those attributes attracted a final bid that more than doubled the presale estimate. It highlighted both the strong financial potential of single great condition cards from this period and the continued ability for records to be re-broken with each new discovery crossing the auction block.

Just behind at $2.72 million was a rare 1933 Goudey Lou Gehrig rookie, the only one publicly recognized to exist by PSA in an 8.5 condition. While not quite pristine, it featured appealing visual qualities and represented a huge find from one of the first modern sets. Few true Gehrig rookies have ever been offered at public sale. This specimen therefore seized considerable attention due to its significance as the star first baseman’s earliest cardwidely considered the most historically important U.S. baseball issue after the T206s. Its million-dollar-plus price proved such coveted pioneering cards can still amaze collectors many decades after production.

Rounding out the top five sales was an excellent PSA 8 copy of the 1909-11 T206 Sherry Magee for $2.56 million in August. Magee held the single season record for home runs at the time of his tobacco era portrayal, issued during the deadball era when most hit under ten in a campaign. Combined with his light output otherwise making high grade survivors scarce, those factors magnified this example’s value far beyond typical estimates for the pitcher-turned-outfielder. It underscored how condition census rarity can compensate for less familiar names when conditions are optimal.


Several other amazing baseball cards also breached seven figures in 2022 transactions. They highlighted the red-hot market’s capacity for assigning fortune to history’s most important athletes encased in cardboard. A PSA 8 rated 1933 Goudey Dazzy Vance sold for $1.84 million in January. A PSA 8 1909-11 T206 Billy Sullivan went to a new home for $1.76 million in August. And a condition census PSA 8 1933 Goudey Lefty O’Doul resulted in a final sale amount of $1.44 million in the same month. Each of these rarities attracted global notice due to their superior quality, scarcity and subjects’ roles in preserving the national pastime.

In summary, 2022 witnessed eight- and even nine-figure public prices repeatedly achieved for legendary pre-war baseball cards in gem condition. Hobby economists believe growing economic stability and collector confidence have fueled new appreciation highs. While certain financial bubbles may form in collectibles, the consistent rarity of survivors from baseball’s earliest decades seems destined to keep iconic specimens among the world’s costliest sports memorabilia. As interest spreads internationally, these defining pieces of Americana can be viewed as modern artworks worth multimillion dollar investments to admirers of the game.

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