To the uninitiated, sports cards might seem like antiquated memorabilia. But sports card trading continues to evolve. The high-dollar hobby has survived multiple economic recessions, catapulting into sports leagues’ exclusive licensing contracts with just a few manufacturers and the rise of the internet.
The T206 Honus Wagner card has long reigned as one of the most expensive sports cards ever sold. After a brief hiatus from the top spot, the prized card shattered records once more after selling for $6.6 million in August of 2021.
On this list, however, we’re zooming out. The following list of the most expensive sports cards and their sale prices will make newcomers and long-time devotees rethink everything they know about the value of sports memorabilia.
Most Expensive Sports Cards to Date
Before we start, it’s important to note that four independent grading organizations currently rule the world of sports card trading:
- Hybrid Grading Approach (HGA)
- Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA)
- Beckett Grading Services (BGS)
Each entity assesses the quality of cards on a scale from 1 to 10—the higher the number, the better the condition of the card.
|Honus Wagner||T206 SGC 3||$6.6 million|
|Mickey Mantle||1952 Topps||$5.2 million|
2003-2004 Rookie Patch Autograph
|Luka Dončić||1:1 Logoman Autographed||$4.6 million|
|Patrick Mahomes||2017 Rookie Autographed BGS 8.5||$4.3 million|
|Babe Ruth||1933 Goudey #53 PSA 9||$4.2 million|
|Mike Trout||2009 Superfractor Autograph||$3.9 million|
|Honus Wagner||T206 PSA 2||$3.75 million|
|Wayne Gretzky||1989 Wayne Gretzky O-Pee-Chee||$3.75 million|
|Honus Wagner||PSA 3||$3.7 million|
|Honus Wagner||T206 PSA 5||$3.1 million|
|Tom Brady||2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket #144/100 BGS 9||$3.1 million|
||1997-1998 Upper Deck Game Jersey||$2.7 million|
2003-2004 Rookie Patch Autograph
|Tom Brady||Playoff Contenders Championship Rookie Ticket Autograph||$2.3 million|
|Kobe Bryant||Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems – Green||$2.0 million|
|LeBron James||2003 Exquisite Collection #78/99 BGS 9||$2.0 million|
|Giannis Antetokounpo||Panini National Treasures Logoman Patch Autograph||$1.9 million|
|Kobe Bryant||Topps Chrome Refractors #138 Rookie Card||$1.8 million|
2003-2004 Rookie Patch Autograph
|LeBron James||Upper Deck Ultimate Signatures Logos #USL-LJ Signed Logoman Card||$1.3 million|
|Wayne Gretzky||1979 O-Pee-Chee||$1.3 million|
|Giannis Antetokounpo||2013-2014 Panini Prizm “Prizms Black Mosaic” #290||$1.1 million|
|Roberto Clemente||Topps Rookie Card #164||$1.1 million|
|Mike Trout||Topps Update Platinum #US175||$1.0 million|
#1 Honus Wagner T206 SGC 3
Honus Wagner, famed MLB shortstop, played between 1897 and 1917.
The $6,606,296 sale is particularly notable due to the grade of the card—only scoring a 3 out of 10 on SGC’s grading scale.
The relatively low grade of the T206 makes its value particularly impressive.
#2 Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps
Switch hitter Mickey Mantle graced the lineup of the New York Yankees between 1951 and 1968, playing center field for only one team throughout the duration of his career.
Topps remains one of the few exclusive manufacturers producing sports cards—they have an exclusive licensing agreement with the MLB to continue making and selling sports cards.
#3 LeBron James 2003-2004 Rookie Patch Autograph #07/23
LeBron James began his NBA career as a small forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers. After emerging as a heavy hitter in the league, he joined the Miami Heat between 2010 and 2014, returning to the Cavs between 2014 and 2018 and transferring to the LA Lakers in 2018, where he still plays.
As a four-time NBA champion, eighteen-time NBA All-Star and thirteen-time NBA First Team player, James’s 2003 rookie card holds particular value in the sports card community. James cards currently hold numerous positions on the list of most expensive sports cards ever sold.
#4 Luka Dončić 1:1 Logoman Autographed
Slovenian NBA player Luka Dončić rose to prominence while playing in various European basketball leagues before joining the Atlanta Hawks as a first-round draft pick in 2018. After a first-season transfer to the Dallas Mavericks, Dončić has remained with the team ever since.
Dončić is one of the few players in the league to secure three All-NBA First Team recognitions so early in his career, joining the ranks of Larry Bird and Tim Duncan.
#5 Patrick Mahomes 2017 Rookie Autographed BGS 8.5
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes II’s rookie card secured a $4.3 million sale. The 2017 first-round draft pick remains the only quarterback in history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a single season.
The card’s quality—an 8.5 on BGS’s ten-point grading scale—is particularly notable, and the Mahomes card is currently the most expensive NFL card ever sold.
#6 Babe Ruth 1933 Goudey #53 PSA 9
Babe Ruth’s 1933 Goudey card is the third-most expensive sports card ever sold bearing an inactive player.
The 1933 card depicts the MLB titan in his second-to-last season as a player before his retirement from the sport in 1935. The outfielder/pitcher made his league debut on the Boston Red Sox before spending the majority of his career on the New York Yankees’ lineup.
#7 Mike Trout 2009 Superfractor Autograph
Mike Trout, centerfielder, has played for the LA Angels MLB team since 2011. The team selected him in the 2009 MLB draft, but he didn’t join the team as a starting player until 2012—he received a unanimous nomination as the American League MVP in the same year.
The 2009 card is particularly valuable because it depicts Trout before his official start on the Angels and before his MVP award. Since 2012, he has been named an MLB All-Star ten times, American League MVP three times and All-MLB First-Team player twice.
#8 Honus Wagner T206 PSA 2
Another Honus Wagner T206 baseball card maintains a top-ten spot in the most expensive sports cards ever sold.
The T206 set was issued between 1909 and 1911 and was included in packs of cigarettes and loose tobacco. The set is of particular importance for MLB card collectors due to its rarity and the high quality of its color depictions of players.
#9 Wayne Gretzky 1989 O-Pee-Chee
“The Great One” enjoyed a 20-season career as an NHL player, and has been called the greatest hockey player of all time even by the NHL itself.
The Canadian-born player graced cards produced by Canadian candy company O-Pee-Chee numerous times, but the 1989 iteration remains the most expensive NHL card ever sold and the ninth-most expensive sports card ever purchased for any sport.
#10 Honus Wagner T206 PSA 3
The third Honus Wagner T206 card to grace the top ten most expensive sports cards ever sold, the PSA 3 card sold for $3.25 million in a private sale in 2020.
Like the other T206 cards bearing Wagner’s visage, it features a relatively low grade. But its rarity and high image quality still renders it a high-value memorabilia piece.
#11 Honus Wagner T206 PSA 5
The PSA 3 Wagner only eclipsed the PSA 5 card in 2020—the latter was sold for $3.12 million in 2016, but it would likely fetch a significantly higher sale price if it hit the market today.
The highest-grade Wagner T206 card is among the top 25 most expensive sports cards ever sold, its condition makes it a particularly valuable item. While it’s nowhere near mint condition, collectors should expect the card to fetch another record-breaking price the next time it’s purchased.
#12 Tom Brady 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket #144/100 BGS 9
The second-most expensive NFL card ever sold after the Mahomes rookie card, this high-grade Tom Brady card fetched a $3.1 million sale price.
Notably, the card also represents a current NFL player. Both Mahomes and Brady are Super Bowl champions, but Brady has been called by many as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
#13 Michael Jordan Upper Deck Game Jersey Autographs
In October of 2021, one of just 23 Upper Deck game jersey autograph cards sold for $2.7 million in a private sale, making it the most expensive Jordan item ever sold in the sports cards sphere.
Only the sixth in a 23-card printing, its low serial number and BGS grade 8 rating render it a high-ticket memorabilia piece.
#14 LeBron James 2003-2004 Rookie Patch Autograph #23/23
The fourteenth-most expensive sports card ever purchased is another iteration of the LeBron James 2003-2004 rookie card.
Numerous LeBron James rookie cards have graced the collectibles market, but this card is of particular importance because of its serial number. While the card in the #3 spot is the 7th card printed in a 23-card run, this one is the last.
#15 Tom Brady Playoff Contenders Championship Rookie Ticket Autograph
Only two spots underneath a similar card, another Tom Brady Playoff Contenders Championship card holds a place in the top 20 most expensive sports cards.
However, this card was sold for $2.3 million the last time it was available on the market, while its higher-valued companion fetched $3.1 million.
#16 Kobe Bryant Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems – Green
The fourth-most expensive NBA card ever sold, the Kobe Bryant Metal Universe card was purchased for $2 million. The card depicts one of basketball’s most famous players during the 1997-1998 season, his second in the league.
Bryant entered the NBA as a first-round draft pick for the Charlotte Hornets in 1996. After being traded to the LA Lakers in the same year, he remained with the team until his retirement in 2016.
#17 LeBron James 2003 Exquisite Collection #78/99 BGS 9
Another LeBron James rookie card, the exquisite Collection iteration fetched $2 million at auction.
The card features an impressively high BGS grade of 9, only two scores beneath BGS’s flawless ranking. Due to its quality, collectors should expect the card to sell for an even higher price the next time it’s sold.
#18 Giannis Antetokounmpo Panini National Treasures Logoman Patch Autograph
The eighteenth-most expensive sports card ever sold depicts Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greek-Nigerian power forward for the Milwaukee Bucks.
At a mere 27 years old, Antetokounmpo has been voted NBA MVP twice in his career, NBA All-Star six times and All-NBA First Team four times. Antetokounmpo cards occupy two slots on the top 25 list.
#19 Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome Refractors #138 Rookie Card
In 2021, this Kobe Bryant rookie card secured a $1,798,800 price tag at auction. At the time, it was the highest price ever paid for a Kobe Bryant card, but it would be eclipsed the following year by the Precious Metal Gems card.
However, if this card returns to auction, collectors should expect it to sell for even more—not only is it a rookie card but it’s also graded at a BGS 10.
#20 LeBron James 2003-2004 Rookie Patch Autograph #32/99
Yet another LeBron James rookie card, the twentieth-most expensive sports card ever purchased, is sure to eclipse its $1.5 million price tag the next time it hits the market—its relatively low serial number in a 99-card run makes it particularly valuable as a collectible item.
#21 LeBron James Upper Deck Ultimate Signatures Logos #USL-LJ Signed Logoman Card
This LeBron James card is particularly unique—the one-of-a-kind card features both an autograph and a game-used NBA logo patch. The card was graded by PSA as a 10.
While it’s not a rookie card, it does depict James in his second NBA season after his Rookie of the Year victory the previous year.
#22 Wayne Gretzky 1979 O-Pee-Chee
Another Gretzky card originally issued by Canadian confectioner O-Pee-Chee, the 1979 card doubles as a rookie card.
Rated as a gem in mint condition (a particularly high-valued rank in the world of sports card trading), this 1979 O-Pee-Chee card is just one of two of the same grade.
#23 Giannis Antetokounmpo 2013-2014 Panini Prizm “Prizms Black Mosaic” #290
One of two cards of its kind, this is the second-most valuable Antetokounmpo card in the NBA sports card trade. It sold at auction for $1,168,000 in December of 2020, only months after the autographed logoman patch card that ranks at #18 on this list.
As Antetokounmpo’s stardom grows, collectors should expect the value of the player’s rookie cards to steadily grow.
#24 Roberto Clemente Topps Rookie Card #164
Puerto Rican right fielder Roberto Clemente played for the Pittsburgh Pirates for a whopping 18 seasons, and he was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. He was the first Caribbean and first Latin-American player inducted into the prestigious legion.
The run represents the only recognized rookie card, making it a high-ticket item for collectors.
#25 Mike Trout Topps Update Platinum #US175
In 2021, this one-of-a-kind Mike Trout card was sold to DJ Skee in a private sale for $1.1 million. The 2011 card is one of the most sought-after modern baseball cards, especially due to its mint condition and 1/1 status.
Protect Your Treasured Sports Cards
Sports card collection is a long-treasured American hobby, and even modern cards and from active players fetch astronomical price tags.
But whether you spend $6 or $6 million on a card, your sports memorabilia is worthy of top-tier preservation. Here at Collectible Supplies, we offer the highest quality card sleeves and cases. Protects your cards’ value and shop at Collectible Supplies today.