You’ve no doubt already called us out for certain omissions from our Top 10 Hobby Icons. Before you start writing a nastygram to our editor, take a look at our next 15. You’ll find some of the missing pieces here.
11. LOU GEHRIG. He was always in the shadow of Babe, but the Iron Horse is iconic in his own right.
• Card of choice: 1925 Exhibits. A PSA 6 fetched $782,400 at Goldin Auctions in January.
Hobby Icons: The Top 10
T-12. HANK AARON and WILLIE MAYS. We hate leaving the classy Aaron and beloved Mays out of our Top 10, but let’s be honest: The hobby undervalues both.
• Aaron card of choice: 1954 Topps. PSA 8 examples sold in 2021 for $51,000-$55,000. A PSA 9 sold for $430,500.
• Mays card of choice: Like Mantle, Mays has a great-looking 1951 Bowman, but it’s his 1952 Topps that stirs collectors. Examples in 8 condition approach $200,000, with a 9 pushing or exceeded $500,000.
14. KOBE BRYANT. Already a prime collecting target before his tragic death in 2020, his loss elevated the hobby’s appreciation of all things Kobe.
• Card of choice: Bryant’s 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractor sells for tens of thousands, if not more. A PSA 10 recently drew $135,300. Variations can go crazy: A rare 1-of-2 “Black Label” parallel insert sold in March for $1.8 million.
15. TY COBB. Cobb was baseball’s most dynamic player of his time, with an all-out, rough-and-tumble style of play.
• Card of choice: Cobb has four different cards in the T206 set. While neither are as rare or valuable as Wagner’s T206, they can get into six figures if the advertisement on the reverse side says “Ty Cobb/King of the Smoking Tobacco World.” Robert Edward Auctions sold two for $204,000 (PSA 2) and $192,000 (PSA 1.5).
16. MUHAMMAD ALI. The man formerly known as Cassius Clay transcended boxing even when he was active. After retiring, his popularity grew by leaps and bounds, and he remained fan-friendly and gracious right to the end.
• Card of choice: 1960 Hemmets Journal #23. Heritage sold a PSA 9 for $210,000 in January.
17. DEREK JETER. The Yankee captain was a collector magnet throughout his career, and his induction into the Hall of Fame are icing on the cake.
• Card of choice: 1993 Upper Deck SP Foil. Goldin Actions sold a PSA 10 for $480,000 in May.
18. JACKIE ROBINSON. He epitomized courage when he broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, making a permanent and positive impact that isn’t lost on collectors.
• Card of choice: 1947 Leaf, which can sell for $250,000 to $500,000 in 7 or 8 condition. Don’t forget his 1952 Topps. In 2021, two PSA 9s sold for an identical $960,000.
19. JOHNNY UNITAS. Football card popularity lagged behind baseball cards in the 1950s, but the emergence of Johnny U. got collectors fired up, and he remains a top figure in the vintage hobby market.
• Card of choice: 1957 Topps, which can push $100,000 in 9 condition. For a more budget-friendly option, a grade-8 is $5,000 to $10,000.
20. BART STARR. He was the face of a dynasty that won five NFL championships in the 1960s. His high character and leadership (and MVP awards in Super Bowls I and II) attracted generations of Starr collectors.
Card of choice: Starr joined Unitas in Topps’ 1957 set on a card that can be had, surprisingly, for around $10,000 in 8 condition.
21. NOLAN RYAN. To use a Bruce Springsteen phrase, “He could throw that speedball by you, make you look like a fool.”
Card of choice: 1968 Topps, which can sell for $25,000 to $50,000 in 9 condition. Gem-Mint-10s are meteoric, selling for more than $600,000 twice in 2021.
22. WAYNE GRETZKY. We haven’t given hockey enough love here, but The Great One puts a stop to that.
Card of choice: 1979-80 OPC, which can sell for $150,000 to $300,000 in 9 condition. The U.S.-distributed Topps version (produced in greater supply) sells for $50,000 to $100,000 in 9 condition.
23. TIGER WOODS. None of golf’s biggest names — Hogan, Snead, Jones, Palmer, Nicklaus, Player — have fired up collectors like Woods. He was red-hot in the early 2000s, experienced a soft period in the 2010s, and has come roaring back as a collector favorite.
Card of choice: 2001 Upper Deck SP Authentic Stars autogaphed card. Upper Deck produced 900 of these, but they’re still selling at $50,000 to $100,000 or more in Gem-Mint condition. A rare Gold version (one of 100) sold for $336,000 in March.
24. DALE EARNHARDT. NASCAR collectors have always idolized the late driver of the 3 car. Earnhardt’s popularity extended well beyond racing circles.
Card of choice: NASCAR collectors tend to favor die-cast cars and race-used items, but Earnhardt’s 1989 Maxx card sells for $750 to $1,000 if graded 10.
T25. LARRY BIRD and MAGIC JOHNSON. We should call this sidebar “the next 16,” because we’re packaging Bird and Magic as a single entity. The two are forever linked, even in the hobby, where their rookie cards can be found on the same tri-panel issue with Julius Erving.
Card of choice: 1980-81 Topps, which has been scorching hot. In the past few years, it’s gone from $10,000 to one that reached $861,000 (PSA 10) in 2021.