Superstars of the 2000s are among the most desired trading cards around.
The timeline below shows the cumulative value of auction sales of trading cards minted decade by decade since the end of the 19th century.
It’s hard to believe now, but in the late 1800s and early 1900s, trading cards were included in tobacco products to drive sales.
In the century that followed, these cards became intertwined with pop culture. Even today, despite competition from technology and video gaming, collecting these cards remain a rite of passage for children across the world.
Collecting itself gained prominence throughout the late 80s, reaching maturity in the 2000s. With lots of variables to consider, from the quality of collections, condition of individual cards and rarity of specially minted one-offs and now G.O.A.T. players, it’s no wonder that the last 20 years have produced over $200 million in final bids.
Filter the timeline below to explore how much value each of the world’s most popular sports and their trading cards have generated over the course of the century.
Which Sports Memorabilia Generate the Most Value?
Our data reveals that baseball cards are the real big hitters. In fact, of the top ten most expensive items of memorabilia, six were basketball cards while four featured baseball players.
The top ten baseball cards brought home an average of $1.99 million – almost eight times more than the most lucrative hockey card. Basketball followed closely behind in second place with an average final sale price of $1.72 million.
Trading cards also dominated the top 100. Of the 100 top sellers, just seven items of memorabilia were not cards. These included an NBA championship ring, complete sets of Fleer 1980s stickers, and even a player contract from 1919.
10 Most Expensive Basketball Cards
Naturally, the basketball trading card top ten is dominated by past and present G.O.A.T. contenders – depending on your opinion.
Six of the most expensive basketball trading cards feature LeBron James. Specifically, the 2003 Upper Deck “Exquisite Collection” Rookie Patch Cards which feature prominently. This run of 99 cards featured potions of a LeBron match won Cavaliers Jersey from his debut season.
The most valuable of these cards is not No.1/99, but No.23/99. This is, of course, LeBron’s career squad number and sold for almost $2.5 million.
10 Most Expensive Baseball Cards
Five baseball players vie for pole position in the top ten but it’s nine-time MLB All-Star, three-time American League MVP, center fielder, Mike Trout. This one-off sold for a staggering $3,840,000 in 2020.
Alongside Trout, vintage editions of Johannes Peter "Honus" Wagner and Mickey Mantle from 1909 and 1952 respectively each appear several times.
Wagner is largely considered one of baseball's greatest players and even low-grade copies have sold for over $100,000. Largely, experts believe the rarity of this card is no accident. Although Wagner was a smoker himself, documentation from the time suggests Wagner had objections to promoting tobacco use among young fans and was unhappy at his inclusion.
Nicknamed The Commerce Comet and The Mick, Mantle embodies the holy trinity of baseball – power, speed, and the everyman personality. Considered an idol by many in the 50s and 60s, it’s no shock that his cards still achieve final bids more than $2,000,000.
10 Most Expensive Football Cards
It’s perhaps no surprise that, when it comes to the NFL, six of the most expensive include Tom Brady Rookie cards. In fact, the cards featuring the quarterback take all three podium positions with all three of them fetching well in excess of $1 million.
Alongside Brady, is Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. Three different cards featuring Mahomes cards feature in the top ten, the most valuable being the uber-rare, one-of-five signed patch cards sold for a cool $840,000. As we see the stock of the elite quarterback rises even further over the coming years, collectors should be on the lookout for more limited runs of cards featuring Mahomes.
10 Most Expensive Soccer Cards
Turning to soccer, as you might expect, Ronaldo features heavily. Appearing four times among the big scorers, cards featuring the Portuguese captain are worth holding on to. Although unsigned, these four fetched an average of around $235,000.
Norwegian striker and Borussia Dortmund number nine, Erling Haaland, also dominates with three appearances in the top ten. A one-of-a-kind 2019 signed card picked up $432,000.
South American players also hit the back of the net with two Messi cards and a 64-year-old Pele card in the lineup.
10 Most Expensive Hockey Cards
Moving onto the ice, we’re not shocked to see that Canadian topliner, Wayne Gretzky, is a recurrent member of the top ten when it comes to hockey cards. Gretzky dominated the record books during his 20-season career, retiring following the 1998-99 season with an outlandish 61 NHL records.
Dominating once again, Gretzky features on seven of the biggest hitters, scoring the owners of these Rookie collectables an average of just shy of $190,000.
Keeping Gretzky company, fellow Canadian Gordie Howe makes one appearance, as do two unopened trading card boxes from 1986. Still factory sealed, these boxes contain original packs from the era that could potentially contain the aforementioned Wayne Gretzky trading card to your collection.