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.
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.
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.
A couple of years ago, former Sports Collector’s Digest editor Bob Lemke stumbled across Goudey sales figures for baseball cards in the 1930s and 1940s. He presented the figures while expressing a disinterest in doing the math to try to figure out how many cards Goudey sold.
For some insane reason I decided to take a stab at it. Or, rather, make my computer take a stab at it. And I came to some unexpected conclusions.
Virtually every schoolboy who is interested in baseball cards knows the story of how Topps bought Bowman. After World War II, Bowman was the leading brand of baseball card, or, at least from 1948 until 1951. Then, in 1952, Topps released its landmark 1952 set. Bowman and Topps battled for baseball fans’ nickels and pennies until 1955. Then, in early 1956, Topps bought Bowman, and that was the end of Bowman until the late 1980s, when Topps dusted off the brand name and started issuing Bowman cards again. And Topps faced precious little competition in the baseball card field until 1981, when Fleer and Donruss won the right to produce cards.
That’s the story as I knew it. But there’s a lot more to the story, starting with the details of the purchase. In January 1956, Topps bought its once mighty rival for a mere $200,000. Normally a company sells for 10 times its annual revenue, and Bowman had sold $600,000 worth of baseball cards alone just two years before. The purchase price makes no sense, until you dig a bit deeper.
Quick: Why is it easier to find a 1935 Goudey Babe Ruth on Ebay than the 1935 Goudey card featuring four of his former Yankee teammates, the less-than-immortal Red Rolfe, Johnny Allen, Jimmie DeShong, and Dixie Walker?
Because Red Rolfe was more likely to end up clothespinned onto bicycle spokes, right? Right?
That’s likely, but definitely not the only reason. Read more