Best Cards to Collect for Profit

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Contributor, Benzinga
February 12, 2024

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Investing comes in many forms, and one niche that’s proven to be profitable is card trading. It has been especially profitable recently with certain kinds of cards. For example, celebrities like Jake Paul invigorated the Pokémon card market and caused prices to skyrocket. Some investors have earned millions of dollars by selling rare sports cards or Pokémon cards. But knowing which cards may yield the highest returns and the most convenient trading process is a skill. 

Whether you're an experienced collector or a newcomer to the world of trading cards, it's essential to know which cards to focus on if you want to maximize your profit potential. To help increase your chances of profiting from collectible cards, Benzinga has detailed key factors to consider when opting for collecting cards as one of your alternative investments.

Quick Look: Best Cards to Collect for Profit

  • Best Overall: Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps Rookie Card
  • Best Rookie Card: Luka Doncic 
  • Best NFL Card: Tom Brady Optic Base
  • Best NFL Card Pack: 2022 Panini Absolute Football Card Pack
  • Best Hockey Card: 2015 Upper Deck Connor McDavid Rookie
  • Best Classic Movie Cards: Star Wars
  • Best Animated Cards: Pokemon

Best Cards to Collect for Profit

Collectible cards have gained popularity in recent years as more and more people recognize their value and potential for generating income. Whether it's sports cards, trading cards or rare limited-edition cards, these items have become hot commodities in the collectors' world. Here are top picks for the best cards to invest in this year.

1. Best Overall: Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps Rookie Card

Mickey Mantle is a legendary baseball player for the New York Yankees with a whopping 536 home runs. Considering Mantle cemented his name as one of the greatest baseball players of all time, his rookie card became a highly coveted collector’s item.

It was his PSA 9 version 1952 Topps Rookie card that caught the eye of collectors, eventually selling for $5.2 million in January 2021. The sale set a record for the most expensive trading card sold, until the Honus Wagner T206 card broke the record in August 2021, selling for $6.6 million.

Not only is this baseball card extremely expensive, but it seems that only six exist. Investors wanting to profit from Mantle’s cards won’t have to look far, as the PSA 8 version is significantly cheaper.

Specs

  • Sold for over $2 million
  • Extremely rare card
  • Second-best selling card of all time

Pros 

  • Classic card from the 1950s
  • Yielded high returns
  • Affordable PSA 8 version

Cons 

  • Difficult to find

Other Baseball Cards to Try

Other baseball cards you can be on the lookout for include:

  • 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle Rookie (Mantle’s actual rookie card)
  • 1954 Topps Henry Aaron Rookie
  • 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth Rookie
  • 2009 Bowman Mike Trout Rookie

2. Best Rookie Card: Luka Doncic

Most of the best-selling cards were from the players’ rookie days. Predicting a young player’s rise to fame can be a lucrative hobby. That was the case with Luka Doncic, whose rookie cards broke records as the young prospect became one of NBA’s biggest players.

When sold in February 2021, Luka Doncic’s rookie card became the most expensive basketball sold, at $4.6 million. LeBron James’ BGS MT 9 broke that record in April 2021, selling for $5.2 million, and Stephen Curry’s Logoman autographed rookie sold for $5.9 million not long after. Doncic’s card features the NBA logoman catch, from a Maverick’s jersey he wore and a signature in blue ink. 

The trading card was originally from a 2018-2019 Panini National Treasure Basketball box and the only one made of that specific variety. However, you may be surprised to find that you can also look out for related cards that are a bit less rare.

Specs

  • Player is young and extremely popular, making earning potential much higher
  • Card is relatively rare

Pros 

  • Second-best-selling NBA card
  • High ROI
  • The only card made of that specific variety

Cons 

  • Only one available

Other Basketball Cards to Look for:

  • 2021-22 Panini Prizm Hobby Box
  • 2022-23 Chronicles Draft Pack
  • 2022 Panini Instant Draft Night Jaden Ivey Rookie Card
  • 1970-71 Topps #123 Pete Maravich Rookie Card
  • 2018-19 Panini Prizm #184 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Rookie Card

3. Best NFL Card: Tom Brady Optic Base

Collectors looking for an affordable investment that may return high yields can look at the Tom Brady 2020 Optic Base card. Brady is one of the best NFL players of all time, and his induction into the Hall of Fame is a foregone conclusion.

The card’s value has ranged from $2 to $229, making it affordable. It’s available in eight grades and variations such as Mythical, Premium Box Set Wave, Blue and Downtown - Super Bowl. Brady’s card is available at major retailers, and investors may need to wait several years to profit from a trading card printed in 2020.

Specs

  • Lowest price was $2
  • 3 variations
  • Available in 8 grades

Pros 

  • Affordable
  • Available at major retailers
  • Features a future Hall of Famer

Cons 

  • Printed recently

4. Best NFL Card Pack: 2022 Panini Absolute Football Card Pack

Because Panini is still active, you can uncover quite a bit of variety in their large packs. Remember, though, you must hold every card in the pack because you never know which cards will grow in value. There could easily be someone in that pack that will one day be extremely valuable, but you would never know based on their current profile.

Specs

  • 200 per pack
  • There can be parallels, ultra-rares, veterans, rookies
  • Kaboom and Explosion cards may also be included

Pros

  • Variety
  • Lower prices
  • Ultra-rares

Cons

  • The unknown
  • You cannot be sure what will be in the pack, thus reducing value for the money

5. Best Hockey Card: 2015 Upper Deck Connor McDavid Rookie Card

Connor McDavid is a superstar, first-overall draft pick for the Edmonton Oilers. In the vein of Wayne Gretzky, McDavid scores in droves and fans love him. However, the Oilers have not yet won the Stanley Cup (as of 2023) and a Stanley Cup win would enhance his lore and likely increase the value of his cards.

Specs

  • Prices as high as $135,000
  • Badge and autograph versions do exist

Pros

  • Recency
  • Lower prices
  • Could be much easier to find
  • McDavid has not even reached his potential yet

Cons

  • No guarantee the card will continue to gain value
  • Trading cards don’t get as much attention today as they once did

6. Best Classic Movie Cards: Star Wars

After the first Star Wars movie, the cards were released in 1977. The original release contained five sets distinguished by different border colors. The cards contained the most famous characters Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.

Each series consisted of 66 cards, and it was the ‘70s edition that garnered the most attention. Other editions that followed weren’t as successful, but the 1980 The Empire Strikes Back Series 1-3 and 1993 Galaxy Series 1-3 made an impression on collectors. 

Specs

  • Released in 1977
  • Cards consist of 5 series
  • 66 cards in each series

Pros 

  • Extremely popular cards to collect
  • Coveted cards at present day
  • Extra sets were released due to the cards’ popularity

Cons 

  • Only the ‘70s editions were successful

In the present day, you could look out for Star Wars cards and packs like:

  • 2022 Topps Star Wars Galaxy Chrome Pack Hobby Box
  • 2022 Topps Star Wars Boba Fett Hobby Box
  • 2022 Chrome Black Star Wars Hobby Box

7. Best Animated Cards: Pokémon

Pokémon is one of the most popular Japanese cartoons. The franchise’s global popularity made its ‘90s cards extremely desirable to collectors. Pokémon has released numerous cards with characters like Charizard, Mewtwo and Pikachu, with prices ranging from basically worthless to over $400,000 for the rarest card. The issue here is that you need to uncover a mountain of cards before finding one with some value. Plus, the cards that are most valuable shift over time, and you’re wise to continue researching, especially if you find a card for which you have very little information.

The Pikachu Illustrator, only one PSA 10 card, was sold for just over $5.2 million. Japanese cards of certain sets are usually valued more than ones from the U.S. or Canada because of their earlier release date and scarce availability. The recent explosion of the Pokémon card market may not be over. It was driven by nostalgia and celebrities buying packs of these cards and opening them on popular video streaming sites like YouTube and Twitch.tv.

Specs

  • Prices range from $1 to $60,000 (with the two rarest cards selling for $300,000+)
  • Available at major retailers
  • Numerous editions and characters are available

Pros 

  • ‘90s Pokemon cards are valuable
  • Japanese cards are released earlier than North American editions
  • Popular globally
  • Nostalgic for millions of people who are now in the workforce

Cons 

  • Large sets with lots of worthless cards

Features to Look for in Collectable Cards

It’s certain aspects of an asset that make it valuable. And the same is true for collectible cards. A picture on a card may be worth a thousand words, but it’s not worth a thousand dollars if it doesn’t meet a certain condition, has no unique characteristics and isn’t scarce.

The Card’s Condition

A dented 1965 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray isn’t a classic just because of its age. It has to be in excellent condition to be worth a lot of money. A card’s condition has a tremendous impact on its worth. Although you may have come across a scarce card that nobody may have, its value is undermined by creases, bent corners and scratches.

In rare cases, a card’s condition may be of a lower standard than the norm because of sentimental value or a unique event intrinsic to the card’s condition. But most cards have to be in great condition for collectors to deem valuable. The card’s corners should be sharp. A baseball player’s centering on the card is important and determined by measurements of the border. Surfaces should be glossy or metallic to detect damage easily.

The Year Printed and Scarcity

Most cards are like wines — their value increases with time. The year a card was printed also determines its scarcity. Cards printed in the last few years are easier to find than ones printed 50 years ago. Usually, the older the card, the more it’s worth.

Card manufacturers have printed many cards from the ‘80s and ‘90s. So finding them is easier than ‘70s cards. That era has produced numerous vintage cards that collectors are prepared to pay handsomely to own. The print year should be stipulated on the card. 

Short prints are cards in lesser quantity, making them less accessible than regular prints. Also, cards printed toward the end of a baseball season are usually rare. 

Grading

Grading ensures a card is authentic. The process involves an independent audit company grading the card based on its condition and authenticity. A graded card usually is worth more than one not graded because collectors feel more secure about buying them.

When buying collectible cards from retailers such as Amazon and eBay, collectors may hold different opinions about the card’s value than the seller based on its condition if it’s not graded. Hence, a third party’s grading is impartial, and the card receives a rating from one to 10. A card receives a one-rating if it’s in poor condition and 10 if it’s in mint condition.

Once auditors have graded cards, they encase them in plastic holders and stick a label on them to show the grade and a serial number — generated from the grader’s database.

Popularity

A card’s popularity is most commonly linked to the athlete featured on the card. Athletes who have accomplished more than their peers are more popular, so the demand for their cards is higher. Collectors favor rookie cards of the most valuable players, but attractively designed cards are also popular.

Some beautifully-designed cards fetch higher prices than rookie cards because collectors enjoy seeing an athlete’s face up close and appreciate vibrant colors. Cards with the athlete’s signature tend to be more valuable than ones without, but determining signature authenticity has become more challenging.

How to Buy Trading Cards

You need to consider several factors of the buying process to make card collecting convenient and affordable. Benzinga has compiled key pointers to help you find the most valuable cards at the best prices.

Places to Buy Cards

Collectible cards have become so valuable that even social media and e-commerce platforms stock them. Such platforms enable collectors to contact the seller directly and negotiate. The advantage of these avenues is that it’s easier to find rare cards on the internet than at your local store. Your selection is broader, and you don’t need to travel to several places.

If you want to invest in one of the rarest collectible cards for the extra profit potential, you can easily invest in a fraction of cards like a 1st Edition Charizard, a Tom Brady Rookie card, a Luka Doncic Mojo Prizm card and more with Public.com. This rare feature let's you gain exposure to these rare cards without breaking the bank.

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Buyers need to be careful of illegitimate cards, so online sellers with graded cards should receive preference. Another place where buyers can negotiate prices is at auctions. An auction guarantees a card’s validity and may even offer a guarantee. Most card stores have also ensured a card’s authenticity, but they’re usually not willing to negotiate prices.  

Verifying the Card

After selecting a card, you need to ensure that it’s legit. Even if a card has been graded, it’s best to check the database of the auditor to ensure validity. It’s possible that the verification label on the card is fraudulent. 

Buying cards online is best accomplished via a platform that offers a verification and grading service. That should give you a certain level of security, and it provides a guarantee because you can hold the platform accountable.

The Buying Process

If you buy cards from an online seller, it’s safer to do it through an e-commerce platform that stores your funds and can reverse illegitimate transactions. After payment and delivery, you can contact the platform about discrepancies and request a refund if the seller hasn’t delivered the expected products.

You can also take precautions when buying from an independent online seller. The best way is to make payment via an online platform that serves as a third-party depositor. Funds are released to the seller only after the buyer is satisfied with the delivered product. If you opt for cash purchases, ensure you receive a receipt and preferably have a witness.

Trading with Collectors

Instead of spending money on cards, you may opt for swapping them with sellers. This method enables you to dispose of the cards you no longer need and receive ones you deem more valuable. An issue that may arise when you trade cards is the opposing opinions between the buyers and sellers about card values. Although grading may determine the conditions of the cards, it doesn’t necessarily attach a value.

In such cases, both parties may agree on a third party to value their cards. A benefit of swapping cards is that one party may feel they’ve received higher valued cards than the ones traded. Ensure that you document the trading process, stipulating the cards you have traded and what you’ve received. The documents serve as a receipt.

Benzinga has identified several platforms enabling you to find various cards for alternative investments.

eBay

Buying and selling cards are the most convenient on eBay. This e-commerce platform is the market leader for card collectibles as it offers one the largest collections. Card collectors around the world advertise their collections, so finding rare cards on eBay is the norm.

The aspect that makes eBay different from competitors is that its authenticity guarantee includes grading. It uses third-party authenticator PSA for grading cards over $2,000. Since eBay offers such a large card trading volume, it’s possible to sell your cards in a short period of time. eBay is considered to be one of the best alternative investment platforms.

Facebook

Facebook has more than 3 billion users, and it offers niche groups and a marketplace. By joining a Facebook card group, you get alerts about the latest offerings and events. You can also use the marketplace to browse cards for sale.

The advantage of joining a Facebook group or the marketplace is that you can filter them by cities or niches.

Exhibitions

You can find numerous trading card exhibitions held around the U.S. and globally. One of the most popular exhibitions is the National Sports Collectors Convention, hosted in Atlantic City, New Jersey, from July 27 to July 31, 2022.

Such exhibitions enable collectors to find the rarest cards and meet like-minded people who sell cards privately.

Auctions

Collectors searching for the most sought-after cards can find them at popular auctions such as PWCC. Events are held monthly and feature museum-caliber offerings, and collectors can partake in weekly Sunday auctions.

The advantage of using such auctions is that some are hosted online.

Build Your Card Collection Today 

You can build a card collection that will turn a profit or become profitable in the future at any time—it’s never too late. Using these tools, you can start looking into more than baseball cards, understanding that many collectibles are out there and can help you diversify your overall portfolio. Return to Benzinga whenever you like to learn more about collecting cards and alternative investing.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q

What type of cards should I collect?

A

Collecting cards is done as a hobby or an investment. If it’s your hobby, you’re likely to collect cards for a sport you enjoy. Otherwise, baseball cards have proven to be the most popular and yielded the highest returns.

Some of the other sports that cards are collected for are football, basketball and racing.

Q

Is card collecting profitable?

A

Collecting cards can be profitable if you sell ones that the market demands. The demand will depend on the scarcity, condition and value of the card. It’s usually rookie cards and vintage ones from the ‘70s era that are the most popular. Some cards are available for a few hundred dollars, but a Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps card sold for more than $5.2 million.

Q

How do you start collecting cards?

A

Determine the sports cards you want to collect. Gauge prices by checking online and at your local card store. Once you’ve determined the best place to buy, ensure safety precautions by buying graded cards offered on secure platforms. 

Q

Why are rookie cards worth more than regular cards?

A

Scarcity plays a big role in determining a card’s value. Rookie cards are more challenging to find, usually because they were printed years ago and had low print runs. It’s also difficult to find rookie cards in good condition because of their age.

Q

What makes a card valuable?

A

Various factors such as the player featured, the stage of the player’s career, a significant event linked to the card, the print year and the scarcity of the card determine its value.

 

Q

What is the most valuable trading card to collect?

A

The most valuable trading card to collect can vary depending on the market and individual preferences. However, some of the most sought-after and valuable trading cards tend to be those from iconic or limited-edition sets, featuring rare or highly sought-after players or franchises. Examples include the Honus Wagner T206 baseball card, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card, or the Pokémon Illustrator card. Ultimately, the value of a trading card can be influenced by factors such as rarity, condition, demand, and historical significance.

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About Goran Radanovic

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