Highest-Priced Baseball Memorabilia

Do You Have Hidden Millions in Your Attic?

Highest-Priced Baseball Memorabilia
August 17, 2015

How many budding millionaires were thwarted when their parents threw out their old baseball cards? Nobody really knows — but occasionally people unearth old baseball cards or other memorabilia from an attic or storage chest from bygone days. Should you be so fortunate, what is the highest price you could possibly charge for your find — in other words, what are the highest prices ever paid for pieces of baseball memorabilia?

Don't expect seven figures for your lucky break, but million-dollar memorabilia have been sold at auctions in recent years. Babe Ruth collectables lead the list of high-priced items, including the top auction price of $4,415,658 for the earliest known New York Yankees jersey owned by The Bambino — estimated to be from the 1920 season.

Babe Ruth Jersey

The highest-priced bat is also a Babe Ruth piece, from 1923. It sold for $1.265 million. That’s an expensive piece of ash!

Babe Ruth Bat

The Babe made only $5,000 to play baseball for the Red Sox in 1918, but the signed contract itself sold for $1.02 million in 2014, making it the highest price ever paid for a sports contract.

Babe Ruth Contract

That edged out a document that makes BoSox fans weep: the contract that sold the Babe to the hated Yankees had fetched $996,000 in 2005. Another of the Hall of Famer’s jerseys has sold for $940,000, while a home run ball signed by the Babe went for $805,000.

More recent high-priced memorabilia has questionable current value since they are record home-run balls from the tainted "steroid era." Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball sold at auction for $3 million in 1998, and Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball sold for over $752,000. Would you believe the owner actually had an asterisk engraved on Bonds' ball?

Barry Bonds Ball

The most famous baseball card of all, a T206 Honus Wagner card in a stunning near-mint condition, was sold to Hockey star Wayne Gretzky at an auction for $451,000 in 1991. It repeatedly sold at auction for ever-increasing values, reaching a peak of $2.8 million in 2011 before an auction house dealer admitted to trimming the card's frayed edges to improve its value. Approximately 57 T-206 Wagner cards exist, with virtually all selling for at least six figures, regardless of condition.

Honus Wagner Card

The Takeaway

Even the most famous memorabilia can drop in value and/or be exposed as fraudulent. Scrutiny is intense for signed memorabilia and there is no single standard of authentication — so expect skepticism if you pull that pristine Mickey Mantle rookie card out of your parents' attic or try to peddle a Babe Ruth jersey sized extra-small.

What do you do if you find baseball memorabilia in your attic and have no idea of its worth? There are still a few baseball card and memorabilia shops around the country that can appraise your find for you, but there are a few steps you should take first.

  • Do Online Research – You can get some idea of the value from the many online price guides. Beckett is the most respected, but charges for their online guides — however, it may be worth the investment if you have a lot of items to investigate. Check eBay and other auction sites for similar items. Most cards, signed baseballs and bats, and other memorabilia including everything from programs to remnants of demolished stadiums, have traded hands at least once. Look at the eventual sale price, not the asking price.

    Age is not necessarily an indicator of value. For example, most baseball cards that are 25-30 years old have little value due to overproduction.

  • Assess the Condition – Baseball memorabilia is very sensitive to environmental factors. Cards, old programs, World Series ticket stubs, etc. do not often survive the conditions of an attic or storage locker. Between temperature, bugs, and other sources of harm, it is rare to find them in mint condition.

    Fortunately, many online guides have descriptions or even visual representations to help you determine grades from mint/near mint to poor condition. You probably cannot make a professional assessment, but you can gain enough insight to assess the bid of a potential buyer.

  • Seek Multiple Quotes – If you do decide to sell, get multiple quotes. Check trade magazines at your local bookstore for ads of potential buyers, as well as checking the Internet for respected sources. Given enough value, an intrigued collector will come to you to verify the worth.

  • Look For Authenticity – Signed memorabilia (bats, balls, or straight-up autographs) are very difficult to price without some measure of authenticity. You can find signature references, but you will probably have to depend on a trained professional to determine a piece's legitimacy.

Do not get too worked up about anything you find in the attic, but do take the time to check out its value. You may not be able to send the kids to college based on what you find, but you may get a few good dinners or maybe even a new TV out of the deal — and you will have a cleaner attic to boot. At the least, you'll have a bit extra to contribute to your retirement savings. Let the free Retirement Planner by MoneyTips help you calculate when you can retire without jeopardizing your lifestyle.

  Conversation   |   27 Comments

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irene | 08.18.15 @ 14:41
I wish I still had some of the things my mother tossed out. I am sure my Mrs Beasley doll would be worth money now and also some out of print comics that were in excellent condition
Elaine | 08.18.15 @ 14:43
My attic at my house is rather dull. However, my parents attic is full of secret treasures. They have been antique dealers for most of my life and they have some of the best stuff hidden up there.
Britt | 08.18.15 @ 14:52
I sadly do not have an attic, but it would be rather amusing to be able to go up into one only to find a few lost treasures. My family moves around a lot, so we are constantly getting rid of old things .
Erin | 08.18.15 @ 15:06
It would be fun to go through some old things and find the hidden treasures. I don't care so much about the monetary value, but learning the history of items, what they were used for, or the stories behind them would be a great experience.
Daniel | 08.18.15 @ 15:12
At one point i had a good collection of comics , they were lost during a move to a new place and a flooded basement. Would possibly have been a good investment to have at this point
Nancy | 08.18.15 @ 15:17
No attic here, but going through my grandparents' home after they spent close to 70 years there was exciting, even if no Babe Ruth memorabilia was found. Interesting article.
Bobbie | 08.18.15 @ 15:17
My in-laws have so much stuffed crammed into their house, and once in a while they will go dig out an old toy that my hubby had as a kid. He knows there are some old toys still in the box buried up there somewhere he wants to get his hands on.
Crystal | 08.18.15 @ 15:22
I don't even have an attic! Or anything of value, unfortunately. But great article!
Alec | 08.18.15 @ 15:37
My mom kept several of her dolls from when she was little. They're all in really good condition and probably worth a little bit of money. I personally have some "vintage" Sailor Moon (that's a Japanese cartoon) stuff from the early 90s and 2000s that I've been collecting since I was 3 that is worth quite a bit. I've continued to collect the newly released stuff in the hopes that it'll be as good an investment for my daughter as my mom made for me!
Steffanie | 08.18.15 @ 16:04
I never saved much, but wish I had when I read articles like this. Someday we will venture through my parent's attic and I am sure it will be an adventure, but probably not profitable.
Zanna | 08.18.15 @ 16:23
I don't have many things that seem valuable, but in 50 years who knows what might be collectible. I need to go through and sort a ton of stuff out. I have a feeling that the truly amazing items may be stashed in my in-laws basement, though!
Sara | 08.18.15 @ 16:42
I would not say I had hidden treasures unless Care Bears and Beanie Babies are treasures. lol. But I know my grandparents have to have some in their attics.
Beverly | 08.18.15 @ 16:45
One man's trash is another man's treasure. I look forward to and yet, dread, the day we have to clean out my in-laws house as it is filled with lots of stuff(M-I-L is a borderline hoarder). I'm sure most is worth only pennies, but I do think there are a few gems hidden amongst all the trash......you just have to know what to look for.
Angie | 08.18.15 @ 16:59
Our attic has boring stuff in it - canning jars, winter clothes, etc. How exciting it would be to find something of value!
Heather | 08.18.15 @ 17:33
My parents never saved any of my childhood toys which I'm sure would be worth money now. I have learned that lesson and to not throw everything away.
gracie | 08.18.15 @ 17:35
I wish I had an amazing attic to rummage around in searching for lost treasure but alas no such luck for me! It must be quite a surprise to some of the people who have gone searching for something average and stumbled across something fantastic they had either forgotten was there or never knew was there.
Meredith L | 08.18.15 @ 17:36
Unfortunately many of my old childhood toys are gone just from moving and many purges.. Sometimes I groan with I think about all of my original Star Wars diecast toys. And I'm sure it doesn't have any value, but does anyone remember the old Holly Hobby Easy Bake ovens?
Chrisitna | 08.18.15 @ 18:11
No baseball card collection in the attic here, but I wonder if my son's huge stash of original Pokemon cards he has collected will end up being as valuable in the future!
Rindy | 08.18.15 @ 18:28
My mother cleaned out the attic a long time ago and threw out my brother's box of baseball cards, probably a small fortune. These cards were from the 1950's probably.
Apryl | 08.18.15 @ 18:35
Time to check the attic!
trish | 08.18.15 @ 18:41
When my father-in-law passed away, we inherited all the baseball card albums since he and my husband collected them together. We keep saying we are going to go through them, but hold onto them for our kids.
Wanda Langley | 08.18.15 @ 18:45
I collect old vase's and have for years. I also have all of my old Albums from the 60 and 70's along with a collection of Elvis collectables. I will pass it all down to my kids one of these days and they can do whatever with it.
Chelsey | 08.18.15 @ 19:27
I dont' have baseball memorabilia, but I recently started gathering the value of my husbands Pokemon cards. He has a lot of football cards, but those aren't near as popular as baseball memorabilia.
Carla | 08.18.15 @ 19:37
I would love to have gone through my grandparents old barn after they passed. I remember lots of antique farm equipment/tools and several boxes of rare dishes that at the time I was too young to realize. My parents had some really old coins but sadly they are not worth that much so I have put them back for my son.
Donnie | 08.18.15 @ 19:41
Wish I kept all my baseball cards. My dad had some too
Katie Greene | 08.18.15 @ 19:50
I need to sift through the attic now. There are so many boxes of old things I never knew what to do with. I wonder now how many could be lost treasure
Joanne grant | 08.19.15 @ 00:47
Going to search my basement now
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 11.27.20 @ 05:23