The 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan rookie card has simply been one of the best modern era investments you could have made over the last couple of decades.
Think about the most recognized and valuable sports cards and you probably think Baltimore News Babe Ruth, T206 Wagner and 1952 Topps Mantle. We may have to make room for another. High grade examples of the Ryan rookie card have been soaring at auction.
Ryan, of course, is an icon to anyone over the age of 30. The seven no-hitters, the impossible 5,714 career strikeout total, 324 wins, the role with the Amazin' Mets of 1969, the famous photos of him bleeding after taking a ball off his face or battling Robin Ventura…all of it and more have made him a legendary figure. Some will point to the losses and the walks but at his best, Ryan was virtually unhittable. Only a precious few pitchers were actually gate attractions and Ryan is at or near the top of the list. His Cowboy-like persona endeared him to millions of people in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s and he continues to be active in baseball today.
Buy the Best Nolan Ryan Card You Can Afford
His 1968 rookie card, #177, which he shares with fellow Mets prospect Jerry Koosman, is not rare. Any sizeable card show will likely have a few for sale. At the National Sports Collectors Convention, you’ll find hundreds of them in varying grades. On eBay, you’ll see dozens at any one time. However, it’s the graded, mint examples that are a little hard to come by.
As of the final weeks of 2014, PSA had graded 5,917 Ryan rookies. Of those, just 61 had been given a ‘9’ (mint) grade and there is only one 10. That’s barely over 1%. Given the number of collectors who chase Hall of Fame rookie cards, are piecing together high grade sets of 1968 Topps or simply collect the best Ryan cards they can find, that doesn’t’ leave nearly enough for all who desire one.
Hence, the value of high-grade Ryan rookie cards has soared in recent years. Even in 2012, you could find a PSA 9 Ryan rookie card for around $4500-5500. By 2013, they were pushing $8,000. However, several recent sales have made anyone who bought in at the lower levels look like investing geniuses. Memory Lane sold a ‘9’ for nearly $16,000 in the summer of 2013. Another card sold for $7,495 but then came another Memory Lane sale and a jaw-dropping price of $23,129. In November, an eBay seller garnered $16,900 for another one. In December 2014, another sale was expected to reach beyond that figure.
The variance in price is sometimes because of the number and aggressiveness of bidders, but also has to do with the card itself. Not all 9s are created equal. Some may have slightly better centering. Those that sell well below the going rate may also be subject to questions about authenticity.
A Rising Tide Often Lifts All Boats
What about those Ryan rookie cards that aren’t graded mint? It’s safe to say that while the increase hasn’t been as dramatic, it’s definitely there and it’s a safer, more workable investment for most collectors on a budget. PSA 8.5 examples have pushed past $3,000 since late 2013. The grading firm hasn’t had half-grades for a very long time so the sampling is small. However, if we look at PSA 8 examples, we can see a definite increase in the value of the Ryan rookie card. Just five years ago, one could purchase the card for $1,000 or less fairly easily. Now? Expect to pay more than double that and expect them to show up on the eBay most watched baseball card list on a regular basis. If you can get one for under $2,000, you’ve done well (you can see if there are any on eBay now by clicking here).
The trickle down effect also impacts Ryan rookie cards in lower grades so if you’ve just been wanting to add one to your collection without a concern for investment return, now is probably a good time. Wait too much longer and you’ll probably pay more while those who bought in earlier are sitting back and enjoying the show.