While the collectible card industry has expanded well beyond sports cards into other genres like Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering, baseball cards remain hugely popular. The popularity of the MLB and all-time great players ensures that vintage baseball cards continue to appreciate in value for savvy collectors and investors. With the heights some vintage cards have reached at auction in recent years, it’s easy to understand why so many fans seek out valuable cards from their childhood collections or try to complete sets from famed early series like 1952 Topps or 1957 Topps. Even modern issues from the 1980s and 90s command respectable prices today. Though value is always subjective and based on condition, for this article we’ll take a look at some of the most valuable and expensive baseball cards issues by Topps that could be worth money for collectors in 2022.
Issued in 1952 as the first successful modern issue after World War 2, the 1952 Topps set remains one of the most iconic in the hobby’s history. With its simple black and white photo fronts and team/player names on the back, the design was a major step forward that helped cement Topps as the premier baseball card maker. Highlight cards that could earn collectors money include the Mickey Mantle (ESPN #1), which has reached over $2 million at auction. The Willie Mays rookie from the set tops out around $500,000 while the Hank Aaron rookie typically falls in the $100,000-$250,000 range in top condition. The entire set in near mint to mint condition could also command five figures or more due its tremendous historic significance.
The 1952 Topps set may take the crown for historical value, but the coveted 1953 Topps issue provides collectors the only rookie cards of Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax. In pristine condition this scarce and aesthetically pleasing Koufax RC can earn six figures at auction. The 1953 Topps Roberto Clemente rookie also garners serious bids above $30,000. The set is much more difficult to assemble complete and high grade versus ’52 Topps, further driving values for its top stars and complete runs of the 121-card checklist. A near complete run could potentially earn north of $50,000 depending on centering and issues like edge/corner wear.
Continuing the the early post-war run of historic sets is the highly acclaimed 1954 Topps issue. Considered by many to have the sharpest photo quality and design, the 1954 Topps set is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing of the early years. Highlight cards include the previously mentioned Roberto Clemente RC, but perhaps more obtainable for collectors are high grade specimens of rookie cards for the likes of Frank Robinson ($15,000 PSA 9), Hank Aaron (>$10,000 PSA 8), and Willie Mays (>$5,000 PSA 8) which could turn a solid profit. A complete set in similar grades could garner bids pushing six figures.
The 1957 Topps set is most famous for introducing the rookie cards of future Hall of Famers like Hank Aaron and Bob Gibson. In pristine condition the iconic Aaron RC has reached $350,000, making it out of reach for all but the deepest pocketed collectors. Other keys that can earn money include the Bob Gibson RC (>$15,000 PSA 9), Don Drysdale RC (>$10K PSA 9), and even Billy Pierce and Jim Lemon RCs which command mid-four figures in high grades. A full set in PSA 8-9 condition could expect north of $50,000. The design features one of the best photo selection of any vintage set.
Moving into the more modern era, 1962 Topps introduced the first (and arguably best) design to feature player action photos on the fronts. The iconic Mickey Mantle card leading the design change has reached near $200,000 PSA 9 and $80,000-$100,000 raw. Of course, the undisputed king of the set is the ultra-rare ’62 Post Mantle short-print variation that can earn over $1 million in pristine condition. Other six-figure and five-figure cards that could pay off include Willy Mays ($80K), Roger Maris ($50K PSA 9), and a complete set in similar grades closing in on six figures online. The design holds up tremendously well even 60 years later.
The 1967 Topps design is remarkably similar to the ultra-popular ’62 issue and features another legendary rookie class. At the forefront is the iconic and historic first card of Reggie Jackson which cracks six figures at PSA 9 ($150K) and is extremely rare above an 8. Other rookie gems include future Hall of Famers like Tom Seaver, Willie McCovey, and Tony Perez, all earning mid-four figures to low-five in PSA 9. Top stars like Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax also push five figures each in pristine condition. As with past issues, a full 1967 set at PSA 8-9 can bring five or even six figures in the current market.
Though not quite as iconic as the 60s vintage, select rookie cards from the 1970s Topps issues also hold value today and could reward collectors. The 1970 Topps registry Pedro Guerrero RC has been pushing $5,000 in high grade, while a 1975 Topps Dave Parker RC can earn $1,500 PSA 9. George Brett rookie cards from 1973 Topps trade up to $3,000, while a pristine 1978 Dave Stieb RC as fetched over $2,000 lately. Beyond rookies, high-grade key stars and tough short prints from 70s Topps sets like the Nolan Ryan ‘71 can also add up value.
While rookie cards defined much of the 80s and 90s boom, certain valuable pieces from this era have stood the test of time as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, the crown jewel is the legendary Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck rookie which cracked $100K PSA 10 in recent fire sales. Other 6+ figure cards that generate buzz include the Alex Rodriguez rookie ($50K PSA 9), Chipper Jones ($30K PSA 9), and Derek Jeter ($15K PSA 9) among others. Beyond rookies, error/variation cards like the 1990 Topps Greg Jeffries find ommission error exceeded $30,000 recently. Premium condition cards from flagship 80s/90s sets lead by Topps, Upper Deck, and Fleer continue to be in demand for serious collectors and investors.
While mint condition vintage stars will likely remain out of reach for most budgets, savvy collectors exploring the earlier years of Topps baseball like the powerhouse 1950s issues can still find affordable high-value cards and sets. Modern hits from the junk wax era of the late 80s/90s also offer opportunity at more reasonable price points. Proper grading authentication from companies like PSA also helps establish condition and value especially for vintage pieces vulnerable to doctoring. The proven history and enduring appeal of Topps baseball cards point to continued appreciation across the brand’s portfolio as demand rises along with MLB’s popularity. For collectors open to patience and savvy targeting, there remains money to be made in the modern relics of Summers Past.