Investment Oriented Baseball Cards of the 1940s and 1950s

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.

Ultra high-grade baseball cards from the late 1940's through the 1950's have several traits in common:

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 1954 BowmanTed Williams

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:

1936 World Wide Gum Joe DiMaggio rookie cardJoe DiMaggio

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.

Mickey Mantle

1951 Bowman MantleMantle’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:

Jackie Robinson 1952 ToppsJackie Robinson

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.

Roberto Clemente

1955 Topps Clemente rookie cardRoberto 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.

Willie Mays 1951 BowmanWillie Mays

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.

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax 1957 ToppsThe 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.

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.