The title of “Most Expensive Baseball Card” was one that hardly ever changed hands through the first 100 years or so of the hobby. Indeed, almost as soon as it was produced — albeit in legendarily tiny quantitlies — the T206 Honus Wagner card was the unidisputed king of the rich and famous and expensive baseball cards.

But as we’ve learned more about other cards that are as rare as hen’s teeth, and as the market for graded cards has matured over the last 20 years or so, the Flying Dutchman has had some stiff competition when it comes to pulling in more dollars than any other card in the land.

And, when the COVID-19 Pandemic spawned a whole new card boom, the record for most expensive baseball card began falling on a regular basis. These days, the crown is never safe, and hardly a month goes by without a new challenger entering the field of play.

To be sure, the Honus Wanger gem remains within striking distance at all times, pretty much whenever another copy comes up for sale. But the same can be said for the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card, the Babe Ruth rookie card, the 1952 Topps Jackie Robinson beauty, the 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson rookie card, and even more modern classics like the 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractor Autograph rookie card.

This post will track the title of “Most Expensive Baseball Card” through the ages, updated every time some hunk of cardboard sells for some previously unfathomed mountain of cash.

As I write this first installment here in October of 2022, the undisputed (right now) heavyweight champion of the expensive baseball card world is …

(Note: The following sections may contain affiliate links to eBay or Amazon listings for the cards being discussed.)

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (#311) – sold for $12,600,0000 on August 28, 2022

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle - why are rookie cards worth more
Actual card sold not pictured

If the Wagner card isn’t the face of the hobby, then it’s surely this 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card (even though it’s not truly a rookie card — that title belongs to the 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle card alone).

In fact, this is the card that really helped launch the 1980s card boom, as Baby Boomers coming back to the hobby as adults chased the card(s) that had eluded them as kids, or that their moms had thrown out.

Anyone entering the game back then heard the legends about the Wagner card being pulled from production due to various purported reasons, but we also learned how the Mantle rookie card represented something of a perfect storm. Consider the facts:

  • This was Topps first full issue.
  • Mantle was coming off an OK rookie season in 1951.
  • The Mantle card appeared in the last, high-numbered series of the 1952 Topps issue.
  • Kids weren’t all that enthused by the set in general and had pretty much moved on to football late in the season.
  • Mantle went on to become the face of a generation — and more — of baseball and baseball fans.
  • This was the era of putting cards in bike spokes, wrapping them in rubber bands, flipping them against walls, pasting or pinning them to things, and throwing them away after you had chewed the gum.

Put it all together, and you have a card that exists in pretty limited quantities, is usually in trashy condition, and that every collector would give his Buddy Biancalana collection to own.

A perfect storm, indeed, and when you add in the modern mania around the hobby fueled by a new infusion of investor/speculator dollars, it’s now wonder a cherry copy like this one shattered records.

Here are the particulars of the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card that broke the bank in late August 2022:

  • Card: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card (#311)
  • Condition: SGC MT 9.5
  • Population: 1
  • Auction House: Heritage Auctions
  • Date of Sale: August 28, 2022
  • Selling Price: $12.6 million
  • Buyer: Unknown

As you can see from their population report, SGC has graded only one copy of the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card in 9.5 condition, so that pretty much narrows down which one this was.

In case you’re wondering, this card took the title of “most expensive baseball card” ever sold from a copy of — yes — the T206 Honus Wagner card that sold for a bit north of $6.6 million in August of 2021.

Which card will be next to wear the crown? Stay tuned!

1952 TOPPS #311 MICKEY MANTLE ROOKIE CARD CUSTOM

$46.00 (25 Bids)
End Date: Wednesday 02/01/2023 08:05:33 EST
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1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311 PSA 1

$30,000.00
End Date: Friday 02/24/2023 12:46:32 EST
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1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311 PSA 1

$34,000.00
End Date: Thursday 02/02/2023 19:45:50 EST
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Mickey Mantle 2021 Topps X #3 1952 New York Yankees Gem Mint PSA 10

$51.00 (13 Bids)
End Date: Sunday 01/29/2023 21:59:57 EST
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MICKEY MANTLE 1952 TOPPS #311 RC ROOKIE SGC 4 NEW YORK YANKEES

$100,000.00
End Date: Wednesday 02/08/2023 14:52:36 EST
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