The card didn"t watch like much when Bernice Gallego plucked that from a bin the unsorted was in her Fresno, Calif., neck shop. She examined the straightforward sepia-toned portrait of an unknown team from a i delivered era and also put it up on eBay because that $9.99.

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Within hours, the mushrooming volume the inquiries convinced Gallego the this wasn"t just any type of old card. She conveniently pulled the item indigenous eBay and took it come an expert, where she learned it to be the first card ever printed of the an initial professional baseball team ever before assembled, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Through sports memorabilia specialist storage Lane, Gallegos marketed the card to Houston dealer Jeffrey Rosenberg for $75,000 in February.

"This is my fantasy baseball--getting to own a card like this," claims Rosenberg, who purchased the map for his memorabilia company, Tristar Productions. "It"s the type of thing you can put in the Smithsonian or the Baseball hall of Fame. I think us bought it because that a an excellent price."

The scarcest items deserve to command even higher prices: The optimal 15 vintage cards regularly fetch six numbers at auctions by memory Lane in Tustin, Calif., and similar outfits choose Goodwin & Co. In St. Louis, Huggins & Scott in silver- Spring, Md., and also Hunt Auctions in Exton, Pa.

The 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth map is the most valuable, worth $500,000 in an excellent condition, follow to Brian Fleischer the memorabilia evaluator Beckett Media. The second-most expensive map is the 1909 Honus Wagner rookie, precious $300,000 in similar condition.

In Pictures: The World"s most Expensive Baseball Cards

One Wagner rookie map miraculously survived the last century in near-mint condition. Called the "Gretzky Wagner" after it to be purchased through the hockey star for $451,000 in 1991, the card marketed for $500,000 in 1995, then because that $640,000 in 1996, $1.265 million in 2000, $2.35 million in march of 2007 and $2.8 million in September that 2008. Fleischer approximates it would carry $3 million today--and that a comparable Ruth rookie would go for $3 million come $5 million

Rounding out the peak three is a card that bears the image of one of baseball"s most controversial figures, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. Accused the participating in the notorious Black Sox Scandal, in i beg your pardon the heavily favored Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World series in exchange because that cash native mobsters, Jackson to be banned from baseball for life. Scholars suggest out the he post a scalding 0.375 batting average in the collection and didn"t make any kind of errors in the field, fueling a recent motion to have actually him posthumously elected to the hall of Fame. Jackson"s 1910 Old Mill second-year card is precious $200,000 in an excellent condition.

"It"s simply one the the all-time great baseball cards," claims Robert Lifson, president of Robert Edward Auctions in Watchung, N.J., a sporting activities house comparable to storage Lane. "It"s Joe Jackson"s only tobacco card. You don"t need to be a baseball card collector to evaluate it."

Play your Cards ideal Vintage baseball cards have been something of a for sure haven throughout the current recession. Last May, a 1909 Honus Wagner rookie in good condition fetched $317,000. Because then, the Wagner"s value has edged increase to around $350,000. Other rare pre-war cards have actually held their value, and modern cards room down simply 10-15% on mean in the last year. That"s only a slight dip contrasted with the S&P 500, under 40% on the year.

"In past economic downturns, the hobby has actually done well," claims Beckett"s Fleischer. "We"re seeing really strong sales ~ above high-grade pre-war vintage stuff. People are placing their money in cards rather of traditional investments."

To it is in sure, the hidden prices of the hobby are often steeper 보다 brokerage fees or fund expenses. Auctioneers typically charge sellers a 10% commission on little lots; for big-ticket items they often waive the seller fee and hit the win bidder v a buyer premium that 15% or so. Of the $75,000 Rosenberg laid out for Gallego"s card, memory Lane take it $11,000. A policy on together a card from Collectibles Insurance services in hunt Valley, Md., runs around $460 per year. Still, it"s tough to put a price top top the satisfaction of ownership.

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"It"s much more fun to buy a Babe Ruth map than part AT&T stock," claims Fleischer. "You can"t display shares to your friends."

Bragging rights deserve to be rewarding, however for part collectors, a solitary moment with a vintage card is the actual treasure. If friend take among these items out of its case, map the weathering edges with a careful finger and also smell the ancient traces of tobacco ingrained in the tiny fibers, because that a moment you could feel baseball"s mystical heart shuddering through your own.

Regardless of your desire to commune through ball-playing ghosts, you don"t necessarily need to shell out hundreds of thousands that dollars to land a prime item of vintage cardboard. Over there will constantly be an ext unwitting excavators like Bernice Gallego. Last year, a collector in Florida found a Wagner rookie in a tobacco believe in his grandfather"s attic.

"It"s incredibly rare to hit the lottery prefer that," claims Fleischer. "But the still happens."

In Pictures: The World"s many Expensive Baseball Cards


Zack O"Malley Greenburg is an elderly editor the media & entertainment at and author of four books, includingA-List Angels: just how a band of Actors, Artists and also Athletes Hacked Silicon Valleyand the Jay-Z biographyEmpire State of Mind. Zack"s work has additionally appeared in the New York Times,Washington Post, Billboard, Sports Illustrated, Vibe, McSweeney"s and also the Library of Congress. In over a decade at, he has actually investigated topics from Wu-Tang Clan"s mystery album in Morocco come the return of tourism in post-conflict Sierra Leone to the earning power of Hip-Hop"s Cash Kings, creating cover story on subjects ranging from Richard Branson come Ashton Kutcher to Katy Perry. A former child actor, Zack played the title duty in the movie Lorenzo"s Oil (1992) and also arrived at in 2007 ~ graduating from Yale v an American studies degree. Because that more, monitor him on Twitter, Facebook, newsletter and also via Got a tip on a music, media & to chat story? Send it over via SecureDrop. Instructions here: