In 2023, the world of sports card collecting experienced a remarkable resurgence, with a newfound fascination in vintage cards from the 1950s to the 1980s. Giants of the authentication and grading industry like PSA, ISA, BGS, and SGC reported a significant increase in submissions of cards from these eras, indicating a growing passion among collectors for the rich history of sports memorabilia.
Leading this vintage revival was the iconic 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card. A beloved treasure of baseball card collecting, this card saw nearly 14,000 newly graded copies in 2023, surpassing all other sports cards from the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. With a staggering total of almost 161,000 graded copies now in existence, the Griffey card has firmly established itself as a cornerstone of sports card collecting.
Baseball enthusiasts also embraced the 1980s era, with the 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson rookie card standing out. More than 7,800 new graded copies were added in 2023, bringing the 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 featured 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, had four cards in the top ten from these decades. His 1966 Topps card alone received 2,845 grades. In football, cards from the same era were led by Jim Brown, with his 1958 Topps rookie card and 1959 Topps card receiving a high number of submissions. The 1970s featured Walter Payton’s 1976 rookie card in football and George Brett’s 1975 rookie card in baseball, both joining the ranks of the most graded cards.
Interestingly, the 1950s basketball cards, though limited in number, saw a significant number of grades 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 even the Topps version.
The grading of vintage cards did not just focus on 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, notable mentions went to the 1972-73 Topps Julius Erving rookie and the 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) rookie. Hockey also had a few vintage cards graded over 1,000 times, highlighting the growing interest in this sport’s memorabilia.
The resurgence of interest in vintage sports cards goes beyond being just a passing trend; it signifies the sentimentality and historical significance these cards hold. They embody a tangible connection to the past, to the heroes and legends of the sports world. For collectors, these cards are more than just cardboard; they are pieces of history that keep the memory of athletes and iconic moments alive.
The increasing number of graded vintage cards also indicates a growing awareness of their value, both monetary and sentimental. 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.
When reflecting on the year 2023, it is evident that it marked a significant chapter in the story of sports card collecting. It was a year that witnessed vintage cards being embraced with renewed attention and appreciation, where the hobbies of previous generations were celebrated and cherished once more. This resurgence serves as a reminder that sports cards are more than mere collectibles; they provide us with a connection to the history of sports, allowing us to remember the greats of the game and pass on their legacy to future generations.