There are certain baseball cards that have an importance to collectors that goes beyond dollars and cents. Yes, they are usually valuable in that way as well, but the significance of these cards seems to transcend monetary value. They are simply iconic.
These are cards that nearly all hobbyists instantly recognize, whether they collect that genre or not. Starting in 1948 and moving up the timeline to the most modern issues, here is our list of the 10 Most Iconic Post-War Baseball Cards.
10. 1948 Leaf #8 Satchel Paige
After a long and distinguished career in The Negro leagues, Satchel Paige broke into the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 42, when he was far removed from his prime but still incredibly effective. “The Yankee Clipper” Joe DiMaggio considered him the best and fastest pitcher he ever faced. Paige was the first elected to the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues and inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.
Of his few career issues, the 1948 Leaf short-print is the most cherished due to its rarity. Just 160 examples reside within the PSA population. In addition to being a short-printed card in an already rare issue, the entire Leaf set is plagued by centering issues and print defects, thus making any high grade card desirable. Based on his mythical aura and legendary talent in combination with the desirability of the card itself, the Satchel Paige rookie is truly one of the greatest post-war baseball cards ever produced.
9. 1948 Leaf #79 Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson might be the most important figure in baseball history. As the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, Robinson overcame decades of bigotry and opened the doors for generations of future legends. His importance to the game, and to our country as a whole, cannot be overstated.
As a result, what card could be more iconic than a Jackie Robinson rookie card? The 1948 Leaf Robinson is desirable in any grade. As mentioned regarding the Satchel Paige above, the 1948 Leaf set is one of the top postwar baseball issues in existence. Rarity, condition–sensitivity and the fact that it is the first major, color baseball card set of the post-war era are all contributing elements. Add to the fact that these elements can be applied to a hall of fame player who made one of the greatest civil rights statements in American history, and the inclusion of this card becomes an automatic decision.
8. 1951 Bowman #305 Willie Mays
Believed by many to be the greatest player of all time, Willie Mays was a five-tool star who graced major league outfields for 22 seasons. He retired in 1973 with a .302 batting average, 660 home runs, 1903 runs batted in, and 20 consecutive all-star games selections.
Willie Mays’ 1951 Bowman rookie card features an artistic rendering of the Say Hey Kid at bat. The horizontal format allows for a fantastic up-close image of the young slugger. High grade examples are an extreme challenge due to rarity and desirability. Only eight PSA 9s are available to the hobby and thus far no PSA 10s exist. The Willie Mays rookie card earns a spot on our iconic card list. Heck, if we didn’t include arguably the greatest of all time, then it wouldn’t be much of a list.
7. 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle
As far as America’s favorite pastime goes, the 1950s was a truly legendary period in the sport, and no one was more popular during that time than the New York Yankees centerfielder, Mickey Mantle. He was movie-star handsome, hit towering home runs from both sides of the plate and led the Bronx Bombers to seven World Series championships during his career.
The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is arguably the most important post war trading card of any type. The first Topps card of an iconic Yankees legend, from Topps first major set, issued in the fabled high series whose unsold product fell victim to a watery grave in the Hudson River… It is the stuff of legend. Not to mention the fact that high-grade examples seem to break records at auction on a regular basis. This card may just be the most coveted of all trading cards, is recognized the world over, and has become the face of the hobby. It has rightfully earned its reputation of being iconic.
6. 1954 Topps #128 Henry “Hank” Aaron
Hammerin’ Hank turned the sports world upside down on April 8, 1974, when he hit an Al Downing pitch over the left-centerfield wall to surpass Babe Ruth as Major League Baseball’s all-time home run king. The legendary Braves slugger would eventually retire with 755 career home runs, a mark that stood for 33 years.
Hank Aaron’s 1954 Topps rookie card shows the youthful slugger at the outset of his illustrious career. Featuring profile and action images against a bright orange background and enclosed by crisp, white borders, the card is truly a work of art. It wasn’t until recent years that hobbyists began giving the card its due respect, but once that started the floodgates opened and prices rose dramatically. Now the card is in demand in any form – high, mid, low grade, signed or unsigned. Collectors want them all. With 24 PSA 9 examples and two PSA 10s out in the hobby, high grade is there for those who can swing it.
5.1955 Topps #164 Roberto Clemente
A legendary ballplayer and devoted humanitarian, the world lost a great man when Roberto Clemente’s airplane crashed into the ocean on a relief mission to Puerto Rico in the wake of a devastating earthquake.
His 1955 Topps rookie is Roberto Clemente’s most desired card. The classic horizontal issue shows the youthful slugger primed for an incredible career, and ready to smack one of his 3,000 career hits. The 1955 Topps Clemente is from the rarer high series, which adds a considerable challenge for collectors not only in terms of condition but also in accessibility. Only 11 PSA 9 examples have been graded to date and they are accompanied by a lone PSA 10. That doesn’t keep these cardboard gems from being on the want lists of collectors across the country; it just makes the hunt all the more intense.
4. 1955 Topps #123 Sandy Koufax
Card number 123 in the 1955 Topps set features Sandy Koufax on the brink of a career in which the southpaw become one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers the game has ever seen. Koufax’s place in baseball history guarantees interest in this card won’t wane anytime soon.
Originating from the same set that boasts the first cards of Roberto Clemente and Harmon Killebrew, Koufax has the third hall of fame rookie card in the 1955 Topps set. The card itself is a visual delight with a youthful Koufax in blue Dodgers cap set against a background slowly fading from yellow to white. A crisp red Dodgers logo balances the design. This card has long been desired not only due to it being the first card of a legendary player, but also because the fabled 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the World Series, making this card, and all others of the beloved Bums, that much more attractive.
3. 1968 Topps #177 Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman
With 46 combined seasons and more than 8,000 career strikeouts to their credit, Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman are the stars of one of the greatest multi-player rookie cards ever produced. Just a year after its release, the two hurlers won 23 regular season games and a World Series title with the 1969 New York Mets. That said, and with no slight on Koosman, the true star of this rookie issue is the flame throwing Hall of Famer, Nolan Ryan. Hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun well after he hit 40 years old, Ryan’s longevity and grit transcend the hobby.
The two Mets phenoms are featured with a burlap-type border that is prone to chipping and flaking. This particular card also suffers from centering issues, making high-grade examples all the more rare. Fewer than one percent of all submitted examples have received grades of PSA 9 or above, and yet the number of collectors wanting this card grows each year. High-grade examples are now selling in the $25,000 range and are only expected to go higher.
2. 1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey, Jr.
A once-in-a-generation-type rookie and the number one slot in a revolutionary new set made the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr. a card for the ages. Collectors thrilled to see Junior’s smiling face when they opened those packs more than 30 years ago and the hobby’s love for this card has only increased.
While hardly considered rare, even in PSA 10, the demand for this card has always outweighed the supply. Much like the ’52 Mantle, the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr., is the card of its time. Collectors young and old have always clamored for copies of this iconic card. Now, with the advent of third-party grading, just having a Griffey isn’t enough for most collectors. Thankfully, PSA 10 examples number nearly 4,000, so the card is available. Still, demand is strong enough to keep it a steady seller in the $1,200 range, which isn’t a bad price for the card that defines a generation of collectors.
1. 1993 SP Foil #279 Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter is the most recent in a long line of legends to wear the Yankee pinstripes. He began his career by earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1996, and added five World Series titles, 14 all-star appearances and the Yankees captaincy to his resume before retiring in 2014.
His 1993 SP Foil rookie card was a hit right out of the gate and it continues to be highly regarded. It doesn’t hurt that the bright, foil rookie card of this Hall of Fame shortstop is extremely eye catching. Still, there are a lot of good-looking cards that aren’t chased nearly as feverishly. Only three percent of the total population of PSA graded examples fall into the high grade level, with just 22 PSA 10s currently in existence. That kind of rarity ensures that decades from now, collectors will still be clamoring for the rookie card of this Yankees legend.
The word “iconic” can be interpreted in a number of ways and pairing down many decades worth of incredible cards to just 10 examples is no easy task, especially when there’s really no right or wrong answer. That was 10 of our picks. Let us see your list of the 10 most iconic post-war baseball cards.