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Top 15 Vintage Sports Cards-1940s to 1960s Era

Posted by Vinnie Rullo on

During the time of 1940 through the 1960s, many great historical sports cards were printed. This included many Hall of Fame great rookie cards, along with many short prints and rare high number cards. Many of these cards still have immense feeling of nostalgia associated with them. These old sports cards are continually becoming tougher to find for collectors and buyers, especially in high-grade examples. 

Here is my list of the top 15 vintage sports cards from the 1940s and 1960s era.

1.1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311

Mantle’s 1952 Topps card is considered one of the most popular cards in the sports card industry. The vintage baseball card is regarded as Mantle’s first Topps issued card and card number 311 of the set. The story behind this card and other 52 Topps cards is that this card is very short printed and limited because many of the 1952 cases of cards were dumped in the barge of the Hudson river by Sy Berger. Berger developed the design of the 1952 Topps cards on his kitchen table and forever changed the culture of sports cards. The historical presence of the 1952 Topps Mantle card will always have great value. There are only three known PSA 10 gem mint 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle cards that exist and one of them was recently on display at a museum in Colorado. The card featured in a PSA 10 has an estimated value of 10 million dollars if sold through an auction house! When it comes to old baseball cards, the vintage Mantle rookie card is king. To see some of Mickey's other key cards, click here for our "Top 10". 

2.1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle Rookie #253

Mickey Mantle’s 1951 Bowman card number 253 is his actual true rookie card. While his 1952 Topps has been considered an iconic card for years, the Bowman card flew under the radar until eventually more collectors soon realized that this card is actually his true rookie card. Mantle’s Bowman has since sky rocketed in value dating back to the start of 2018, as the card has nearly doubled and tripled in value in all grades and condition. Perhaps this card could eventually be regarded as the most popular vintage Bowman rookie of all-time if it hasn’t done so already.

3.1961 Fleer Wilt Chamberlain Rookie #8

In 1961 Fleer would develop its first basketball trading cards. This set featured many Hall of Fame great players including Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson. There are just 66 cards featured from the set with Chamberlain being card number 8. The look of the card has an old-school look and great eye appeal. This vintage set is often regarded as one of the best basketball sets of all-time and Chamberlain’s rookie is the most sought after card. Chamberlain’s rookie card from the set is very popular and one of the most collectible vintage basketball cards in the hobby.

4.1954 Topps Hank Aaron Rookie #128

Hank Aaron’s rookie card from 1954 Topps card number 128 is regarded as one of the most highly collectible cards from this era and the most popular card from this set. The card appears to be larger in measurement than most standard sized cards from this time period and features and iconic picture of a young Aaron. Aaron hit an amazing 755 career home runs during his career and even broke the Babe’s all-time home run record and for those reasons, his rookie card is a great investment. This card still has tremendous upside to continually trend up in value as Aaron rookie card will always be regarded as one of the best rookie cards of all-time. To view some of our other favorite rookie cards of the 50s, click here

5.1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson Rookie #79

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. This historic achievement has been well recognized as being monumental in not only sports but also American history. Robinson’s most sought after card is his 1948 Leaf rookie card, which is card number 79 from the set. Since Jackie Robinson is recognized every year throughout baseball, his cards should continue to rise in value, especially his Leaf rookie. Many Robinson rookies are still very obtainable for vintage rookie card collectors in lower grade condition. One of the most prominent 1940's baseball cards. 

6.1952 Topps Eddie Mathews Rookie #407 

This card is another historic vintage rookie from the great '52 Topps set. Mathews rookie card is number 407 of the set and considered a high number which are becoming a lot tougher to find nowadays and one of the premier rookie cards during this era. Mathews hit 512 career home runs in his career which ranks 23rd all-time and is often regarded as one the best power hitting third baseman in baseball history. These are becoming a lot tougher to find in any condition or grade and are notoriously off-centered for some reason. Undoubtedly, one of the key rookie baseball cards of all-time. 

7.1955 Topps Roberto Clemente Rookie #164

Clemente was the first star Latin baseball player during his era. He was a five-tool player who could do it all. His 1955 Topps rookie card is card number 164. Clemente symbolizes a cultural importance for many collectors as his card remains one of the most sought after rookie cards during the 1950’s. Clemente would tragically pass away at the age of 38 in a plane crash and end his career with exactly 3,000 hits. Clemente’s '55 Topps rookie will always be highly sought after.

8.1951 Parkhurst Gordie Howe #66

Gordie Howe is referred to as “Mr. Hockey” and his rookie card is one of the most sought after Hockey cards of all-time. The card is number 66 of the set and the key card as well. The design of the card features a colorful artwork painting of Howe. They are becoming tougher to find in all grades and condition. Howe set the standard for Hockey excellence with setting many records in the sport and his Parkhurst rookie could continue to become more sought after each year.

9.1957 Topps Bart Starr Rookie #110

Bart Starr’s rookie is featured in a horizontal view, which was divided into two sections. The design displays a nice vintage appeal to this card. Starr’s rookie card was number 119 of the set. During this era, he was the winningest quarterback leading the Packers to six division titles, five NFL titles, and two Super Bowl victories. Starr passed away in May of 2019 which has caused his rookie card to go up even more in value. 

10.1967 Topps Tom Seaver Rookie #581

Tom Seaver's rookie card is featured from the 1967 Topps set, the card is number 581 and considered a high number. This card is a horizontal themed card pictured with Bill Denehy and Seaver. A cool thing about this card is it features a facsimile autograph printed near each player, which is still featured today on many cards. Future rookie stars cards were often featured with multiple players on them throughout the 1960s era. Seaver was an iconic pitcher who pitched primarily for the Mets and won a championship with them in 1969. He is also a 300 game winner and recorded over 3,000 strikeouts in his career. His rookie card will remain as one of the most sought after 1960's rookie cards from this era.

11.1955 Topps Sandy Koufax Rookie #123

Sandy Koufax is often considered one of the best pitchers of all-time. He pitched four no-hitters in his career including one perfect game and arguably had the best six consecutive years of pure dominance performed by a pitcher. His 1955 Topps rookie, card number 123 is very popular and sought for collectors in all grades or condition. The horizontal theme card was one of the first of its kind. Koufax will always be regarded as one of the best pitchers of all-time and from this era especially making this card a must have for any vintage rookie card collector.

12.1951 Bowman Willie Mays Rookie #305

Similar to Mantle’s Bowman card, Willie Mays is also featured from the same set in a rookie card as well. Mays is card number 305 and many of Mays' rookies featured in low grade are still very obtainable for collectors or buyers. Mays’s '51 Bowman rookie may continue to trend up in value so collectors or buyers may want to invest in his card now before other people soon realize how much higher the Mantle is compared to the Mays rookie in the same set. The most significant vintage Willie Mays baseball cards of all-time. 

13.1963 Topps Rookie Stars Pete Rose Rookie #537

Pete Rose’s rookie card is featured from the 1963 Topps set, which is card 537. Rose’s rookie card is unique that it features multiple different players on the same card, which are Pedro Gonzalez, Ken McMullen, Al Weis and Rose. This card is considered a high number, which are cards that were  produced in shorter supply than the others in the set. Rose’s rookie has continually trended up in value dating back to 2016. The all-time hits leader with 4,246 career hits is a great long-term investment for any collector. Although Rose was banned from MLB for gambling on his own team (to win) which prevents him from being in the Hall of Fame, most collectors of HOF rookies include Rose's rookie in their collection. 

14.1948 Leaf Babe Ruth #3

This card is regarded as the last Babe Ruth card that was produced while he was still alive in 1948. Ruth’s Leaf card is card number 3 of this iconic set. This card is still very affordable for many collectors in many different types of grades or condition. Ruth’s cards have continually trended up in value the last couple of years and this card may be a great investment for any Ruth collector or vintage card collector. Many baseball experts consider Ruth the greatest baseball player of all time.

15.1948 Bowman Stan Musial Rookie 

Stan Musial’s rookie card is featured from the 1948 Bowman set, there was only 48 cards from this set and Musial was card number 36. One thing about this set that a lot of collectors don’t realize is that this set was actually the first set that featured Bowman baseball cards. This set was the first of its kind and for that reason; it may continue to go up in value. Musial’s rookie card from this set along with many other Hall of Fame greats are still very obtainable in different variations of condition or grades for vintage rookie card collectors.

Honorable mentions 

Key cards from the 1940s era: 1941 Playball Ted Williams (year Williams batted 406), 1948 Bowman Yogi Berra Rookie, 1948 Bowman and Leaf Warren Spahn Rookie, 1948 Bowman and Leaf Satchel Paige, 1948 Leaf Larry Doby Rookie.

Key cards from the 1950s era: 1952 Topps Willie Mays, 1952 Topps Hoyt Wilhelm, 1956 Topps Mickey Mantle (Triple Crown Year), 1957 Topps Frank Robinson Rookie, 1958 Topps Roger Maris Rookie, 1959 Topps Bob Gibson Rookie.

Key cards from the 1960’s era: 1960 Topps Carl Yastrzemski Rookie. 1961 Topps Juan Marichal Rookie, 1962 Topps Lou Brock Rookie, 1964 Topps Phil Niekro Rookie, 1965 Topps Steve Carlton Rookie, 1966 Topps Jim Palmer, 1967 Topps Rod Carew Rookie, 1968 Johnny Bench Rookie, 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan Rookie, 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson Rookie.

Which vintage card from the 1940-60s era is bound to increase next in value? Who is the best long-term investment amongst this group?

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