Last Updated On: July 14th, 2023
Baseball card collectors have always considered signed baseball cards an extra special addition to their personal collection, especially those with autographs of their favorite players.
Card companies have taken notice. In the last 20 years, the market has seen an explosion of autographed cards, including those with innovative designs and relics to bring collectors closer to their favorite stars. It’s not uncommon to see autographed cards include game used jersey patches, game used bat pieces, and even dual or triple player autographs (if not more).
The proliferation of baseball cards on the market can be overwhelming, but that’s where this buying guide comes into play. Here’s what you’ll learn in the next 15 minutes of reading and clicking:
- Why collectors prefer on-card autographs over sticker autos
- Difference between aftermarket and pack-pulled autographs
- Other signed cards like booklets, cut autos, and multi-player autos
- How to ensure authenticity when buying autographed cards
- The pricing and value of hall of fame and current players’ cards
- What impacts the value of signed cards, such as rarity and condition
- Inspiration: examples of signed cards of popular players to look for
- Where to buy and sell signed baseball cards
Table of Contents
- Collecting Signed Baseball Cards
- Different Types of Signed Baseball Cards
- Factors to Consider when Collecting Signed Baseball Cards
- Signed Baseball Cards of Popular Players
- Most Popular Products and Player Autographs to Buy
Collecting Signed Baseball Cards
There’s a lot to understand about the different types of signed baseball cards available today, and why some are more sought-after than others. To be clear — they’re all very collectible cards. But based on your budget and the players’ autographs you seek to buy, the difference between a rookie card that has an on-card autograph versus one that has a sticker auto, could reflect drastically in the price. Also, the importance of authentication and condition, or grading, is more important than ever before. Let’s dive into the fundamentals and break it all down.
Different Types of Signed Baseball Cards
The following types of signed baseball cards are available in the market with differing levels of desirability, complexity, and rarity, including whether they are serial-numbered , or even unique one-of-ones.
On-card or hard-signed cards are the best kind of autographs you can find in the market. These cards were once personally handled by the players and were directly signed “on” the card. And in this context, we’re talking about on-card autographs that are pack-pulled — so collectors hunt for them by opening baseball card packs in hopes of finding one.
In the eyes of the market, there is a higher value placed on pack-pulled, on-card autographs. It could be because not only were they originally handled by the player at signing, but they are first discovered by collectors in their initial, unaltered state, and sometimes it can take hundreds or thousands of packs to find the rarer cards. There is a greater appreciation for them in this regard. You could loosely draw a correlation between the high value and preference for factory sealed collectibles versus opened ones — the latter suffers a significant drop in value as soon as the package or box is opened.
As briefly mentioned earlier, on-card autographs on relic cards are highly collectible as well since the relic cards also feature a piece of player’s memorabilia embedded on the card, as in the example with the Derek Jeter game used bat card pictured above.
Key takeaway: On-card autographs are at the top of the food chain when it comes to signed baseball cards. Find yourself a pack-pulled, on-card autograph that is preferably serial numbered, and rare.
Baseball cards with sticker autographs are never really handled by the player directly. Instead, the player is asked to sign a sheet of stickers, as with MLB pitcher Gregory Soto pictured below. The sticker sheets are then delivered back to the card manufacturer which will peel and literally stick them to each card manufactured of the player, or adhered to a multi-player signed card as we’ll talk about later. This process is more efficient for card manufacturers, and less error prone in theory. It also results in cards being in better condition as they have not been handled by players through the signing process.
While sticker autos are generally pack-pulled, there is something less exciting about them. Perhaps it’s because the stickers look cheap, or the fact that they appear more commoditized — and less important — with a player signing a sheet of 100 stickers that get slapped onto cards after-the-fact. All in all, sticker autos are typically less valued in the marketplace, but as with most things, there is still a healthy demand nonetheless.
Key takeaway: If your budget is on the lower end, there is an abundance of sticker autos to choose from in the marketplace. They’re not the #1 choice for collectors if on-card autographs can be afforded.
Aftermarket Signed Cards
Let’s assume you own a Shohei Ohtani rookie card, and you bring it to a signing event where you are lucky enough to meet the man of the hour himself. He notices you waving his card in the air and comes forward to sign the card. This would transform your rookie card into an aftermarket signed card. In other words, aftermarket signed cards are pretty much on-card autographs; however, these cards were not inserted into packs at the time of production (with one caveat which will be covered below).
As a buyer, you should only aim for aftermarket signed cards if you can confirm the authenticity of the signature. At the end of the day, scammers can forge signatures and claim it to be real to fool a naive buyer. Therefore, only invest in an aftermarket signed card that has been authenticated by a reputable grading company.
The one caveat where aftermarket autographs can magically turn into pack-pulled autographs is with a “buyback”. A buyback in simple terms is when a card that was previously released is bought back by the card manufacturer, signed by the player (unless it was signed in the aftermarket already), and then reinserted into a future product release only to be pulled again by collectors. Buybacks are a neat way to recycle cards and make them more interesting with autographs or some other special stamping, as Topps has done with several special anniversary milestones.
All in all, aftermarket signed cards are popular additions to many card collections. They’re not as popular as pack-pulled, on-card autos, but the right player and rarity can be super valuable combination.
Key takeaway: Only buy aftermarket autographed cards if they’ve been authenticated by a reputable authentication company such as PSA, BGS, or SGC.
Cut autographs, as the name suggests, are autographs of players that have been cut from elsewhere and then embedded onto a card. These external sources may include a bank check, page from a book, index card, a hand written letter or contract, or other types of documents. Cut autographs serve as a good substitution for players who have passed away and whose signatures have become scarce. Hence, cut autos aren’t on-card yet they are extremely collectible as collectors are aware of the purpose of utilizing cut autos on sports cards. A good example is Honus Wagner’s cut autograph card produced by Panini.
Key takeaway: Cut autographs are incredibly popular typically because they feature legends of the game that are no longer with us today. Names like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, and Jackie Robinson are some of the most valuable baseball cut signature cards ever produced. Not to forget the Wagner featured above which sold for $4,800 in November, 2022.
Multi-player autographs are signed baseball cards that can feature anywhere from two (dual auto), three (triple auto), or up to 10 or more player autographs as you’ll find below with stunning autographed booklets.
Unsurprisingly, the more player autographs on a given card, the more likely it will be made up of sticker autographs. Just imagine trying to coordinate on-card signings from multiple different players at different shipping addresses, all while maintaining quality control and getting a card back in great condition. In any case, there are some cards which will be hybrid with one player hard-signing, and another player’s auto adhered to the card as a sticker.
The value of multi-player autographs varies depending on the popularity of the players involved, the condition of the card, and the scarcity of signatures. For example, the dual auto card of Trout and Ohtani pictured above sold for $3,840 at PWCC auction in June, 2023. It’s a stellar example of a multi-player autographed card, with two superstar players in their primes, crisp-blue hard-signed autos, with only 25 copies produced, and in BGS 9.5 Gem Mint condition.
Key takeaway: Multi-player signed cards are more of a great thing in one unique card. The value and desirability will depend on the players, and similarly whether they are on-card vs. sticker autos.
Booklets and Oversized Autographed Cards
As sports card manufacturers have upped the ante on card design, booklets and other forms of oversized autographed cards have hit the market. Typically booklets will be produced in small quantities given the complexity of assembling them, and to ensure they are rare hits for collectors to pursue when opening products.
The booklet pictured above is from the 2022 Topps Luminaries baseball product and features 10 exceptional pitchers, most of them former players, along with Shohei Ohtani making a welcome appearance. Imagine owning an autographed booklet of 10 (potential) hall of fame players in a neat booklet that folds up. Sticker autos or not, it’s such an interesting collector piece and undoubtedly would be the pinnacle of many collections.
While booklet autos are one form of oversized cards, many are also special edition cards that go beyond the standard dimensions (2.5″ x 3.5″) of a sports card. They have a relatively bigger surface area that allows for a larger signature. The Nolan Ryan pictured below goes for about $300; it is graded by PSA as a 10, which is Gem Mint, with the pristine autograph rated 10 as well.
Key takeaway: Autographed multi-player booklets and other oversized signed cards are rare and sometimes extravagantly fancy. While they’re popular pieces to own, they’re not usually at the top of a card collector’s list given their nonstandard, bulky size.
Factors to Consider when Collecting Signed Baseball Cards
Now that we have a thorough understanding of the types of signed baseball cards, with their own appeal and some nuance, there are several additional factors to consider as you approach an actual purchase (or trade, of course).
Whether you’re buying signed baseball cards of hall of fame players like Mantle Mantle, or middle-of-the-pack players on your favorite baseball team, it should come as no surprise that an autographed card authenticated by a top-notch company should be considered the absolute minimum requirement.
When something becomes significantly more valuable, it’s reasonable to expect that it attracts more attention. Unfortunately, along with increased attention is also the likelihood of more foul play, or bad actors.
Signed baseball cards — and even memorabilia — have always carried substantial value, especially with the most popular names in baseball. The potential of forgery cannot be understated, and that’s why authentication is extremely important when you’re looking to make a splash in the autographed cards arena.
In principle, do not buy autographed cards that have not been authenticated by a grading company, particularly when it comes to aftermarket autographs. Since an aftermarket autograph is one where the signature was applied to an already existing (pulled) card, alarm bells should be going off as to whether the signature is indeed real. Compare this with a pack-pulled autograph, where it’s serial numbered and a well known card included in the checklist of the product.
Keep in mind this post is not about convincing you to only buy authenticated cards and stay away from raw, ungraded cards. The main takeaway is to simply proceed with caution when it comes to signed cards of the aftermarket variety. The following table summarizes the risks based on the type of card.
|Type of Auto||Risk Factor if Unauthenticated|
|On-card auto, pack-pulled||Low risk: Since it is pack-pulled it can be verified against the product checklist. Treat as any raw card purchase.|
|Sticker auto, pack-pulled||Low risk: As with above, a pack-pulled sticker auto can also be verified against the product checklist. Treat as any raw card purchase.|
|Aftermarket auto||High risk: Aftermarket auto on any random card can have a high risk of forgery. Only purchase if the autograph is authenticated.|
|Buyback auto||Low risk: A buyback auto is the only aftermarket auto that is low risk given it can also be verified as a product hit and comes out of a pack or similar sealed product.|
Player Popularity and Significance
The baseball card hobby is as vibrant as ever. With fresh hobby participants entering the market over the last few years, there has been a shift — or perhaps additional emphasis — towards baseball prospects that have yet to make it to the big leagues. It’s borderline manic, or at the very least highly speculative on the part of card flippers. Even so, hall of fame players and legends in a league of their own are equally as collectible with interest levels at an all time high.
The player(s) you choose to collect will undoubtedly reflect in the prices paid, and the supply in the marketplace. For example, there are plenty of Mike Trout signed cards available as each year a trove of cards are released into the market. That said, Mike Trout is also super popular, so the demand for his autographs is always elevated. The off-season, injury, and player performance will cause demand, and price, to ebb and flow. Stay tuned on valuation, as we will cover far more about specific players — including Mike Trout — and card values later on in this post.
For right now, consider what your motivation is for buying signed cards. Is it for the love of collecting? Then your budget and picking something that resonates with you will be your primary concerns. If your motivation is buying an up-and-comer and selling later for a hefty profit, then timing your entry and exit will be the differentiating factor for success and failure (let alone picking the right players).
Rarity and Scarcity
When a card is considered rare or scarce, from the standpoint that there are fewer copies available in the market or among collectors, it tends to carry a higher value. The limited supply can drive prices higher particularly when considering players that are actually in demand. Mickey Mantle is perpetually in demand. A one of one or low quantity (and preferably serially-numbered) signed card will usually carry a premium valuation versus one that is readily available.
One example of how scarce autographs can play out in the marketplace is with MLB logoman patch autos. First, they are scarce given card manufacturers normally create them as 1/1 cards and collectors love the big MLB logo patch as it’s incredibly cooler than two or even three-color jersey patches. Second, if the baseball player is a premier name in the game, like Bryce Harper, the demand easily outpaces the supply and you end up with higher prices.
Condition of the Card and Autograph
Condition, and by extension grade, has always been an important factor in defining the value of all sports cards and collectibles. Relatively speaking, a Gem Mint card and autograph will be much higher in price in relation to the same card with imperfections.
Even just the autograph grade alone will fetch a higher price if it’s deemed a 10 auto (Gem Mint) versus one that has only been “authenticated“. Notice in the two Griffey rookie examples below, a PSA 9 Mint card with Gem Mint 10 auto grade sold for $720 recently in June 2023, while a similar PSA 9 Mint card with an “Auth” auto — for authentic — only sold for $532.
As a buyer, make sure to review the autograph closely if it has not been given a numerical grade. If the ink is smudged or the signature itself is rushed, streaky, or touches the edge of the card, it will impact the value of the card.
Signed Baseball Cards of Popular Players
Now that we have covered the core aspects of buying signed baseball cards, let’s get some inspiration by looking at some examples. The rich history of baseball — spanning over 100 years — affords collectors a ton of players to choose from. And there is a healthy demand for signed cards of past and present hall of famers, household names, and future superstars of the game.
Hall of Famers and Legends
Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Ty Cobb are baseball players that you’ve probably heard of. When it comes to their signed cards, they command a very high price due to supply scarcity, and of course their stable and growing fan bases.
Take for example this 1955 Topps Jackie Robinson signed card, which was produced approximately eight years into Robinson’s major league career. It’s graded as PSA 5 Excellent, with a Mint 9 Auto grade. As a vintage card with an aftermarket autograph, this card sold for over $50,000 at Goldin Auctions in March, 2023. The sheer limited supply of hard-signed Jackie Robinson cards from the vintage era commands a price most people won’t be able to afford. We looked it up: only 14 total signed 1955 Topps cards exist in the PSA population report.
Now let’s compare the ’55 Topps sale with a modern day card, such as this cut autograph produced by Upper Deck in 2001, in the SP Legendary Cuts product. It’s not the prettiest card by comparison, but this BGS 8.5 NM-MT+ graded card, with a Mint 9 signature sold for $5,550 in October, 2022, via eBay auctions. Only 1/10th of the price! Keep in mind Upper Deck produced 147 of these cards, as noted with the serial number in blue ink right on the card.
When it comes to modern day legends, Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, and Ken Griffey Jr. are three notable players with large fan bases. Particularly Ken Griffey Jr.
The following 1999 SP Signature Edition Griffey in a BGS 9 Mint grade, with Gem Mint 10 auto, notched a price of $1,050 at PWCC in July, 2023. That’s a healthy price for an on-card autograph of The Kid, even though the card is not serial numbered (which tends to usually increase value). If you’re wondering, the card has been graded a total of 82 times according to the BGS pop report. One thing to keep in mind is that some players’ cards tend to be more valuable when they’re wearing the team’s uniform they were best known to play for. In Griffey’s case, Mariners gear will perform better in the market over his cards donning the Reds uniform.
Present Day Stars and Rising Stars
Switching gears, present day superstars like Mike Trout, Ronald Acuña, and Aaron Judge are always in high demand, especially the latter after beating Roger Maris’ American League home run record in 2022.
Judge’s Bowman Chrome rookie card auto in PSA 10 Gem Mint can top $3,500 as of June, 2023, particularly with the auto rated a 10 as in the example below. With the auto simply graded as authentic (no numerical grade), the card can go for $3,000 or even less. This is similar to the Griffey Upper Deck rookie card we talked about earlier.
When it comes to rising stars, Julio Rodriguez, Wander Franco, and Bobby Witt Jr. are some of the most popular names in the game. It’s also pretty cool that Bobby Witt Jr. is a card collector like the rest of us.
Julio Rodriguez recently participated in the 2023 MLB All-Star game. He hit a record 41 homers to win his first round matchup of the Home Run Derby, but eventually would lose in the latter rounds. While Julio has been un-Julio-like this year when it comes to his batting stats, it’s moments like this that can jumpstart demand for a player’s cards.
The following Rodriguez rookie patch auto from Topps Dynasty’s 2022 product sold for a little under $8,000, one day prior to the All-Star derby performance. The card is numbered to just 5 made, and sealed in the Topps Dynasty case in ungraded, raw condition. It’s also an amazing patch of the Mariners logo, and game-used which is also a selling point for some collectors. It’ll be interesting whether Julio’s cards like this one see an increase in value in coming weeks after his amazing All-Star performance in front of the Seattle crowd.
Baseball prospects are always cycling in and out, with new players appearing every year while others get called up to the big leagues and make a big splash (or otherwise). One recent example of a prospect with a ton of hype is none other than Elly De La Cruz. And the hype was warranted. Cruz just made his MLB debut for the Cincinnati Reds in June, 2023, and has already turned heads with his blazing speed and hitting ability. Not only has he amassed 40 hits and 15 stolen bases in his first 30 games (an MLB record), he even stole 2nd, 3rd, and home in a single plate appearance which hasn’t been done in decades.
Needless to say, Cruz’s electric debut is exactly what you would hope for if you happened to be hunting for baseball prospect autographs (especially 1st Bowman autos). To put some numbers behind it, his 1st Bowman Chrome refractor auto (numbered to /499, and pictured below) sold on eBay for $1,000 May 6th, 2023, in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition. On July 11th, just two months later, and only one month after his debut, the card sold for $3,000 on eBay. That’s a quick 200% return on investment.
In recent years, prominent prospects have included Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr. (who is noted above as a present superstar these days), and Fernando Tatis Jr.
It is crucial to mention that baseball prospect development is an ongoing process, and not all highly regarded prospects reach their full potential. Many factors can influence a player’s trajectory, including injuries, the changes necessary at higher levels, and the mental component of the game. Now that we got that out of the way, check out the recent 2023 MLB draft results for an idea of the next wave of prospects coming to a ballpark — and wax box — near you.
Most Popular Products and Player Autographs to Buy
There are several products in the card market that are sought-after for signed cards and autographed patch memorabilia. The following list organizes the most popular baseball wax boxes to buy, what types of signed cards you could find in them, along with eBay search links to go hunting!
|Product||Types of signed cards you could find||Price Range||Search link|
|Topps Dynasty||Game used patch autos (on-card), logomans (1 of 1), laundry tag relics||$900-$1,200||Search eBay|
|Topps Five Star||Game used patch autos (on-card), logomans (1 of 1), laundry tag relics||$200-$700||Search eBay|
|Topps Inception||Jumbo sized patch autos, hat patches, logomans (numbered to 5), oversized patch auto booklets||$100-$150||Search eBay|
|Topps Chrome||Rookie autographs, other signed cards (on-card)||$40-$200||Search eBay|
|Bowman Chrome||Prospect autographs||$100-$600||Search eBay|
|Panini Flawless||On-card autos, patch autos, cut autos||$2,800-$3,500||Search eBay|
There are also several players we discussed throughout this post, which have been organized in the table below. As eBay is the best place to buy and sell signed baseball cards, quick search links have been included as well.
Popular players with signed cards:
|Player Name||Search Link|
|Mike Trout signed cards||Search eBay|
|Ken Griffey Jr. signed cards||Search eBay|
|Julio Rodriguez signed cards||Search eBay|
|Wander Franco signed cards||Search eBay|
|Bobby Witt Jr. signed cards||Search eBay|
|Ronald Acuña signed cards||Search eBay|
|Elly De La Cruz signed cards||Search eBay|
|Aaron Judge signed cards||Search eBay|
|Babe Ruth signed cards||Search eBay|
|Jackie Robinson signed cards||Search eBay|
|Mickey Mantle signed cards||Search eBay|
|Honus Wagner signed cards||Search eBay|
|Ty Cobb signed cards||Search eBay|
|Shohei Ohtani signed cards||Search eBay|
|Derek Jeter signed cards||Search eBay|
|Nolan Ryan signed cards||Search eBay|
A full understanding of signed baseball cards is key to collecting, and investing, in the right types of signed cards and players. We covered the nuances in demand and value for on-card autos, sticker autos, aftermarket, pack-pulled, and scarce one-of-ones like MLB logoman patch autographs. It’s an exciting time to be a baseball card collector with all the talent and products available for buying or trading. Hopefully this guide has equipped you with the knowledge needed to make informed buying decisions, along with some inspiration in your journey. With that, happy collecting!