How to Value Baseball Cards in 2022
Learning how to value baseball cards is an essential skill for any serious collector, and the most successful enthusiasts go beyond the physical.
By learning to read the market, as well as the state of the sport itself, baseball card collectors can net major returns on their investments. Whether you’re just learning how to value baseball cards or looking to step up your collection and trading strategies, you’d be well served to brush up on the fundamentals of what dictates the value of baseball cards so that you can make the right trades at the right time. Read on to learn more.
Jump to a section...
How to Value Baseball Cards: Physical Factors
For any baseball card to fetch top dollar, it first and foremost has to be in excellent physical condition. The fewer marks, scratches, or other imperfections on the surface, the better. Ideally you should be looking for four perfect corners, nice, smooth edges, and color and gloss that looks as sharp and as clear as the day the card was printed.
The best thing collectors can do to familiarize themselves with this critical element of how to value baseball cards is to learn the specifics of standard condition ratings. While card condition can be a subjective matter, the most common conditions and their corresponding codes are listed from the highest to lowest value below:
- Gem Mint: This is an absolutely perfect card to the degree that it even exceeds mint condition. Its colors are vibrant, its structure is completely intact, and exemplary measures have been taken to preserve its condition.
- Mint: This is a flawless card that has four perfect corners, smooth edges, lucid colors and no visible imperfections. Mint cards are prized by collectors and attract top dollar as a result.
- Near Mint-Mint (Nrmt-Mt): One degree below mint cards, near-mint mint cards are just a few details shy of being perfect. Its centering might be slightly off, or there could be a minor discoloration where the card has been handled improperly.
- Near Mint (Nrmt): These cards are a few degrees separated from mint condition cards. At least one notable imperfection is visible, potentially including worn edges, frayed corners, or discoloration.
- Excellent-Mint (ExMt): Excellent-mint cards are those that have multiple minor aesthetic issues including frayed edges, discoloration, a worn surface, or poor centering, but are otherwise well maintained.
- Excellent (Ex): Cards in excellent condition typically have frayed corners, abrasions on the surface or edges, and some minor printing issues or discolorations, but are otherwise well kept.
- Very Good (Vg): These are cards where wear is immediately noticeable. Some minor creasing, frayed edges, discoloration, and any other obvious issues that can be noticed at first glance would land a card in this category.
- Good (Gd): Good cards are structurally intact but have frayed edges, creases, faded colors, and potentially even stains.
- Fair (Fr): A fair card is any one that has obvious issues with its color, wear, printing, etc… but has not yet reached the point of being obviously damaged.
- Poor (Pr): Poor cards are the lowest quality and least valuable. They have been visibly damaged, folded, torn, worn, and otherwise degraded over time.
To maintain their physical condition, cards should be kept in protective cases and away from direct sunlight in order to maintain their value. Cards that are in mint and near-mint condition are the most commonly sought after by collectors and typically have minimal flaws, but even the slightest imperfection can cause the card to be valued less.
The year your baseball card was produced has a lot to do with how much value it will fetch on the open market. The age brackets vary, but some of the most common are as follows:
- Pre-War (<1945): Any cards printed before 1945 are generally the most valuable, not only because they are so much older (and more rare) but because most of the cards back then were designed with a higher level of artistry.
- Vintage (1946-1979): Vintage cards can also generate significant interest, especially those featuring names from what many consider the glory days of baseball like Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays.
- Modern (1980+): Starting in 1980, the baseball card industry exploded, and most card manufacturers began printing large quantities of stock that deflated each card’s individual value.
There are exceptions to every rule, but those general guidelines offer a good starting point for determining which cards hold the most value.
Subscribe to get our best content in your inbox
By clicking “Submit” you agree to Dibbs
consent to Dibbs using your contact data for newsletter purposes.
How to Value Baseball Cards: Market Factors
Just as in any market or exchange, the law of supply and demand dictates that an extremely rare (low supply) but heavily coveted (high demand) item will generate a high price. And the baseball card market bears that out. The Honus Wagner 1909 - 1911 American Tobacco Company (ATC) T206 card is one of the most expensive cards of all time because Wagner made ATC pull his card from production and there are thought to be as few as 25 known to exist. Any number of factors — from cards that were stopped in production because they had known errors to those that were printed as part of the last series in a given set — can lead to rarity in the market, so it’s sometimes difficult to know which cards in your collection might be hard to find. It can be helpful to refer to a professional in order to assess a card or a collection’s rarity.
The value of baseball cards is also subject to the whims of the market. During the pandemic, for instance, the card collecting industry boomed because lots of people were stuck at home and decided to clean out their attics and see what their old collections were worth. As reported by The Boston Globe, sports card sales on eBay increased by 142 percent from 2019 to 2020, when more than 4 million cards were sold. But pandemics aside, market conditions for baseball cards are constantly evolving, so it’s worth keeping an eye on which way the winds are blowing so you can either buy or sell at the most opportune time.
How to Value Baseball Cards: Other Factors
Graded vs Ungraded
Because buyers and sellers can often have a hard time agreeing on the condition or authenticity of a specific card, a cottage industry has grown up around the idea of grading baseball cards by professionals who are trained to rate cards based on a defined standard. Companies such as Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA), Sportscard Guaranty, and Beckett all rate cards on a scale of 1 to 10 and give them a mark of authenticity or inauthenticity. Although there is plenty of debate as to whether it is worth paying to have your card graded, generally speaking collectors tend to be more willing to pay for a graded card than an ungraded card because it gives them peace of mind that they’re getting what they paid for.
A player’s performance can have an immense impact on the value of their card. Consider Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper. From mid-August to early September 2021, when Harper nearly dragged a depleted, underperforming and poorly constructed Phillies team into the playoffs and installed himself as the favorite to win the National League MVP, the price of his mint-condition rookie card skyrocketed 75 percent on the Dibbs marketplace. In the two weeks after he was handed the trophy last November, the card shot up another 20 percent, even while cards for other future MLB hall of famers like Mike Trout declined.
The lesson? When learning how to value baseball cards, it is important to remember that you are betting on a player’s future potential as much as their past performance. Had you purchased the Shohei Ohtani collection before the start of last season, you’d be up more than 400 percent at the time of this writing. Who will be this year’s breakout star? The answer to that question could net you a lot of money.
One final but no less worthy factor that contributes to a baseball card’s value in 2022 is how strong your emotional connection to it is. Was it the card of your favorite player when you were growing up? Is it a gift you received for a special occasion? Maybe you just have an affinity for the coloring and style of it. Whatever drives your connection to it, you have to decide for yourself whether you can bear to part with it, or how much money you’re willing to part with in order to obtain it. As the old saying goes, value is what someone is willing to pay.
Whether you’re looking to buy your first card and kick-start your collection, or you rediscovered a long lost collection in your attic and you want to know whether you can make any money off it, there’s a lot to keep in mind when deciding how to value baseball cards in 2022. If a card features a top player and is in good condition, that’s a great starting point. Of course, if that player can put up a slash line of .309/.429/.615 with an OPS+ of 179 this season, the way Bryce Harper did in 2021, the value of his card is only going to go up.