The Top 20 Trading Card Rarities

by Joe Orlando
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PSA

In the following slideshow, we have put together a list of some of the greatest rarities in the trading card market. To make it clear, this list was not assembled with scarcity as the lone factor. Each card combines a level of scarcity with popularity, extreme importance and other factors. There are certainly extreme rarities in existence that are clearly harder to find than several of the entries on the list, but some of them are considered esoteric by hobby standards.

From the 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth to the 1932 U.S. Presidents Caramel William McKinley to the 1948 Leaf Boxing Rocky Graziano, this list features a diverse group of cardboard treasures and is not for the faint of heart. The cards featured in this slideshow exhibit a degree of difficulty along with a measure of desirability that few cards possess within their particular genre.

The cards are listed in chronological order, starting nearly 150 years ago and each listing contains an approximate survival rate as of this date. You never know when the next great discovery will occur and the number of estimated examples known will change.

So, enjoy the visual tour and see how your list matches up with ours.

Joe Orlando
President, PSA

PSA

In an effort to expand revenues beyond their standard seasonal releases, the Topps Company experimented with many untraditional trading cards in the 1960s. The 1961 Topps Dice Game is one such experiment that never was released commercially. Instead, this drawing board concept was abandoned before it was even able to be adorned with the official Topps logo (which cannot be found anywhere on the 18 known subjects). A small number managed to escape the trash bin, including the star of the set – the Mickey Mantle (#8).

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 5 known

PSA

This is one of three major rarities in the set and the only one to feature a Hall of Famer. In 1951, before the introduction of the groundbreaking 1952 Topps set, this issue was released during the same year as the Topps Blue and Red Back sets along three other special sets, the 1951 Topps Teams, the Connie Mack All-Stars and the current Major League All-Stars. This set of current All-Stars contained 11 total cards but three cards were never issued to the public. These three cards were those of Jim Konstanty, Robin Roberts and Eddie Stanky.

Despite never being officially released by Topps, a few examples escaped from the factory, providing collectors with three extraordinarily rare cards. These cards, which measure 2-1/16" by 5¼", were made with a die-cut design so the players featured could be popped out from the background in an upright position. Since the cards were intended to be folded, finding nice examples is virtually impossible.

CardFacts Rarity Report:Less than 5 known

PSA

This card is the ultimate boxing rarity - boxing's equivalent of the T206 Honus Wagner, but clearly tougher. Rocky Graziano, the former middleweight champion of the world and one of the era's most powerful punchers, is best remembered for his three classic duels with Tony Zale. Despite losing to Zale twice, the three battles resulted in some of the greatest action ever witnessed at the professional level, including seven knockdowns between the two boxers. This trilogy cemented Graziano's reputation as a fierce brawler. He finished his career with 67-10-6 record, including 52 of his victories coming by way of knockout. Graziano was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

This card is one of the scarcest on the entire list and in the hobby, with only a handful of examples known at the time of this writing. Why is this card so rare? No one seems to know for sure, but the leading theory amongst hobbyists is that there was a contractual dispute between the parties. Whatever the reason may be, all we can do is wish you luck in finding one.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 10 known

PSA

This card has always been one of the true symbols of the hobby. But interestingly, it was not included in the original 1933 Goudey set. Instead, in 1934, collectors had to acquire the card direct from the manufacturer in order to complete their set. The missing card was sent through the mail to the collectors who contacted the Goudey Company.

Many of the examples were mailed with a paper clip affixed to it, leaving impressions on the surface of the card. As a result, you will encounter some examples that exhibit spider wrinkles along the front or back of the card. That said, and considering the overall rarity of the card, there are some high-grade examples in the marketplace. This is best explained by the fact that the card was never subject to insertion into packs, avoiding some of the traditional handling.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 125 known

PSA

When the George C. Miller & Co. released its baseball set in 1933, it informed collectors to collect all 32 cards in exchange for prizes. In classic promotional fashion, the "Ivy" Paul Andrews card was selected as the short print to avoid awarding an extensive amount of prizes. When the company did receive the Andrews issue as a redemption, it cancelled the card one of two ways before returning it to collectors. One cancellation technique involved the complete trimming of the bottom 1/4 of the card while the other involved punching diamond-shaped holes into the surface of the card. Today, less than five uncancelled versions are known to exist. Adding to the mystique of the card is the fact that PSA could not even locate an image of the uncancelled version. The trimmed cancellation version is shown above.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 5 known

PSA

This U.S. Caramel "Presidents" set is considered by many to be complete at thirty cards. That is only true, however, if you omit a short-printed thirty-first card that was issued by the U.S. Caramel company.

Why the short-print? To boost sales of course! U.S. Caramel employed a promotional gimmick for the set that involved giving away a 1lb box of chocolate to those who completed the 31 card set. Scores of sweet-toothed youngsters fell for the ploy, only to be left one card short.

What was the short printed card that remains ever-so elusive to this day? This President William McKinley (#25) card, of course, which was intentionally short printed to limit supply.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 5 known

PSA

The 1932 U.S. Caramel (R238) set of "Famous Athletes" is anchored by some big names, like Babe Ruth (#32), Ty Cobb (#14) and Lou Gehrig (#26), but it is the #16 Charles Lindstrom that is the scarcest card in the set. So scarce is the card that is virtually non-existent in collector sets, given its status as a promotional short-print intended to drive sales (while driving collectors crazy).

In general, when encountered, R328's are usually found in less-than-presentable condition. The scarcity of the release is further complicated by its limited distribution (mainly in the Boston area) and the distinct artwork – which was not well received by young sports fans.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 5 known

PSA

This Ruth rookie card is one of his most difficult cards overall, making it one of the most important cards on this list. It pictures a young Ruth, firing the ball as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox before they traded him to the rival New York Yankees.

Ruth was an outstanding pitcher. He compiled a 94-46 record (.671 winning percentage) with 107 complete games, 17 shutouts and a career ERA of 2.28. In the World Series, he was even more impressive. Ruth went 3-0 with an ERA under 1.00!

After three full seasons on the mound, the Red Sox began to use Ruth as a part-time outfielder in 1918. The rest is history. After they sent Ruth to New York in 1920, little did they know that it would result in a World Series drought that lasted until 2004.

This card, the key to the 200-card set, is often found off-center and features a variety of advertising backs, although most existing copies exhibit blank backs.

CardFacts Rarity Report (1915 & 1916): About 100 known

PSA

This is one of the great rarities in the hobby and, fittingly, it features The Sultan of Swat. On the face of the card, Ruth is captured as a minor league pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League. The reverse contains a schedule for the team. The Baltimore News set is comprised of cards that picture players from the two local teams, the aforementioned Orioles and the Terrapins of the Federal League. It wouldn't be long before Ruth was on the mound for the Boston Red Sox and quickly became the finest lefty in the league.

At the time of this writing, there are about 10 known copies of this legendary card. The copies that have been discovered are generally in low-to-mid grade condition due to the very condition sensitive borders and paper stock. The cards, which measure approximately 2 - 5/8" by 3 - 5/8" in size, can be found with either blue or red borders. In any grade, this pre-rookie card is a find of a lifetime.

CardFacts Rarity Report: About 10 known

PSA

This card, which measures approximately 1½" by 2½", is the only recognized rookie card of the man whose name is synonymous with goaltending excellence. Georges Vezina is to hockey goalies what Cy Young is to baseball pitchers when it comes to personal achievement. At the end of each season, the best goalie in the league is presented with the award that bears Vezina's name.

Vezina finished his career with a goals-against average of 3.49, a figure that is even more impressive when you consider that goalies were not allowed to go down to their knees to gain control of the puck at that time. Vezina was part of the inaugural Hockey Hall of Fame class of 1945.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 250 known

PSA

This is one of the great rarities of the pre-war era and remains one of only a handful of cards manufactured during Joe Jackson’s playing days. This extremely tough card features Jackson as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, a minor league team, in between his stints with the Philadelphia Athletics and the Cleveland Naps.

Despite being pictured as a minor leaguer, many collectors prefer the image of Jackson on the T210 Old Mill card over the E90-1 American Caramel card because he clearly is more recognizable in the facial region and the pose itself is more striking. The set, which consists of hundreds of minor leaguers, many of whom you and I have never heard of before, is centered on this Jackson card. The set itself has never been hugely popular for that very reason, but this card has remained a treasure for those seeking the best of the best.

In addition to the inherent rarity of the card, with only a handful of known copies in the hobby, the surrounding red borders are very sensitive and prone to wear. This card measures approximately 1½" by 25/8".

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 10 known

PSA

This is the second most desirable card in the famed T206 set and the only pose of the HOF pitcher. To this day, there is no clear explanation for the rarity of this card. The most prevalent theory is that the card suffered from a poor printing plate, resulting in many of the cards being destroyed since they could not pass quality control. In addition, many of the known examples are found with poor centering from top to bottom. The centering can be so severe that it will cut into the text along the bottom.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 150 known

PSA

This is one of the key rarities in the T206 set and it is, truthfully, the hardest to find of the bunch. Doyle began his career with the New York Highlanders of the American League and was pitching for them when the T206 set was introduced.

That is where the problems begin. Joe Doyle was pictured on a T206 card, in a windup pose, except he was listed as playing for "N.Y. NAT’L" to the right of his last name. Doyle, as mentioned earlier, was a member of a New York team but it was an AL team. Larry Doyle, a second baseman, played for the New York Giants of the NL.

The mistake was clear and it seems as if the error was corrected ("NAT’L" removed) quickly since only a handful of uncorrected copies are known at this time. For the collector of T206 cards or great rarities, this card remains more challenging than the Eddie Plank or Honus Wagner cards of the same set.

CardFacts Rarity Report: About 6 known

PSA

Although the majority of the 1909-11 T206 cards carry reverse side advertising of the company's popular tobacco brands, the pinnacle of card-back scarcity is this "Ty Cobb" reverse design, wherein Cobb is termed "King of the Smoking Tobacco World." This specific advertisement is only found on the Ty Cobb red back portrait.

The cards in this set were designed to fit within tin American Tobacco Company tins. In fact, the one shown above is the only tin in which this Cobb card could be found, and the tin itself is quite rare and collectible (one sold recently at auction for $88,875).

CardFacts Rarity Report: About 15 known

PSA

The world’s most famous trading card is also one of the rarest. Synonymous with the phrase "tobacco card," the 1909-1911 T206 series consists of 524 distinctly different "White Border" player portrayals, with the unchallenged crown jewel being T206's Honus Wagner entry, which enjoys a mystique like no other.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Between 50 and 75 known

PSA

The 1894 Mayo Football #12 John Dunlop is considered to be the "T206 Honus Wagner" of football trading cards. Dunlop’s release is the rarest card in this 35 card set, which was the first dedicated exclusively to football players (college players of the Ivy League of course, as this was prior to the arrival of professional football leagues).

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 12 known

PSA

This is about as rare as you can get, with only one known 1893 Just So Tobacco Cy Young card in existence. Considered by some as the hobby’s true Holy Grail, the card features Young during his fourth professional year during which he pitched for the Cleveland Spiders of the National League. He finished the year 34-16 and a 3.36 ERA over 422 2/3 inning pitched.

CardFacts Rarity Report: One Known

PSA

Cap Anson, baseball’s first true superstar, is the subject of the rarest card in what many consider to be the most important 19th Century set in existence – 1887 N172 Old Judge. Anson is featured twice in the set, and while both cards are highly desirable and tough to acquire, it is the In Uniform variation that takes scarcity to another level.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 5 known.

PSA

Michael Joseph "King" Kelly (1857-1894) played the majority of his 16-year career at catcher with the National League’s Chicago White Stockings (1880-1886) and the Boston Beaneaters (1887-1892). This 1887 Four Base Hits release is so rare, there are less than 5 known and none have been submitted to PSA.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 5 known.

PSA

This card, featuring the first professional team in the game, is considered by many hobbyists to be the first true baseball card. As such, the card, which can be found in both Large and Small versions, symbolizes the beginning of the hobby that millions of collectors have come to enjoy ever since.

CardFacts Rarity Report: Less than 50 known.



So, there you have it. You have just viewed a list of rarities that many collectors can only dream of owning since the majority of the cards rank as some of the hobby's most valuable treasures.

In fact, a good portion of these great rarities often sell for more than $100,000 each. These are the kind of cards that are important and desirable in ANY grade, the kind of cards that often elude the majority of collectors as hobbyists continue to hunt for the diamonds lurking in the rough.

We hope you have enjoyed this card rarity tour. You can check out our other PSA Lists at www.psacard.com/lists

Joe Orlando
President, PSA

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