Many who collected cards in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s now think those cards they so feverishly collected growing up are now worth pennies. But this isn’t always the case.
Hello, this is Joe Orlando president of PSA and longtime collector. Today we are going to talk about modern sports cards, more specifically we are going to discuss some of the most valuable rookie cards from the post 1970 era, from Terry Bradshaw to Michael Jordan to Derek Jeter. When the Hobby boom occurred during the 1980s, many modern era cards became hot commodities only to falter down the road as a result of things such as the 1994 baseball strike, mass production and collector confusion, as the hobby was soon flooded with so many card choices that a host of collectors simply threw in the towel. While the modern card market has certainly had its share of ups and downs, there are some hobby staples that have endured the test of time. And today in top shelf condition these cards can generate prices that would shock those who may have been out of the hobby for awhile. All of these cards are of the old-school variety. No autographs. No batter jersey pieces embedded into the cardboard. No manufactured scarcity by being hand numbered or part of a so-called “limited edition.” Just the basic rookie cards that most collectors who grew up during the 1970s and 1980s can relate to.
So let’s take a look at some of the most valuable sports cards of the last four decades, using actual prices generated at auction.
First on the list, Michael Jordan, pictured here on his 1986 Fleer basketball card. His rookie. Now most people consider Jordan to be the greatest player of all time and most collectors consider this card to be the best basketball card of all time. Now this card while not the toughest PSA 10 on the list does have its share of issue, including easily chipped borders around the colored portions of the card. It also has mild centering problems that prevent it from reaching PSA 10 status.
Next up, Carlton Fisk, the great catcher of the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox. This card has sold for nearly $11,000 at auction in PSA 10 condition. Like a lot of 1972 tops cards this Fisk rookie is often found off-center, which prevents it from reaching PSA 10 status.
Next up, the all-time stolen base leader, Rickey Henderson. This Hall of Famer is pictured here on his 1980 Topps rookie card, and this card has sold for over $11,000 at auction in PSA 10. This card definitely has its share of print defects, usually in the dark background sometimes referred to as fish eyes or print snow and that can detract from the eye appeal. In addition the card is often found with blunt-looking corners. 1980 Topps cards are sometimes cut that way and they don’t have that sharp appearance seen on other issues.
Next up, “The Eck.” Dennis Eckersley, pictured here on his 1976 Topps rookie card, a very good starter and then he became an amazing closer for the Oakland A’s later in his career. Now this card has sold for nearly $12,000 at auction. Because of the thin white borders that surround the card, this Eckersley rookie is often found off-center and it would not qualify for PSA 10.
Next up, the great quarterback Joe Montana, pictured here on his 1981 Topps rookie card. Now this card just recently within the last month sold for $11,750 at auction. Perfect centering is very hard to find on this card, at least centering that is good enough to qualify for PSA 10. In addition you often find the card with light print defects, which can detract from the eye appeal, preventing it from PSA 10 as well.
Walter Payton is up next, on his 1976 rookie card. Now this card, like the Montana, just sold recently for nearly $14,000 in PSA 10 condition at auction. You do find slight centering issues with this particular issue, 1976 Topps, and that prevents many of these cards from reaching PSA 10 status.
Another NFL legend, Terry Bradshaw is pictured here on his 1971 Topps rookie card. Now immediately you’ll notice the red borders that surround the card, and that makes it very tough in PSA 10 condition. As a matter of fact, one of these cards sold for over $18,000 at auction a few years ago. That red border is very susceptible to wear.
Next up, the great third baseman for the Kansa City Royals, George Brett, pictured here on his 1975 Topps rookie card, a card that has sold for over $20,000 in PSA 10 condition. This card is surrounded by very fragile colored borders, which are easily chipped, preventing many of them from reaching PSA 10. And as a lot of cards are found in the 1975 Topps set, many of them have tilts, which prevents them as well.
Next up ,Ozzie Smith, the great shortstop for the Padres and then the St. Louis Cardinals. This card has sold for over $20,000 at auction. Now the main problem with the Smith rookie is centering. This card is often found with very poor centering, which prevents it from even reaching PSA 9 status, let alone 10 status.
Next on the list, another quarterback legend, Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys. This particular card sold for $22,161 at auction. Now because of the narrow white borders like the Dennis Eckersley rookie, many of these are found off-center.
Next up, the perennial all-star for the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 1970s, Steve Garvey. And again you will notice, like the Bradshaw and the Brett, this card is surrounded by colored borders. Because of that, a PSA 10 example sold for over $25,000 at auction. And in addition, subpar centering haunts this card. But don’t forget about those fragile black borders. That is the key on the Garvey rookie.
Next up, another baseball legend in Mike Schmidt, the third baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. A PSA 10 of this card sold for $25,541 at auction. Now this card has poor centering, and print defects, usually dark spots, that affect the white portion of the front. And finally, the back has black edges along the reverse that are very easily chipped.
Next up, Robin Yount, another card from the 1975 Topps set. This one sold for $25,790. It’s actually slightly tougher than the Brett rookie. Again, those fragile borders are so easily chipped along the edges. In addition, poor centering as a result of tilts. And remember, PSA graders measure from the worst spot on those tilts. Finally, an inconsistent printing process causes many of these cards to have a very dull look, and often have print defects throughout that light background behind Yount.
Next on the list, our most recent addition on that top 15, the 1993 SP Derek Jeter rookie. Jeter, who is going to retire this year, is one of the great Yankee legends. And this card sold for an astonishing $33,842 at auction. Those dark edges like many of the other cards causes problems and reveals the slightest touch of wear. Couple that with the foil coating, and you have all sorts of problems with the edges, corners and surface of the card.
Finally, the number one card on our list, the 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie. This card sold for an amazing $94,162 a few years back. So who knows what it could sell for today. But this card has a tone of problems. First of all, poor centering haunts the card. Second of all, print defects are very common on this particular issue. And finally, the notorious O-Pee-Chee rough cut. Now keep in mind that these cards are supposed to have a rough cut, so having a rough cut along the edges is not a problem in most cases. PSA graders don’t downgrade for that. It’s when the rough cut goes into the corner and then damages the corner of the card. There is only one PSA 10 Gretzky rookie know at this time, and it sold for almost $100,000.
So that will do it for our quick look at some of the most valuable post-1970 rookie cards in the hobby. We hope you enjoyed this visual tour. And if you were a collector during the 1970s, 80s or 90s, don’t forget to look through your cards. You may just have a diamond in the rough.