In 2023, the world of sports card collecting witnessed a remarkable trend: a renewed interest in vintage cards from the 1950s to the 1980s. The authentication and grading companies, including industry giants like PSA, ISA, BGS, and SGC, observed a significant surge in submissions of cards from these eras, indicating a growing fascination among collectors with the rich history of sports memorabilia.
Leading this vintage revival was the iconic 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card. Considered a cornerstone of baseball card collecting, this card saw nearly 14,000 new graded copies in 2023, surpassing any other sports card from the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or 80s. With a total of almost 161,000 graded copies now in existence, the Griffey card has solidified its place as a prized possession for sports card enthusiasts.
The 1980s era of baseball was further defined by the 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson rookie card, which recorded over 7,800 new graded copies, bringing its total to nearly 51,000. Basketball, another major sport in the card collecting world, was dominated by the legendary Michael Jordan. All five of the most graded basketball cards from the 1980s were of Jordan, with his 1989 Hoops card leading the way with 5,130 new grades.
Mickey Mantle, an icon of the 1950s and 60s baseball card scene, was well-represented by four of the top ten cards from these decades. His 1966 Topps card alone was graded 2,845 times. Football cards from the same era were led by Jim Brown, with his 1958 Topps rookie card and 1959 Topps card gathering the most submissions. In the 1970s, Walter Payton’s 1976 rookie card in football and George Brett’s 1975 rookie card in baseball joined the ranks of the most graded cards.
Interestingly, despite their scarcity, 1950s basketball cards saw a significant number of grades, particularly for Bill Russell’s rookie card and his Celtics teammate, Bob Cousy. Hockey, not to be left out, had Wayne Gretzky’s 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee rookie card as the most graded, surpassing the Topps version.
The grading of vintage cards didn’t stop at the most popular names. Other notable cards from the 1950s to the 1980s that received a high number of grades included the 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman rookie card, the 1968 Topps Johnny Bench rookie, and the 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax rookie in baseball. In basketball, the 1972-73 Topps Julius Erving rookie and the 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor rookie were also prominent. Even hockey saw a few vintage cards graded over 1,000 times, a testament to the growing interest in this sport’s memorabilia.
This resurgence of interest in vintage sports cards is more than just a trend; it’s a reflection of the nostalgia and historical significance these cards hold. They represent a connection to the past, to the heroes and legends of the sports world. For collectors, these cards are not just pieces of cardboard but are pieces of history, a tangible link to the athletes and moments that have shaped the world of sports.
The increasing numbers of these cards being graded also point to a growing awareness of their value, both monetarily and sentimentally. As more collectors seek to authenticate and preserve these treasures, the sports card collecting hobby continues to evolve, bridging the gap between the past and the present.
As we look back on 2023, it becomes clear that the year marked a significant chapter in the story of sports card collecting. It was a year that saw vintage cards receive a new level of attention and appreciation, a year where the pastimes of previous generations were celebrated and cherished anew. This resurgence is a reminder that sports cards are more than just collectibles; they are a way for us to connect with the history of sports, to remember the greats of the game, and to keep their legacy alive for future generations.