The Most Valuable Sports & Trading Cards That Paid Out Big Bucks

You won't believe the lotto-sized paydays some of these trading cards have sold for. It will make you want to check your collection to see what you've got.

Published December 31, 2022
collection of football trading cards

Your birthday might only come once a year, but opening presents doesn't have to. Carefully ripping open a new foil pack of trading cards activates the same part of your brain that lights up when you get to tear open wrapping paper covered gifts. Now, that joy pales compared to the feeling you get when you discover you've got one of the most valuable trading cards in your collection. While the winning the lottery might be a one-in-a-million chance, getting a lottery-sized payout doesn't have to be.

Most Valuable Sports Trading Cards That Scored Big

Most Valuable Sports Trading Cards Record Sales Price
2009-10 Stephen Curry Rookie Card $5.9 million
2017 Patrick Mahomes Rookie Card $4.3 million
1909-11 Honus Wagner Cards $3.12 million

Sports is all about competition, and if you aren't in it to win it, then chances are you won't rise to the top. The same thing goes for collecting sports trading cards. Some of the most valuable cards ever sold come from expensive collections, so occasionally, making an investment in trading cards can pay off. But that doesn't rule out stumbling across an old, super rare card that's worth a ton in your attic or a random thrift shop.

Baseball, basketball, and football are America's big three for sports. They dominate sports entertainment and include the most expensive trading cards ever sold:

Autographed 2009-10 Stephen Curry Logoman

Most Expensive & Valuable Trading Card Game Cards

Most Valuable Trading Card Game Cards Record Sales Price
Black Lotus Magic the Gathering Card $511,100
1998 Backless Blastoise Pokemon Card $360,000
Blue-Eyes White Dragon Yu-Gi-Oh! Card $85,100

Sports trading cards were a thing of our parent's generation, but for us, trading card games were all the rage. Starting with Magic the Gathering in the early 1990s, duel-based trading card games launched into popularity. The heaviest hitters include Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, but there were so many niche games like Digimon that you can easily find a few thousand dollars in an assortment of competitive cards. Just keep your eyes peeled for these top sellers:

  • First edition cards always have a big draw at auctions, like this 2002 first edition Blue-Eyes White Dragon Yu-Gi-Oh! card that sold for $85,100.
  • In some cases, design errors can lead to big payouts, like with this super rare Blastoise Pokemon card from 1998 that doesn't have any design on the back. It sold for $360,000 in 2021.
  • Some legendary cards are even banned from their games, but they're not banned from making a lot of money. That's the case for the legendary Black Lotus Magic the Gathering card that frequently sells for about $100,000, and in one case sold for $511,100.
The Gathering Unlimited Edition Black Lotus

Valuable Pop Culture Trading Cards That Bring Fantasy to Life

Most Valuable Pop Culture Trading Cards Recent Sales Price
2013 Fleer Retro Blue #5 Spiderman Card $168,000
1977 Topps Luke Skywalker Card $55,255
Adam bomb Garbage Pail Kids Card $25,100

The most unexpected trading card combo combines entertainment and pop culture with the trading card format. From comic book companies to film franchises, and everything in between, these cards might not pull in the same amounts at auction, but they're worth checking through your collection for.

  • Cards from prestigious manufacturers are usually low in quantity but high in quality, leading to competitive values on the resell market. For example, the Fleer Retro Marvel trading card series always does well at auction. One of their mint Spiderman cards from 2013 sold for $168,000.
  • In a galaxy far, far away, trading cards featuring everyone's favorite Jedi sold for a few thousand dollars. Although the 1970s' Star Wars trading cards won't normally get you more than a couple hundred bucks, one seller lucked out with a Luke Skywalker card that sold for $55,255.
  • Adam Bomb was the baby that started the Garbage Pail Kids movement. A clever pun that hinted at the controversial card's subject matter, an original Adam Bomb sticker card with the rare checklist on the back sold for $25,100.
1985 Garbage Paul Adam Bomb

Quick Guide for Valuable Things to Look for in Trading Cards

There might be a ton of trading cards to flip through, but there's one thing they all have in common - how they get their value. Auction values aren't plucked out of thin air on a whim; there're several characteristics and things you can be on the lookout for that usually show that a card is worth some money.

  • Condition - Condition is the single-most important thing for trading card values. The more pristine and untouched a card can be, the more money it'll be worth. While there are professional companies like PSA that grade cards for condition, you can use your eyes to make amateur assessments on how good a card looks.
  • Rarity - Sometimes expressed by a specific symbol or phrase and other times shown by a quantity count, rarity is usually indicated on the bottom corner of a trading card. In the case of older cards, you'd want to do some research or reach out to an expert to know the full extent of just how rare they might be.
  • Autographs - Depending on the type of card, there might be an artist, player, actor, or creator's autograph written on it. By themselves, autographs are worth money, so they only add to a trading card's final price.
  • Mistakes/Misprints - Not every mistake is going to be worth six figures, but if you can find cards with noticeable errors on them, they might be worth something.
  • Popular characters/people - The more popular or famous someone is, the more valuable their card is going to be based on how many more people are going to want it.
Boys Collecting Baseball Cards

A Childhood Well Spent

If you spent your allowance picking up one and five-dollar trading card packs at the local grocery store, then you might have experienced a childhood well spent. Of course, that's assuming you kept your cards in a safe place, hoping that some of them might be worth something someday. Either way, wheeling and dealing in trading cards has been going on for decades and will continue for many more. So, it's worth hopping on the trend if you've got an itch to collect and an interest in just about any subject.

The Most Valuable Sports & Trading Cards That Paid Out Big Bucks