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Complete Vintage Baseball Card Price Guide

How To Figure Out What Your Vintage Cards Are Worth

Discover Values For Vintage, Pre-War, and Post-War Baseball Cards

It can be difficult and overwhelming trying to research a collection of cards, especially for someone without much knowledge about the hobby.  Researching your cards before you sell them is important for multiple reasons.  The first reason is so you have an idea of what to expect in terms of value.  In that same regard it can help prevent you from getting taken advantage of or ripped off. It will also be much easier to sell your cards if you know some basic information about them.  Our price guide provides a 4 step process to determine what you have and figuring out how much your cards are worth. 

Step 1: Determine What You Have (Years, Manufacturers, and Key Players)

Step 2: Familiarize Yourself With Card Grading Standards 

Step 3: Inspect Cards To Determine Condition 

Step 4: Research Recent Sales 

Step 1: Determine What You Have (Years, Manufacturers, and Key Players)

A good starting point for research is to grab a few cards out of the collection.  It may not look like it but there is actually a lot of information included on each piece of cardboard.  The player name is usually the most obvious, as it will typically be included somewhere on the front and reverse of the card.  Brand and year can be a little trickier.  Google is a great resource for figuring this information out.  On the reverse of most cards you will see a card number.  In the example below (1954 Topps Hank Aaron rookie), #128 is listed in the corner.  If you were to type "Hank Aaron 128" into google, 1954 Topps Hank Aaron would pop up.  This is an easy way to find out the year and brand.  This method works well for most 1930s and later cards.  Tobacco cards can be tougher, as most do not have card numbers.  Please contact us for assistance with tobacco cards.

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Another trick for determining manufacturer and year is to inspect the back of the card for any listings or initials.  Some can be straight forward, as is the case with the 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle (seen below).  "1951 Bowman Gum Inc" is listed at the bottom of the card.  Topps cards are a little tougher to decipher, but most years use this method.  Notice "T.C.G. Printed In U.S.A" along the bottom border.  This stands for "Topps Chewing Gum" and is typically listed on the back of each card.  Each card shows up to the previous years statistics on the back.  In the case of the Mickey Mantle #50 (orange background), the final year of stats listed are from 1965.  We can conclude this card was printed in 1966.  This card is indeed the 1966 Topps Mickey Mantle #50.

History Of Baseball Cards

Baseball cards have a long history, with production first starting in the 1800's.  With hundreds of sets being produced in the past 165+ years, it can be extremely difficult to determine what manufacturer and years your cards are from.  To help better understand baseball cards, we must first dive deeper into the eras of baseball to get a better understanding of the card landscape.

Baseball cards are typically broken down into different eras, primarily being vintage and modern cards. Vintage is a very vague term, as it can encompass a wide range of years.   There is not an exact definition of which years are vintage, but most collector's agree it ends somewhere between 1970 and 1980.  For this article we will define vintage cards as before 1980.  Vintage cards can also be broken down even further.  Vintage cards can be classified as either "pre-war" or "post-war".  The point of reference here is World War II, which ended in 1945.  So any cards produced before 1945 are considered pre-war and any produced between 1946 and 1979 are considered post-war.  We will take a closer look at cards from each era.

Eras Of Baseball Cards


Pre-War Baseball Cards (1865-1945)

Pre-War cards encompass some of the rarest and most valuable cards and sets every produced.  A 1909-11 T206 tobacco card of Honus Wagner sold for $6.6 million dollars in 2021.  Some of the major sets released in this time period include Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Lou Gehrig, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson just to name a few.  The majority of the sets were released to help advertise either tobacco, candy, or gum and the cards were inserted in the packs with the product. 

Card Classification

The American Card Catalog categorized cards into the following classifications:

"N-Card": 19th century

"D-Cards": Bakery or Bread issues

"E-Cards": Candy or Caramel issues

"F-Cards": Food, Ice Cream, or Dairy issues

"M-Cards": Publications (i.e. Sporting Life)

"R-Cards" Gum issues

"T-Cards": 20th century tobacco issues

"W-Cards": Strip/Exhibit issues

Tobacco Cards ("T" Cards and "N" Cards)

Tobacco cards were produced liberally from the late 1880s until ~1920.  Some of the most popular brands include Gypsy Queen (1887), Old Judge (1887-1890, Allen and Gunter (1887), T206 (1909-11), T205 (1911), and T3 Turkey Reds (1911).  Most of these cards were smaller in size (compared to modern day cards) and were used as a tool for tobacco companies to advertise their brand. Quality control was also poor and many variations and errors exist because of it. 

Cards from this era are highly valuable and collectible, as many were thrown away as kids from the era grew up.  Hall of Famers are especially valuable, especially in strong condition.  Key players from this time frame include Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Joe Jackson, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson (to name a few).

It can be difficult to determine details about these cards, as the backs typically only have an advertisement.  In most cases there are no player information/stats or designation to indicate which set the card is from. Many sets, especially 1909-11 T206, were printed with multiple different companies' advertisements on the back.  Examples of brands include common backs like Sweet Caporal and Piedmont or rarer backs like Hindu.  The majority of tobacco cards are classified as "T-cards, except for tobacco cards printed in the nineteenth century, which are known as "N-cards".

Summary of Tobacco Cards

Important Sets: Old Judge (1887-1890), T206 (1909-11), T205 (1911), Turkey Red (1911)

Key Players: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Joe Jackson, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson

Candy Cards "E-Cards"

Cards were a way for candy companies to motivate children to purchase more of their product.  These "E" cards certainly drummed up interest from kids at the time.  "E-Cards" started to be released in the 1880's and run through ~1930.  Some of the popular sets from this series includes American Caramel E-90 sets (1909-1927), Cracker Jack E-145 (1914 & 1915), Croft's Candy E92 (1910).  The cards were similar to tobacco cards in that they were printed on thin paper and typically had an advertisement on the back.  Key players are the same as tobacco cards.


Summary of Candy cards

Important Sets: American Caramel and Cracker Jack

Key Players: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Joe Jackson, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson 


Gum Cards "R-Cards"

In the 1930s Gum companies decided to start printing baseball cards and included them in their gum packs.  The majority of these sets are from 1933-1941, with the major brands being Goudey (1933-1939), Delong (1933), Diamond Stars (1934-36), and Play Ball (1939-1941).  These cards were printed on thicker stock and most used some amazing illustrations with bright color backgrounds.  

1933 Goudey in considered one of the top sets of all time, as over 25% of the set is Hall of Famers.  The popularity is tied to the inclusion of 4 Babe Ruth and 2 Lou Gehrig cards.  This set, and the others listed, are quite valuable, especially any featuring Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig.  Other names to look out for include Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Rogers Hornsby, and Bob Feller.

These cards are highly popular and are considered some of the most beautiful sets ever produced.  They are much easier to identify, as the backs have player names, biographies, numbers, and the maker is clearly indicated.

Summary of Gum cards

Important Sets: Goudey, Delong, Diamond Stars, and Play Ball

Key Players: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig,  Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Nap Lajoie

Post-War Baseball Cards (1946-1979)

Following World War II, children and adults alike flocked to baseball.  The "national pastime" flourished, and interest in cards exploded.  Most children weren't able to watch games of their favorite teams  on TV, so cards were a way to connect to their favorite players.  Bowman released a set in 1948 and continued producing a yearly set until 1955.  Leaf only released 1 set (1948-49) but it was a memorable one, with key rookies of Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige.  Topps released their first major set in 1952, and a dynasty was born. By 1956, Bowman went out of business and Topps had a monopoly on the card market. Besides a few small sets released by Fleer in the early 60s, Topps was the only manufacturer of baseball cards until 1981, when Fleer and Donruss broke in.

Many of the greatest players of all time played during the "golden age" of baseball.  This includes rookie cards of Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan.  Cards from the 1940s and 50s can be extremely valuable.  In 2022 a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (graded an SGC 9.5) set the record for highest price every paid for a card.  It sold for $12.6 million dollars!

Sets from this era are extremely desirable since so many legends are included in each year.  In regards to the size of sets, Bowman started with 48 cards in the 1948 set and Topps released 407 cards in their 1952 set. Compare that with 1971 Topps, which had 752 cards in it. The majority of sets were released in series throughout the year.  Typically, the last series, or "high number" series, was released with the lowest print runs and are rarer and more valuable than the other series.  

Summary of Post-War Cards

Important Sets: 1948-49 Leaf, 1952-1969 Topps, 1948-1955 Bowman

Key Players: Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan

Modern (1980-current)

While the early to mid 80s has it's fair share of rookie cards of Hall of Famers (Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn), the cards printed from the mid 80s to early 90s were mass produced to the point that most collectors call cards from 1987-93 the "junk years".  The card companies pumped out as many sets as possible, and over production occurred.  When it comes to these years the supply far exceeds the demand.  Many complete sets from the late 80s to early 90s sell for $5 or less.  There are still some key valuable rookies, as seen with Derek Jeter's Upper Deck SP 1st year card.  This card in a PSA 10 sold in 2022 for $204,000.

Step 2:  Familiarize Yourself With Card Grading Standards 

There are generally 3 major companies who grade sports cards: PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator), SGC (Sportscard Guaranty Corporation), and Beckett.  Each use a 10 point scale, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.  Cards that have been trimmed or altered in other ways can be graded as authentic.  For many cards which have been handled or played with, it is difficult to obtain grades higher than a 5.  Below are the grading standards for PSA.

Check out our guide on How to Grade Sports Cards

Step 3: Inspect Cards To Determine Condition 

When it comes to the value of sports cards, one of the biggest factors in value is the condition of the card. The condition is determined by many factors.  Many people think that a card fresh from a pack must be "mint" but the card printing process is not always perfect.  The main components of grading are further discussed below.  


Centering plays a major part in grading.  Measurements are taken of the space between the image and the border from to the left and right of the image and top to bottom.  Collectors prefer cards which are 50/50 centered.  Grading companies have centering parameters which must be met for cards to qualify for higher grades.


Corners also play a big part in the grading process.  Corners can have wear, bends, fraying and creases from being handled and played with.  Sharp edges typically equate to a higher grade.  Rounded corners are a detractor and and usually knock the grade down to the 3 or 4 range.


Similar to wear on corners, edges can easily be damaged as well.  Chipping, indents, and wear from rubber bands are commons, especially with older cards.


The surface of the card can easily show creases, wrinkles, indents, scuffs, and wax/gum stains.  Any of these detractors can lower the grade.

Lets use the 1971 Topps Reggie Jackson to point out some condition issues.  As you can see the centering is off right to left and top to bottom.  There is more black border on the left side compared to the right of the card and more black border on top compared to bottom.  The corners have rounding and creases, and the edges have plenty of chipping.  The surface has multiple creases and some areas of scuffing.  This card would not grade higher than a 1 or 1.5

**Make note of the general condition of the cards.  Something like low-grade, mid-grade, or high grade is extremely helpful when determining value.

Step 4: Research Recent Sales 

How To Check Recent eBay Sales

eBay is a great source to get recent sales of most cards. In order to see sold prices (rather than listed prices), start by clicking the "advanced" button to the right of the eBay search bar.  Next type in what card your interested in into the "enter keywords" search bar.  Be sure to check "Sold Items" under the "search including" heading.  Then click the blue search button, and you will be able to see all recent sales for the card in question.  See the red arrows in the images below. 

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Do you have 1900-1969 vintage baseball cards you are looking to sell? Reach out today!

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