Thousands of different baseball cards were issued by baseball card manufacturers in the 1940s and 1950s. Nearly as many players graced the fronts of these cards. Which ones qualify as investment-worthy? If it's is defined as a market price over $5,000, then the universe of potential players and cards narrows dramatically.
1. There is a very limited population of available cards. Many top tier star cards have a high-grade populations of less than 100.
2. The player was notable, from a performance or other famous perspective.
In summary, most investments in high-grade, low-population, Hall of Fame player cards have shown to be consistent, investment performers. Many of the sets represented below, such as 1957 Topps, are considered classics and that also helps spur interest. Many of these will often be found among the most watched vintage baseball cards on eBay.
Below is a selection of the hobby's most popular cards from this era. Click the links to see the specific cards for sale and auction.
Ted Williams was a major reason why the Boston Red Sox were contenders in the 1940s and 1950s. If not for having lost four years of playing time, during the peak of his career, there is no telling whether or not he would have eclipsed Babe Ruth’s home run record and a host of other marks as well. Williams' magical .406 season in 1941 is something fans continue to marvel at. You can't have a discussion about the greatest hitters in baseball history without delving into Williams' career. He's got a lot of popular cards to choose from including:
- 1941 Play Ball #14 (not his rookie card, but the one from his famous season and the history angle is why we like it)
- 1948 Leaf #76 (among the more reasonable 1940s Williams cards)
- 1939 Play Ball #92 (the rookie card)
- 1954 Bowman #66 (pulled from production early, this one is scarce. A legendary card among collectors)
- 1954 Topps #1 (#1 cards are hard to find in togh shape and this card is gorgeous)
- 1954 Wilson Franks (rare, popular regional)
Joe DiMaggio was the epitome of hard work, dedication, and humility. He was the backbone of multiple, world championship, New York Yankees teams. Like Ted Williams, his career was cut short, because of World War II. His 56-game hitting streak still stands. Since he spent his career during a time when there simply weren't a lot of baseball cards issued, there are only a few to choose from, but all command respect in the market and some post-rookie era cards should be good long-term.
- 1936 World Wide Gum #51 (among his earliest issues)
- 1941 Play Ball #71 (from the 'hitting streak' season)
- 1941 Double Play #63/64
- 1951 Berk Ross #2-5 (last card as an active player)
Mantle’s cards are considered the standard for the post-war era. His played a key role in the industry, as he picked up the mantle bequeathed by a deceased Babe Ruth and a fading Joe DiMaggio. Mantle is the most popular card among baby boomers and they all want the best they can find for the money. His rookie card is in the 1951 Bowman set but the story of the 1952 Topps set makes his card in that set more valuable. We can't see Mantle cards going anywhere as the boomers head toward retirement and enjoy their collections to the fullest. Among some to consider:
- 1951 Bowman #253 (true rookie card)
- 1952 Topps #311 (most popular and expensive post-War baseball card of all-time)
- 1952 Bowman #101 (reasonably priced second year card)
- 1953 Topps #82 (many believe it's Mantle's best looking card)
- 1953 Bowman Color #59 (a 'pure card' beauty)
- 1969 Topps #500 white letters variation (rare variation of Mantle's last card)
Jackie stands tall for his accomplishments on and off the field. His breaking of baseball’s color barrier helped to usher in the era of equality and civil rights in America. As a result, the appeal of his cards goes well beyond the baseball card investment community. His cards are also looked on as historical pieces.
- 1948 Leaf #79 (his rookie card is vastly underrated in our opinion)
- 1949 Bowman #50 (first Bowman/Topps era card)
- 1952 Topps #312 (beautiful high number toughie)
- 1953 Topps #1 (tough to find in high grade)
Roberto Clemente was also a trail blazer for baseball. In his early years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he experienced racism. Despite such obstacles, he went on to rack up 3,000 hits and helped the Pirates to a pair of World Series titles.
His life ended in a New Year's Eve airplane crash in 1972 while he was on a humanitarian mission. Clemente's legend is secure and he's god-like to many, especially those who share his heritage. Clemente's first four mainstream cards in high grade would prove a worthy target for collectors willing to shop for the best grade at the best price.
The Say Hey Kid was one of the most electrifying players ever to put on a uniform. Mays' famous catch in the 1954 World Series secured his legend early on and before he was finished, he had over 3,000 hits and 660 home runs. To many who saw him in New York and later in San Francisco, Mays was the best there was. His early Topps and Bowman cards are less expensive than Mantle and should appreciate over time.
- 1951 Bowman #305 (his true rookie card, issued in the same series as Mantle but much cheaper)
- 1952 Topps #261 (first Topps card and also from the scarce series)
- 1952 Bowman #218
- 1953 Topps #244
The prolific pitching of Koufax propelled the Los Angeles Dodgers to perennial, championship contention. Although he only played in 397 games, Koufax was consistently unstoppable. His career ERA of 2.76 is a testament to his steady performance. His career ended more than four decades ago, but Koufax remains the gold standard among post-War pitchers. He has a huge following among collectors and fans on both coasts. His rookie card and other 1950's issues are definitely worth owning.
- 1955 Topps #123 (his rookie card)
- 1956 Topps #79
- 1957 Topps #302
- 1962 Topps #5 (tough to find in high grade
- 1966 Topps #100 (his last regular issue Topps card)
It's the classic baseball cards like these that are the most sound long-term investments, both in terms of monetary value and desirability. It's sometimes even possible to buy and flip cards and make a few bucks in a short time frame. Either way, make sure those big names are part of your plan.