Many of the greatest baseball card collections of all time quietly began without anyone hardly noticing. I say barely noticed because often, the most dedicated collectors were buying when everyone else was either selling or wasn’t even paying attention.
To be a great collector, you need to collect through the ups and downs. Suddenly, after several decades, the great collections are recognized. Like almost anything else worth doing, baseball card collecting takes dedication and a long-term view.
Collecting in the Early Days
Growing up, I thought I had a relatively decent collection of baseball cards. These were the days of trading cards with the neighborhood kids.
It turns out, I did not have the greatest baseball card collection of all time. However, I did manage to grow the collection.
The intent was to gain as many cards of your favorite players as possible. It didn’t take much detective work to figure out who little Bobby’s favorite player was.
Collecting Baseball Card for Fun and Experiences
Without much salesmanship, you could dish off a few of his favorite cards to gain something you had your eye on out of his tidy collection.
Repeat the process day after day, month after month, with dozens of kids favoring completely different players. Willing to do business within entirely different guidelines, and if diligent enough, you were well on your way to perfecting your collection.
Along the way, hopefully netting a few gems worthy of a solid plastic case.
“A Magic carpet that takes you away from work-a-day cares to havens of relaxing quietude where you can relive the pleasures and adventures of a past day – brought to life in vivid picture and prose.” – Jefferson R. Burdick, owner of one of the greatest baseball card collections of all time.
Beckett Baseball Card Monthly
Then the game changed. Someone brought a thin magazine to the trading session and dropped it on the carpet in the middle of the floor. “What’s that?” One kid quizzed the group with a puzzled look.
The magazine had the words ‘Beckett Baseball Card Monthly’ across the top and a glossy cover with a close-up photo of a then superstar-of-the-moment ballplayer.
Beckett Baseball card monthly changed the game for the kids in the neighborhood. Now we searched for the highest-priced and most popular items rather than merely collecting our favorite players.
The goal of collecting favorite players and hometown heroes suddenly shifted to dollars and cents. The ‘Beckett’ was a must-have item; we could now see up-to-date baseball card values.
Those without the latest pricing info would soon be swindled out of their high-priced cards without ever knowing it.
As cards rose and fell in value, the fortunes shifted throughout the neighborhood as each kid would anticipate and track their personal holdings.
Learning Life Lessons
This was a necessity if you were an active trader as you had to be ready to defend the lamest trade offers. Scam artists circled like vultures, knocking on your door, looking to pillage your collection.
Whether it’s basketball cards, football cards, hockey cards, or popular baseball cards, you needed to know the value of what you owned; otherwise it would be swindled from you in a heartbeat.
Trading Cards, Making Deals
Many people look back on baseball card collecting as their first encounter with business and investing.
The skills acquired and practiced during this childhood pastime were an essential part of growing up and maturing as an adult in many cases.
Learning new skills and having a ton of fun at the same time is a recipe for success. Many people can still recall their own best and worst trades made from their childhood collections and lessons learned from each.
A Whole New World
Decades later, we find ourselves in a completely different world when it comes to card collecting.
Some of the most significant private baseball card collections in the world are held by people who fondly remember trading and collecting cards as kids.
The E. Powell Miller Collection
E Powell Miller’s collection is valued at an estimated $5 Million. The highlight of his collection is a complete set of T206 cards that went into tobacco packages between 1909 and 1911.
Many of the most notable card collectors started out in a similar fashion. A love of baseball and a dream of someday wearing a pro jersey was a common trait among the youngsters just starting a collection.
To these collectors, it was a way to stay involved with the game they loved, even in the offseason when there were no games to watch.
When the realization set in that they were not going to be the next Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Hall of Famer, or even hit home runs on the high school team, collecting cards put them up close and personal to the game year-round.
Over the years, careers in different fields are perused, families started, and successes away from baseball are spun into the decades.
Many early collectors return to a past time they had fond memories of. They begin again, this time with new energy, passion, and possibly most importantly, the financial resources they didn’t dream of as a youngster.
Joel Platt, A Lifelong Pursuit
One of the most amazing and spectacular stories in sports cards belongs to Joel Platt. The story began when Joel was four years old, hanging around a gas station.
He tossed a match into a car’s gas tank, resulting in an explosion. The youngster landed himself in a hospital for nearly a year.
During this time of recovery Platt’s parents brought him baseball cards while he recovered from his injuries.
During this time, Platt recalls Babe Ruth came to him in a dream. “Don’t give up,” he was told. “You can be a baseball player or open a museum to sports legends.” The words were not taken lightly by the youngster.
After he recovered from the explosion, he continued collecting cards. He expanded his collection to include autographs and other collectibles from the sports world.
Joel continued over the years as a successful professional with a career in Commercial Real Estate and Merchandise Sales.
The Joel Platt Memorabilia and Baseball Card Empire
During this time, he accumulated what turns out to be a over 1 million piece collection valued at over $250 Million. Included was the greatest baseball card collection of all time.
The collection journey has taken Joel around the world. Meeting the most significant collectors and, at times, buying entire collections from others.
In the process, he amassed a genuinely spectacular museum of one-of-a-kind artifacts, sports memorabilia, and historical pieces, many of which could be argued to be priceless.
The Best Kept Secret in Card Collecting
For almost 70 years, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has owned one of the greatest baseball card collections of all time. It’s one of the ultimate treasures for baseball card collectors and historians of the game.
Donated by a Syracuse electrician named Jefferson Burdick in 1947, he is known and considered the father of baseball card collecting. The collection contains over 300,000 items in which many, if not most, have never seen the light of day.
The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection
From the age of 10 years old, Burdick began collecting early baseball cards, which date from the 1860s to 1963 and include not only sports cards but also advertising inserts, postcards, and posters.
Found on The Met website is a great quote from Burdick. In 1960 he wrote, card collection is “a magic carpet that takes you away from work-a-day cares to havens of relaxing quietude where you can relive the pleasures and adventures of a past day – brought to life in vivid picture and prose.”
The collection includes over 500 albums of vintage cards donated by Burdick, which were kept in a museum storeroom.
The Most Amazing Card Collection of All Time
The cards couldn’t possibly be displayed for public viewing due to the immense quantities of the old cards. So in 2010, a fundraising initiative began to digitize the entire collection and create an online database where anyone could access and enjoy the preserved historical cards.
More than 30,000 baseball cards are included and represent one of the greatest baseball card collections of all time.
They are illustrating the history of the game from the first card of the dead-ball era in the early 1900s to the golden age and modern era of the sport.
The amazing collection includes cards from 1909 to 1953. The famous T-Series 1909-1911 American Tobacco Company, 1920s American Caramel cards, a Joe Jackson
E145 Cracker Jack card and the very first Topps baseball card from 1952, including a rare Topps Dugout Quiz R414-7 Willie Mays card from 1953.
How much is Jefferson Burdick’s collection worth? The collection of over 300,000 print memorabilia is worth tens of millions of dollars.
The Collection Worth Tens of Millions
Not only is it one of the largest collections in the world, but the condition of each card is exquisite. Burdick invented a numbering system to keep his cards organized, a system that is still used to this day.
While the numbering system helped keep him organized, it also helped preserve the cards in mint condition for nearly several decades before they were gifted to The Met Museum.
It’s genuinely an immense wealth of history and nostalgia gifted by not only a generous collector but also a great writer and historian.
“The 1937 baseball season is now in full swing, and the nation’s fans are daily cheering their favorite diamond stars. Baseball’s heroes come and go, but few people have a better record of the game’s great ones than the card collector . . . For Ruth and Gehrig and other present-day celebrities, we must turn to the various candy and gum cards issued during the past few years. While intended primarily for the younger fans, they are of equal interest to all who love our national game.” —Jefferson R. Burdick
The Dmitri Young Collection
One of the most impressive baseball rookie card collections of all time was assembled by Dmitri Young, a former Major League baseball player.
You can’t mention Dmitri’s collection without discussing Professional Sports Authenticator. (PSA) His name is stamped across many of the most legendary vintage rookie cards, all in PSA 10 graded condition.
Baseball fans might remember Dmitri Young, the player, but many collectors are unaware of the epic collection he assembled. He’s sold off most of his collection, so the PSA grade Dimitri Young labeled cards are now floating around in circulation.
To own a PSA 10 rookie card with the “Dmitri Young Collection” on the PSA slab is a true piece of history.
The James Micioni Collection
When James Micioni recently passed away at the age of 97, he left behind one of the most stunning collections in the world.
The collection included dozens of expensive baseball cards, including six 1933 Babe Ruth cards autographed by The Babe himself.
Uncle Jimmy, as most referred to Missoni, also left behind cards of Jimmy Foxx, Lou Gehrig, a Reggie Jackson rookie, a 1965 Topps Pete Rose, and a 1949 Bowman Jackie Robinson.
One of the most stunning facts from the James Micioni collection is the fact that although his relatives were aware he collected baseball memorabilia, they were not aware of the extent or the value his collection included.
Paul Jones, The Card King
Since the first minor league baseball game Paul Jones attended at age 10, he’s been hooked on baseball cards. It was a Las Vegas Stars game, and Paul’s father Barry purchased a pack of the team cards so Paul could get a few autographs before the game.
A few decades later, Paul Jones owns 2.8 million baseball cards. In 2008, he became the Guinness World Record holder for owning the biggest private card collection of all time.
Paul’s father Barry was quoted, “one day it just clicked, it helped him with reading, it helped him with math, it helped him with spelling. He was just immersed in it.”
Paul, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, says about his collection, “every card is a good card.” What I love about Paul’s collection is that it contains over 2,000 Jose Canseco cards. Paul was a batboy during one of Canseco’s minor league games, so he has a special connection to the slugger.
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One Hobby, but Many Different Reasons to Collect
People are drawn to collect various things for different reasons. Most of us won’t have multi-million dollar collections worthy of a museum dedication like E Powell Miller and Jefferson Burdick.
The one common thread that comes through over and over as I read about these legendary collectors is the pure joy that collecting can bring.
A youngster not only learns many essential life skills at an early age perfecting their collections, but they also tend to have tons of fun. Evident by fond memories of chasing that next big card. Dreams of having the greatest baseball collections of all time while having fun and making new friends.
Most Valuable Vintage Baseball Cards of All-Time
1952 Topps Jackie Robinson – $960,000
The Heritage auction saw a PSA 9 Jackie Robinson 1952 Topps card sell for $960,000 in 2021. There are only 11 PSA 9 graded cards in existence. There are no higher grades. That’s right, zero PSA 10 cards. Those 11 cards are in enormously high demand.
1969 Topps Reggie Jackson – $1,005,600
If you thought one of the Jackie Robinson PSA 9 cards was in demand, consider the 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson. There are 20 PSA 9s, but only one PSA 10. It’s the Dmitri Young Collection Reggie Jackson rookie, and it sold for over a million dollars. The Reggie PSA 10 GEM Mint condition card would definitely rank as one of the rarest cards of all time.
1925 Lou Gehrig Exhibits – $1,032,000
The PSA 5, 1925 Lou Gehrig Exhibits card sold for over $1 million in June of 2021, one of only two graded PSA 6 cards. The card is considered the Iron Horse’s first rookie card.
1955 Topps Roberto Clemente – $1,107,000
After his life was cut short by a plane crash, baseball fans can only wonder what would have been if Roberto Clemente had been able to play a long career. The 1955 Topps series includes this epic Clemente card, and there’s only 1 PSA 10.
The record sale for this card was $1.1 million a few years back. But this was for the PSA 9. Can you imagine what the only known PSA 10, high-grade version of this card would bring at auction today?
1916 M101-4 Babe Ruth – $1,452,000
The 1916 M101-4 card was printed from Felix Mendelsson as a way to advertise businesses on the backside. What he created was one of the most iconic and valuable Babe Ruth cards of all time.
2009 Bowman Chrome Superfractor Mike Trout – $3,840,000
The Mike Trout Superfractor card held the most valuable title for a brief moment, when it sold at auction for $3.8 million.
1933 Goudey Babe Ruth – $4,212,000
The only PSA 9 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth smashed auction records not too long ago. Through Memory Lane Auctions, the Babe Goudey card doesn’t go to market very often, and someone wasn’t taking a chance on missing it this round.
1952 Topps Mickey Mantle – $5,200,000
Mickey Mantle’s rookie card is one of the most recognized vintage sports cards in the world. Not only for the Hall of Fame Yankee star on the front of the cardboard but for the legend behind the card itself.
1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth – $6,000,000
The Babe Ruth rookie cards have traded hands recently and nearly broke the all-time record for the most valuable card ever.
1909-1911 T206 American Tobacco Company, The Sweet Caporal Honus Wagner – $6,606,296
The most iconic card and the holy grail of the sports card world, at least for now. The most popular baseball card and the most expensive card to ever sell at auction.
The Most Valuable Baseball Card Sets
1941 Play Ball Set – 72 cards
Most valuable card from the set – Ted Williams PSA 9 $205,000
1951 Bowman Baseball
Most valuable card from the set – MIckey Mantle PSA 9 $1.4 million
Most Valuable Modern Day Baseball Cards
Bowman Sterling Prospects cards are worth thousands, and they are only a few years old. Or you can buy a Topps Heritage Baseball Hobby Box for $50, and get yourself in the game. The latest Bowman’s Best cards offer future star power in a great set of cards.
Weather it’s Gold Rush baseball cards, or the Panini Elite Extra Edition, modern day baseball cards are still going strong. So get in the game, grab a few packs, and see if you get lucky.
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