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Rookie Cards :: Get There First, Hold On

New York Yankee Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps rookie card
Courtesy of Topps

Nothing makes a collector happier than finding a treasured rookie card. Especially when that rookie takes off, taking the card value with him.

The most famous and valuable rookie card of all time is New York Yankee Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps rookie card, which lists at close to $100,000. While this is out of reach for all but the richest collector, each year provides the opportunity to find and hold a rookie card until the first year player turns into a hall of famer.

Spotting a rookie to collect is only the first step though: then a collector has to find which of the rookie cards are going to be thought of as the most valuable. While Mickey Mantle had only the one card, Washington Capitals’ sniper Alexander Ovechkin has no fewer than a dozen cards that were issued either in or to celebrate his rookie year. For collectors, scarcity and condition are what determine which rookie card they value the most. Ovechkin’s most treasured rookie card is from the 2005/06 Upper Deck set and carries a list price of around $125.


While it may also be a little late to get on the Ovechkin train, there are plenty of interesting rookies, in many sports, who present an opportunity for younger collectors.


Minnesota Twins’ catcher and batting champion Joe Mauer, who is just beginning a potentially hall of fame career, has rookie cards (e.g. Topps Chrome #622) that can still be found for under $10. Vancouver Canuck superstar goalie Roberto Luongo, who is quickly erasing any questions as to who is the best goalie in the world, still has plenty of rookie cards available for less than $20 (e.g. 97-98 Upper Deck Black Diamond #131). Houston Rockets giant center Yao Ming, well on his way to a storied and successful basketball career, has many rookie cards that can be grabbed for under $30 (e.g. Topps 2002-2003 #185)


As with any investment, a collector wants to get in on the ground floor. Except with a sports card you are not following a stock or a company, you are following a player’s career. The feeling of joy that is unique to sports card collecting, especially with rookie cards, is the feeling that you were there before the rest of the world noticed, and you have the card to prove it.


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