A Brief History of Collectible Sports Cards
Ask around, and you will find that Sports card collecting is a big deal, and sometimes, it’s a huge moneymaker for the lucky holder. For example, the most expensive baseball card ever sold occurred in 2016 at the tune of $3.12 million. The special card of 1909 T206 Honus Wagner, a Pittsburg Pirates star, is considered the “Mona Lisa” of cards because it’s a rare one with only four known copies.
Also in 2016, Wayne Gretzky’s 1979 O-Pee-Chee rookie card was sold to an anonymous buyer for $465,000 at an auction in New Jersey. The Associated Press reported that was a record price for a hockey card.
Collectible sports cards have a fascinating history that goes back to the late 19th century with a businessman named James Buchanan “Buck” Duke. He was also the founder of Duke University. Mr. Duke had a lot of money as a tobacco magnate, and his company sold packs of cigarettes.
One day, he came up with the idea of adding a little weight to his flimsy cigarette packaging. Mr. Duke didn’t want his cigarettes to get damaged during shipping, so he slipped a thin cardboard piece inside to stiffen the package. The cardboard pieces featured famous actors. People liked collecting them, and other tobacco companies copied the idea, and some began putting baseball standouts on these small cardboard cigarette inserts.
The fad grew crazy-wild, and in the mid-20th century, the Topps Chewing Gum Company emerged and eventually took over the collectible sports card industry. By 1956, Topps had dominated with a baseball and football card monopoly.
Each Topps package contained a thin stick of pink bubblegum. The card design featured a player’s name, photo, facsimile autograph, team name and logo on the front. On the back of the card, you would find the player’s height, weight, bats, throws, birthplace, birthday stats, and a brief biography. The basic design is still in use today.
The 1952 Topps set is considered the most sought-after post-World War set among collectors. The Mickey Mantle rookie card is a scarce one, and it was the first Mantle card issued by Topps. Collectible sports card experts say that a pack of 1952 Topps baseball cards is worth at least $5,000.
In 1970, an iconic cereal brand also got into the collectible sports card hobby. The Kellogg Cereal Company began inserting a 3-D sports card into the bottom of boxes containing childhood favorites like Frosted Flakes, Corn Flakes, and Raisin Bran. The unique plastic-layered cards featured baseball and football stars.
Kellogg’s continued the popular card in the cereal box fun until 1983 and was considered during that time to be the only true competitor to the Topps monopoly.
These days, some of the most popular sports cards to look for include rookie cards, inserts, complete sets, unopened packs, card condition, player/card desirability, and card scarcity.
The online auction market for collectible sports cards is also a thriving industry today with tons of options in the price for all kinds of collectors.