Birthdays are a great way to pay tribute to your favorite players in the sports collectibles hobby. December 30, 2022 marks the 88th birthday of the great Sandy Koufax. For card collectors, those special rookie cards can offer an even more pointed tribute to the sports gods. The 1955 Topps #123 card of Sandy Koufax is the only recognized rookie card in the sports collectibles hobby.
The Sandy Koufax rookie is one of the most sought after cards for 1950s collectors and those who collect vintage Hall of Fame cards. It’s a true work of art that is probably his most visually attractive card probably coming on top of the following year’s 1956 Topps release.
Just one problem here. This vintage great card is just not that scarce considering its value as the second most valuable card in the 1955 Topps baseball set behind the rookie Roberto Clemente card. And unlike most player cards, the back side of the 1955 Topps card’s statistics is blank and just says “NOT IN ORGANIZED BASEBALL” for the Year. And as you will see below, the population of rookies is about one-and-a-half times higher than the 1956 Topps set with both available backs (Gray and White) combined.
Topps wasn’t all that concerned with a Quality Control Department back in 1955. They were more concerned about their rivalry with Bowman and the exclusive player locks that Bowman had secured. Think about the number of star players who were destined for the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown who were not included in Topps’ set that year — Campanella, Feller, Ford, Mantle, Musial, Fox, Reese!
Where the Sandy Koufax rookie card does become quite scarce, and exponentially more valuable, is in the grades above the PSA 7 level. The prices go into a hockey stick pattern after a grade of PSA 6 and PSA 6.5. This is easily within the Top 10 1950s Baseball Rookie Cards! The SGC 9 grade image below is via Heritage Auctions.
Card number 123 in the ’55 baseball set has no Bowman card to act as a rookie rival. But as of last look, and without considering autographed cards in the base numbers, here are the most recent numbers from population reports:
- PSA counts a total of 9,787 grades. These include 8,005 base grades (just 24 PSA 9 and only 3 PSA 10 grades), as well as 1,251 “+” grades and 531 “Q” grades for miscuts, marks, print defects and centering. There are another 211 PSA graded examples that are autographed in the PSA/DNA population reports. If there are no overlaps that is 9,998 total PSA graded examples.
- SGC’s population report counts 2,674 graded examples. Only 1 is graded SGC 9.5 and there are 8 examples at SGC 9.
- Beckett’s BVG total population is just 1,341 graded examples. Of those, the highest graded are 3 examples at BVG 8.5 and 18 at BVG 8.
- The newer CSG population report counts just 31 graded examples in its population report. And CSG’s highest grade is 2 examples at CSG 5.5.
Any realistic collector knows that there are overlaps that have been counted in these population reports. Early tracking numbers were under-reported in the early years and many of the cross-grade cards from one grader to another have not been sent back to the original grader to be removed from the population reports. Still, this is the game that vintage and modern graded card collectors play.
That is 14,044 total graded examples of the 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax rookie over the recognized PSA, SGC, BVG and CSG populations. That’s not scarce at all. Not on first glance. Where the Koufax rookie does get very rare is in the higher grades.
And here is the image and date for Sandy Koufax’s 1956 Topps second year issue. There are 6,489 cards listed in PSA’s population report for the Gray Back and White Back examples combined. That does not count the autographs but is still only about two-thirds of the PSA graded rookie population with the Gray/White Backs combined.
Where things get complicated is in these highest graded examples of the 1955 Topps. The scarcity starts coming into play after PSA 5 where there are 1,628 examples. There are another 196 graded examples at the PSA 5.5 level, followed by:
- 1,392 PSA 6 and another 96 examples at PSA 6.5
- 891 at PSA 7 and 28 at PSA 7.5
- 242 at PSA 8 and 17 at PSA 8.5
- 24 at PSA 9
- 3 at PSA 10.
The PSA auction price reports show the following for the last prices by grade in 2022:
- A PSA 6 sold for $2,409.89 on 12/21/2022 via eBay (gmcards2) but the card’s centering is considerably off top to bottom. More solid PSA 6 or PSA 6.5 grade should sell for around $3,000 (or more).
- A PSA 7 sold for $5,326.00 on 12/21/2022 via eBay (chrisjcardsinfinity) and the same grade sold for $5,200.00 on 12/16/2022 via eBay (probstein123). Both cards frankly have some issues for the grades. The first is a low PSA serial number with centering and some dings and the second also has a low PSA serial number, centering issues and it may have a slight stain.
- PMCC sold a PSA 8.5 for a whopping $156,000.00 back on 9/18/2021 and the same grade (different serial number) had sold via PWCC for $65,100.00 on 4/10/2016.
The highest graded SGC sales were for SGC 96/9 all via Heritage Auctions — for the following:
- $144,000.00 on 8/28/2022
- $222,000.00 on 5/8/2021
- $216,000.00 on 2/28/2021
The last 3 sales of PSA 8.5 grades were as follows:
- 12/4/2022 for $102,000.00 via REA
- 11/20/2021 for $108,000.00 via Heritage
- 9/18/2021 for $156,000.00 via PWCC Premier
The last 3 PSA 9 sales were as follows:
- 11/19/2022 for $396,000.00 via Heritage Auctions
- 11/20/2021 for $384,000.00 via Heritage Auctions
- 5/23/2021 for $369,000.00 via Goldin Auctions
The 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax rookie card is definitely a beautiful card to own for any vintage collector. Some collectors can still argue that it’s just not that scarce, but they can’t argue how scarce they are at the highest grades. And we know what happens to the prices at those highest grades.
Some vintage collectors will consider the Sandy Koufax rookie card to be overvalued or overrated based on the massive graded population. Other collectors will feel the exact opposite.