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 the pack in this vintage revival was the iconic 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card. A hallmark of baseball card collecting, this card saw nearly 14,000 new graded copies in 2023, outpacing 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 cemented its place as a cornerstone of sports card collecting.
In the realm of baseball, the 1980s era was further defined by the 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson rookie card, which saw 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 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 leading the submissions. The 1970s were marked by Walter Payton’s 1976 rookie card in football and George Brett’s 1975 rookie card in baseball, each joining the ranks of the most graded cards.
Interestingly, the 1950s basketball cards, though few 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, outpacing the Topps version.
The grading of vintage cards didn’t just stop at the most popular names. Other notable cards from the 1950s to the 1980s that saw 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. Hockey saw a few vintage cards graded more than 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 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.
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.