What are Baseball Cards?

Baseball Cards have been around for over a century and continue to attract newcomers to the hobby of collecting every day. This article explores the many card types & collection themes.

What are Baseball Cards?

Baseball Cards are Big Business

Collecting baseball cards is a rewarding hobby that allows you to build a collection as unique as its owner. You can collect several types of cards with different themes to give your collection a specific focus. The possibilities are nearly endless, and today's article will give a brief history of baseball cards and how they came to be hot items for collectors over the years.

What are Baseball Cards?

Baseball is a sport created in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. By the 1860s, the sport's popularity spread throughout the country. Peck and Snyder — a sporting goods store in New York — produced the first trading cards featuring baseball teams in 1868. The cards were initially used as ads given away with the baseball equipment sold. One side had an image, and the other contained the business's information.

As time passed, baseball cards featured players on one side and their statistics on the other. Baseball enthusiasts began searching for cards representing their favorite team or player and started collecting and trading them with other aficionados. Soon, a new hobby had taken hold of the American public as enthusiasm for baseball card collecting swept the nation.

Types of Baseball Cards

Before you start building your collection, you should know what types of cards exist to decide the kind of set you want to compile. Here's a look at each type and where you can find them.


Base Cards

Base cards are the basic cards that are included in standard sets. They usually come in sets of 100 that are broken down into two series. The sets typically feature the best players from the prior season, while others only feature the top stars. Sets featuring big-name stars may have fewer than 100 cards in the set.

Rookie Cards

Rookie cards are base cards included in a major set from the player's first year. Because they're highly sought after, rookie baseball cards carry a higher premium.

The rules around rookie cards have changed over the years. During the 1990s and early 2000s, cards were produced for low-level minor league players and promising draft picks. This practice created a surplus of cards representing players who never made it to the Major Leagues.

In 2006, Major League Baseball (MLB) created a logo to identify rookie cards and only permitted players to be included in base sets the same year of their Major League debut.


This is a baseball card with the player's certified autograph on the front. The autograph is usually placed in one of three ways. If the player is deceased, it's taken from a document or a check they signed.

Sticker autographs are placed on baseball cards by the manufacturer but are often frowned upon by collectors. They prefer a hand-signed card that the player actually handled.


A subset typically consists of 10 to 40 cards within a base set. The subset of cards features players with similar traits like base stealing or power hitters. These cards have a unique design that helps them stand out from the others, but they're usually about half the value of the player's base card.


When the photo and design of a base card are used but a small change is implemented to alter its appearance, they are considered parallel cards. The parallel could have a colored border, foil, or die-cut style.

Insert Cards

When a special edition card is placed right in the middle of a pack, it is referred to as an insert card. Like subsets, these smaller sets contain rarer cards. You can often tell them apart by the foil serial numbering located on the front or back, or it has a design that is considerably different than cards in the base series.

Relic Cards

Relic cards take game-used memorabilia from historic game figures, cut it into patches, and place it on a card. You must be careful when collecting these, as many fraudulent cards flooded the market in the early 2000s.

Keep in mind that there's a difference between game-used and player-worn memorabilia. Player-worn items can be worn for a photo shoot and then cut up and used for cards, whereas game-used means it was worn during actual game-play.

Digital Cards

Digital baseball cards are only available for online purchase and storage; they are not printed on paper. They can be safely stored in a digital wallet. Topps has produced several digital sets, and some companies are looking into producing non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Digital cards may be the wave of the future.

Listen to collectors talk about how far Topps has come and the company’s future plans in an interview by CBS This Morning: A look at the history and future of Topps baseball cards.

Which Baseball Cards Should You Collect?

In the initial start when collecting baseball cards, many people don't have a direction. Getting your hands on a valuable piece of history is usually the goal. As time progresses, you want to make meaningful purchases.

It comes down to determining what you want to collect and how much you want to spend. The following section contains different themes you may want to consider before starting a collection.

Set Building

Set building compiles an example of every card in a specific series. For example, one common set is Topps Series I and II. Completing the entire set can help those new to baseball cards decide how to build a focused, purposeful collection.

As you build the set, you may become a fan of certain players, pushing your collection theme in another direction.

Collecting Players

If you're a really big fan of certain players, finding every card ever issued for them may be the theme of your collection. If the player was not a superstar, you might run into an issue acquiring postretirement cards. However, you'll find an abundance of cards from Hall of Famers.

Whether too many cards or not enough are on the trading market, collecting specific players can be difficult but rewarding as you discover obscure, low-print runs that aren't easily found. The hunt for your favorite player can be a fun outlet as you pursue a journey to add a prized possession to your collection.

Collecting Teams

Do you come from a hometown where baseball is still viewed as the greatest American pastime? Are you proud of a particular team and their accomplishments on the baseball diamond? If so, team collecting may be the way to go. All you have to do is collect as many cards as possible from your beloved team.

Vintage Collecting

The definition of vintage varies, but most use it to refer to cards from 1979 and older. That includes set building, player, and team collecting in one category. The vintage collector tries to find cards that are in the best possible condition.

Online Buying and Selling

The ability to buy and sell items online accompanied growth in the baseball card industry. Marketplaces began springing up all over the Internet. Baseball card trading became part of a billion-dollar, worldwide trading card business.

You may be holding onto a baseball card collection you've had since childhood, wondering if you're secretly harboring millions of dollars. It could be possible. Just in case the cards are of value, you should take a few steps to maintain the value.

Storage, storage, storage. Use a sleeve or holder to protect baseball cards from harmful environmental elements. Separate older and rookie cards from the others as they're the cards that typically fetch the highest value.

Where to Buy Baseball Cards

It's not difficult to find baseball cards online, but you don't want to end up with fakes, so shopping with manufacturers is best if you have a wholesaler's license to purchase baseball cards in bulk. Not all marketplaces can be trusted.

Here is a list of the top baseball card manufacturers:

If you're not authorized to make direct bulk purchases, here are reputable online marketplaces:

Where to Sell Baseball Cards

As an online salesperson, the Internet is your oyster. You can sell on one or more of the many websites that collectors flock to daily in search of that perfect card for their collection. Below is a list of marketplaces that welcome the sale of your baseball cards:

Take a Swing at Collecting Baseball Cards

Collecting baseball cards is a hobby that has been practiced in America for over 100 years and shows no signs of slowing down. If you're considering jumping into the game, do so confidently. Even if it takes you a while to find your footing, hundreds of forums and communities can, and will help you along your journey.


Q: What baseball cards are hot right now?
A: According to Break Stuff, the 2019 Bowman Chrome Prospect Julio Rodriguez is the hottest at this time.

Q: Which brand of baseball cards are most valuable?
A: Topps is considered the most consistently valuable brand.

Q: What is the rarest baseball card?
A: A T-206 Honus Wagner is considered the rarest baseball card.