Whenever people think about sports trading cards, they tend to think of baseball cards. We don’t really know why that is. Perhaps it’s because their connection with cigarette packets made them so popular in the days of our grandparents. Maybe it’s because baseball trading cards tend to be more valuable than football trading cards. It’s might even be a combination of the two! To us, though, football cards have always been as interesting and exciting to collect and own as baseball cards – and in some cases, they’re more exciting.
Because of the notoriety of some of the most valuable baseball cards, everybody knows which cards are worth the most money, and what they ought to be looking out for when they go collecting or trading. That takes some of the fun out of it. Although we appreciate that many people make money from trading sports cards, to us it’s more like playing online slots. Everyone knows that you can make money – perhaps even big money, choose from the best online casino promotions – from playing online slots, but they also know that you’re paying for a chance to do so, not a guarantee of doing so. People visit online slots websites and play the games there because they enjoy the thrill, not because they expect to come away from it richer. That’s a lot like our attitude to trading cards. We do it for the fun. If we make money from it too, that’s just a bonus.
Because football cards are generally of lower value than baseball cards, and fewer people know about the most valuable ones, it’s more likely that you might come across one of the rarest and most valuable when you least expect it. Here are the top five as of March 2020. Remember that prices change, so if you’re reading this in 2021, we can’t guarantee that they’re still the top five right now!
John Dunlop, Harvard (Mayo, 1894)
It’s the sheer strangeness of this card that drives up its value. John Dunlop was never a spectacular football player, and his career wouldn’t interest most historians of the sport. His trading card is of a great deal of interest to collectors, though. This card comes from a collection known as the N302 Mayo’s Cut Plugs, thought to be the world’s first-ever collection of football trading cards. Due to a printing error, Dunlop’s card came without his name or team on it – just a message that read ‘for chewing and smoking.’ You might have heard other traders refer to it as ‘Mayo Anonymous.’ It’s incredibly rare because of its uniqueness, and if you have one or are able to get your hands on one cheaply, you’ll have found an asset worth approximately one hundred thousand dollars.
Joe Namath Rookie Card, New York (Topps, 1965)
Even if you know nothing about trading cards – which is unlikely, given that you’re on our website – you’ll probably recognize Joe Namath’s rookie card from 1965 on sight. It’s the equivalent of a poster child for football trading cards – the card by which all other cards are judged. A combination of the bright yellow background and the intensity of Namath’s stare has given the card a strange form of immortality. It’s also larger than your average trading card – a fact that has made those few examples of it that still exist prone to wear, tear, and damage over the years. The current going rate for the card is $150,000.
Jim Brown Rookie Card, Cleveland Browns (Topps, 1958)
A lot of people passionately believe that Jim Brown (known as Jimmy to his friends) was the greatest fullback of his era, and perhaps even the greatest fullback of all time. We’re here to debate trading cards rather than sporting accomplishments, so we won’t get into tackling that question, but there’s no denying he’s a legendary player. Cleveland Browns fans still talk of him in hushed tones, and happily, he’s still alive to enjoy the adulation and respect afforded to him at the age of 84. Let’s hope that he’s still around for a while to come yet. We wonder if he’s got a collection of his old trading cards at home somewhere? If he does, he might be interested to know that his Topps rookie card from 1958 is worth $225,000.
Tom Brady Rookie Card, New England Patriots (Autograph, Playoff Contenders, 2000)
Conventional wisdom might tell you that a trading card has to be several decades old in order to become truly rare and valuable, but you should never listen to conventional wisdom when it comes to trading cards – especially when Tom Brady is involved. The legendary quarterback has been in the game for so long that he’s come in and out of fashion as a player four or five times. Some of the press say he’s the definitive greatest of all time, while others (rather cruelly) say that he’s not even the best of his generation. Personally, we think anyone who says Brady isn’t on the all-time list is probably just doing it for attention. He’s a legend that transcends the sport, and this twenty-year-old card that dates back to the start of his career can sell for as much as $450,000 if you happen to own one. There are hundreds of different Tom Brady trading cards in the world. This is the one you want to find.
Bronko Nagurski Rookie Card (National Chicle, 1935)
Not even Tom Brady can hold a candle to the great Bronko Nagurski when it comes to trading card value. Back in the 1930s, if you saw this terrifying man running at you, your best option might have been to get out of his way. Now, if you see his trading card anywhere, run directly at it. The card captures him in his University of Minnesota days, where he was named as an All-American, but it was his career with the Chicago Bears that put him in the NFL Hall of Fame as one of the very first inductees. This card was hard to get hold of at the time of its release, and it’s even harder to find now. Those few lucky souls who do possess a copy should get it insured – it’s worth $750,000 on a standard day, and may go as high as a million if you find the right collector.