Last Updated On: August 14th, 2023
Joe Montana is one of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history.
A household name of the 80’s and early 90’s, Montana, alongside the best wide receiver of all time, Jerry Rice, led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowls. Montana was a winner – going a perfect 4 for 4 at the Super Bowl. Only two other quarterbacks have at least four Super Bowl trophies to their names: Terry Bradshaw (4), and Tom Brady (7).
Younger generations of NFL fans barely know anything about Joe Cool, but it’s for certain they’ve come across headlines of his rookie card selling for insane amounts of money. This post highlights the Joe Montana rookie card, diving into the 1981 Topps rookie card, its value, price history, what a Montana signed rookie card sells for, and other notable rookie-era Joe Montana cards worth collecting.
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Joe Montana Topps Rookie Card
Though Montana would eventually become known as the “Comeback Kid” for his knack for stealing wins late in games, Montana was just a toddler when Topps’ #216 debuted in 1981.
And while the 1981 #216 is considered Montana’s rookie card, the 1981 season technically wasn’t Montana’s rookie year.
In fact, by 1981, Montana had two seasons of professional football under his belt. Taken in the 1979 draft, he was the fourth quarterback selected, behind Jack Thompson of Washington State, Phil Simms of Morehead State, and Steve Fuller of Clemson. Despite appearing in all 16 games of the 1979 season, Montana attempted less than two-dozen passes as a backup to starter Steve DeBerg.
But Montana had secured the starting job by 1981, when the Joe Montana Topps rookie card was released as #216 in a 528-card set. The portrait – Montana mid-throw in a white Niners jersey – would inspire a generation of Bay Area football fans and instill fear into the hearts of defensive backs across the league.
Montana’s ascension in the 1980s came at a perfect time for card collecting. The hobby vastly expanded, with new companies and series joining the marketplace. This was a net positive for other ‘80s stars like Jerry Rice and Lawrence Taylor.
Joe Montana Rookie Card Value
But the ‘80s was also a notoriously challenging decade for card collecting. In the moment it felt wonderful: the era’s top stars appeared widely available. But behind the scenes, companies were greatly overproducing cards in response to the growing demand, which in turn tanked the value of those same cards.
Fortunately, the Joe Montana Topps rookie card has maintained its value over the years, thanks in large part to Montana’s legacy of dominance on the field. Of course, it also helps that every time a new quarterback is crowned “The Goat” (Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Peyton Manning, etc.), it automatically brings discussions around Montana’s legacy to the fore.
And given his status among his sport’s most legendary players (not unlike Michael Jordan for basketball), his value will likely only hold up over time.
Like most cards, the value of a #216 Montana card varies depending on its grade. Here are the average values of graded Montana rookie cards according to PSA:
|PSA 10||PSA 9||PSA 8||PSA 7||PSA 6||PSA 5|
PSA 10 Gem Mint Condition Value
Less than 1% of PSA graded Joe Montana rookie cards resulted in a Gem Mint grade. As a result of such a low pop, a Joe Montana rookie card PSA grade 10 card is worth a small fortune. MoneyMade estimates that a Gem Mint Joe Montana #216 should be priced at $73,500. More recently, prices have come down just a bit, with PSA noting that its most recent sale for a PSA 10 Gem Mint went for (only!) $53,000.
Despite Joe Cool’s legacy, his #216 card hasn’t always been so wildly expensive. As recently as 2017, one could buy a PSA 10 graded Montana rookie card for anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000. While that amount of money is no drop in the bucket, it was selling at almost 1/5th the value of what it sells at today.
Prices for Montana’s rookie card steadily rose beginning in late 2020 as the sports card hobby experienced a major surge, with sales not falling below $40,000.
Joe Montana Autographed Cards
Unlike modern cards, most Montana cards from the ‘80s didn’t come autographed. Rather, these cards have Montana’s scrawl across his portrait.
Joe Montana autographed cards also come in a variety of forms, with some grades only pertaining to the autograph’s authenticity and some covering both the auto and the card’s physical state. It’s no surprise that the latter is far rarer and far more valuable in a high grade than just the former.
Joe Montana Signed Rookie Card
A Joe Montana signed rookie card holds its value even more impressively than its unsigned equivalents. For instance, while a PSA 5 card unsigned might go for $100, a Joe Montana signed card of the same quality is routinely priced at ten times that price.
Most Expensive Signed Card
A PSA Gem Mint 10 signed Joe Montana Topps #216 has not sold in many years, however, one is currently for sale on PWCC for $2.5 million or best offer, by far the priciest of the bunch and also one of the most valuable cards to come out of the 1980s. That card is a true Gem Mint 10 with perfect 10 autograph: it’s listed as a 1 of 1 by PSA.
Other Joe Montana Rookie Era Cards
The #216 Topps card isn’t the only collectible from Montana’s rookie season featuring the future Hall of Famer. That same year, 1981, MSA produced a 32-card set of football stars from the era, including Terry Bradshaw.
Among the crop of young QBs MSA advertised was Montana, although he looks almost nothing like the clean-shaven superstar America came to know during the ‘80s.
But Montana’s long locks aren’t the only distinguishing features from this set.
The MSA card more closely resembles a token than a traditional card. The circular card was a hallmark of MSA, whose full name was Mark Schecter Associates. They produced tons of these same circular cards featuring baseball players throughout the ‘70s and included them in promotional deals like a Burger King kids meal. The football set that included the Montana token was inserted in loaves of Holsum bread and stocked on grocery store shelves.
But good lucking finding one in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition. According to PSA, there are only 16 Holsum discs with a Gem Mint grading, compared to 70 with either an 8 or 9.
In January 2018, the first (and only) PSA 10 Holsum disc was sold for $400, making it roughly as valuable as a PSA 8 Montana #216.
Montana’s second card is a reminder that, despite a player’s performance, the rookie card tends to be the most valuable. Case in point, Montana’s 1982 Topps card literally features the QB as an “All Pro” — but even the PSA 10s only go for around $775.
Other Joe Montana rookie era cards see their values similarly drop off. A Gem Mint Topps 1983 Montana card #169 usually goes for $855, while the following season’s 1984 Topps Joe Montana # 384 card (Dan Marino’s rookie card year) most recently sold for $750.
For those hoping to cash in on other greats from Montana’s era, you may be in for a rude awakening. The second-most valuable card from the Topps 1981 football set – the #400 Walter Payton – fetches just $2,500 at a PSA 10 grade.
Even more shocking, the most valuable card from the following year’s set, Lawrence Taylor, is valued at just $100 for a PSA 9. This speaks to an enduring lesson about football cards: no matter how talented a defensive player is, an equally successful quarterback’s baseline is almost always higher.
Ironically, the second-most valuable football card of that era belongs to a player integral to Montana’s success on the field: the greatest wide receiver of all time, Jerry Rice. A Gem Mint PSA 10 graded Jerry Rice #161 from the 1986 Topps series sold most recently for $75,000.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much is Joe Montana’s rookie card worth?
Measuring Joe Montana’s rookie card worth varies depending on the grading. Low-end graded cards can go for less than $100, while the top-of-the line graded cards are valued around several hundred dollars and up to nearly $70,000.
What is the highest selling Joe Montana card?
The highest selling Joe Montana card was notched with the auction of a 1981 Topps rookie card for $103,200 at Goldin Auctions in March, 2022.
How many Joe Montana rookie cards were made?
The 1980s was a decade of card overproduction, Montana’s rookie card included. PSA has graded almost 30,000 Montana rookies, while BGS has graded 10,006. Compare that with the best-selling card from just a decade before – the 1971 Terry Bradshaw – which has a BGS pop count at less than 1,400.
What year did Joe Montana rookie card come out?
The Joe Montana Topps #216 debuted in 1981, two years into Montana’s NFL tenure.
The 1981 Topps Joe Montana rookie card is unconditionally one of the best sports cards ever produced, let alone its status as a 1980s football card. And given the preeminence of the position of quarterback in modern day football, the Joe Montana rookie card value is likely to remain high.
Whether you’re a hardcore collector or simply just a fan of football greatness, the Joe Montana rookie card has a special appeal. It represents an important card due to its historical significance and enduring value. With multiple different price-points based on the grade, there is an opportunity to own one with any budget.