Baseball cards were big in the 1980s, which led to overproduction and the baseball card bubble. That overproduction spilled over into the 1990s, and so did some of baseball’s scandals. Between that, and so many people buying and preserving cards during that decade, there aren’t a lot of super-valuable cards from the 1990s. But that doesn’t mean all 1990s baseball cards are worthless, and you’re more likely to find a stash from the ’90s than the ’70s. So let’s take a look at the most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s. The decade includes at least one big surprise.
The 1990s featured a number of exceptional players. And by late decade, the manufacturers had mostly sorted out their overproduction issues. Late 1990s cards also tend to be very attractive, with vivid colors and high quality photography. So the 1990s can be a nice decade to collect, even if the 1980s jaded you like it did me.
I’ve talked about the most valuable baseball cards of the 1970s and 1980s. But what about the least valuable baseball cards? What does it take to be on that list? What is the Kmart blue-light special of baseball cards?
When it comes to baseball cards, rookie cards are usually more valuable than non-rookie cards. But when we think of the Pantheon of valuable baseball cards, they tend not to be rookies. Instead, they tend to be scarce cards from hugely popular, iconic sets. The T206 Wagner. The 1933 Goudey Lajoie. The 1952 Topps Mantle. So what is the most valuable rookie card?
Although the 1970s may not have been quite the golden era for baseball that, say, the 1950s were, the decade produced a good number of stars. An important thing to consider, too, is that many players Generation X grew up watching came up in the 1970s. That, along with lower production numbers, makes it an important decade in today’s market. Let’s take a year by year walk through the most valuable baseball cards of the 1970s.
It’s just my opinion, but I think 1981 Fleer baseball cards get less respect than they deserve. It ended Topps’ 25-year monopoly on baseball cards and, frankly, I think it’s a nicer set than the Topps or Donruss sets from the same year.
Yes, compared to the smooth and polished Topps, the Fleer set at times looked like amateur work. But they didn’t make as many mistakes as fellow upstart Donruss did. And they tried some things with their set that Topps had been unwilling to do. The 1981 Fleer baseball cards got some critical accolades at the time, and frankly I think it’s an underrated ’80s set. It didn’t contribute a lot to the most valuable cards of the 1980s, but it certainly helped shape the decade.
In the 1980s, almost everyone I knew collected baseball cards, at least briefly. When we think of the 1980s today, baseball cards aren’t what comes to mind but they probably deserve to be up there with video games, Rubik’s cubes, G.I. Joe, and Star Wars. With so many of us buying and preserving cards during that decade’s baseball card bubble, there aren’t a lot of super-valuable cards from the 1980s. But that doesn’t mean all 1980s baseball cards are worthless. So let’s take a look at the most valuable baseball cards of the 1980s.
If you’re like me and thought you’d fund your retirement with baseball cards someday, this could be depressing. More depressing than 1970s baseball card values. Possibly more depressing than 1990s baseball card values, even. But there’s a flip side too. If you didn’t have all of these cards back then, you probably can afford all of them now. None of the most valuable baseball cards of the 1980s are worth what we thought they’d someday be worth.
Companies have been reprinting old, rare, and valuable baseball cards for decades. It’s a way for people to have cards of players like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb who otherwise never could. But that can cause problems too. Here’s how to tell if a baseball card is a reprint.
Everyone who collects baseball cards wants a Babe Ruth card. Unfortunately, cheap Babe Ruth baseball cards are pretty hard to come by. His most famous cards, 1930s Goudeys, cost as much as a nice car. Even though I’m not much of a car guy, the car is more practical. Even unattractive 1910s and 1920s strip cards of Ruth run four figures, especially cards from his early days with the Boston Red Sox. But there are several vintage cards of Ruth’s that don’t always break the bank, including cards from his playing days. You just have to look off the beaten path.
When KB Toys closed is a relative question. While KB Toys went out of business in 2009, the store closest to you may have closed earlier than that. It was a sad end for a staple of my childhood, and possibly yours. KB Toys isn’t the only toy store to go out of business of course, but it was one of the more notable ones.
I frequently get asked how to grade baseball cards. I really think this is a job best left to a professional, but I’ve collected the guidelines below that professionals use.
Some people assign numeric values to these grades, and sometimes you’ll find mid grades. For example, if a card is a little too good for one grade but falls just short of the next grade up, a grader might add a plus to the grade, grading it EX-MT+.
Note that printing and cutting quality go into the grade, not just wear. Even if it’s not the owner’s fault, many cards fall short of mint.
Also keep in mind there’s no kind of curve. Even if the card is from 1889, if it has flaws, it’s not mint. Even if the card is brand new out of the pack, if it has flaws, it’s not mint.