In 2012, a man bought an 1865 baseball card featuring a team called the Brooklyn Atlantics at a Maine yard sale. The man paid a total of $100 for the card, a few chairs and several other items. The card later sold at auction for $92,000.
Unfortunately for bargain hunters, old, rare baseball cards don’t often turn up at yard sales anymore. But other potentially valuable baseball collectibles sometimes do sell for very small amounts at yard sales and flea markets.
Keep an eye open for…
Programs from notable games. Game-day programs sometimes sell for just a dollar or two at garage sales and flea markets. Sellers might not even realize that they have baseball game programs—they become mixed in with stacks of old magazines.
Most programs have little value, but there are exceptions, including programs autographed by players…All-Star Game and World Series programs from the early 1970s or before…and programs from games where notable events occurred.
Examples: A 1954 Chicago Cubs program with rookie and future Hall of Famer Ernie Banks starting at shortstop sold for $39 on eBay…a 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers program from Jackie Robinson’s first year in the majors sold for $99.99…a 1951 program from Mickey Mantle’s first game brought $401…a program from the 1928 World Series fetched $665. Programs from the 1903 “World’s Championship Game” (the first modern World Series) have sold for well into five figures.
Helpful: If you find a program for a regular-season game and have a smartphone, enter the team names and game date into a search engine to see if anything notable happened in that game, such as a no-hitter or the first appearance of a future star player.
Old magazines featuring baseball players. Like programs, these often get mixed in with stacks of other old periodicals and sell for just a dollar or two at yard sales. Most are worth just a few dollars, but some have more value, including magazines autographed by players…magazines from the 1920s and earlier…and magazines from the 1950s and earlier that have especially popular players on their covers.
Examples: Issues of sports magazines from the early to mid-1950s featuring a young Mickey Mantle on the cover—such as the April 1953 issue of Sport…or the June 18, 1956 issue of Sports Illustrated—can bring perhaps $30 to $50 in great condition. Copies of Baseball Magazine from before 1920 often are worth $20 or more, depending on condition and cover subject. The 1914 issue with a 15-page article by Christy Mathewson (see above) sold for about $4,000 at auction. The April 13, 1962 issue of Life magazine is an often-overlooked baseball collectible that can fetch $70 or more—actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are on the cover, but baseball cards of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris are bound inside. (Make sure this insert is present and undamaged before buying.) The first issue of Sports Illustrated—that’s the August 16, 1954 issue with third baseman Eddie Mathews on the cover—can bring $50 to $150, depending on condition.
Baseball books. First editions of certain baseball books from decades past can have value. Examples: First editions of memoirs written by early baseball stars including Cap Anson (A Ball Player’s Career, published in 1900) and Christy Mathewson (Pitching in a Pinch, published in 1912) can sell for hundreds of dollars in top condition. The 1912 first edition of Who’s Who in Baseball can bring $1,000 or more in top condition. First editions of modern classic baseball books, such as Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season, and any of Roger Angell’s baseball books, are not worth much now, but first editions in pristine condition could eventually climb in value.
Baseball board games. Baseball-themed board games from the 1970s and earlier can have value—yet they sometimes can be purchased for a few bucks at yard sales.
Examples: Copies of the Ethan Allen All-Star Baseball Game from the 1940s and 1950s can bring $50 or more. A copy of Milton Bradley’s 1969 Official Baseball Game recently sold for $66 on eBay. Sets of cards from a popular game called Strat-O-Matic Baseball can sell for hundreds of dollars if they date to the 1960s or 1970s. The value of these Strat-O-Matic game cards is easy to overlook because they don’t look like baseball cards—there is no picture of a ballplayer. Each card lists a player’s name and a few statistics followed by several columns of potential at-bat results.
Vintage baseball-related photos. Original photos of baseball players or teams from the 19th or early-20th century often sell for $20 to $50, sometimes more—even if the player is just a Little Leaguer or an anonymous amateur.
Examples: A small “tintype” photo of a baseball player from the 1870s recently sold for $1,136 on eBay…a photo of a 1930s Maine amateur team sold for $20.
Examples: Ticket stubs from Don Larsen’s perfect game—game five of the 1956 World Series—can bring $300 or more on eBay…a ticket from the first game at Dodger Stadium in 1962 recently sold for $256.
Items related to likely future Hall of Famers. When former star players are elected to the Hall of Fame, collectibles related to them increase sharply in value—sometimes by 50% or more. This surge in value can be especially great when the Hall of Famer played for a team based in a very large city.
Players who have a solid shot at getting into the Hall in the coming three to five years include Ken Griffey, Jr.…Vladimir Guerrero…Trevor Hoffman…Chipper Jones…Mike Piazza…Tim Raines…Iván Rodríquez…Jim Thome…and Omar Vizquel.
Example: Mike Piazza’s 1992 Bowman rookie card sells for around $15 in near-mint condition. If he gets into the Hall, it might climb to $20 or $30.
Helpful: Don’t hold on to collectibles related to newly inducted Hall of Famers too long. The surge in value tends to fade away by the following year.