Market Guide: Nolan Ryan Rookie Cards

Posted on 10/12/2022

Want to learn more about Nolan Ryan rookie cards? Our market guide will tell you everything you need to know.

Nolan Ryan is considered one of the best MLB pitchers of all-time. His impressive career spanned four decades, and after his retirement in 1993, he took over as the CEO of the Texas Rangers. In 1999, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Throughout his career, he struck out an incredible 5,714 batters, which is 17% more strikeouts than Randy Johnson threw, who is second on the list. Ryan also holds the record for no-hitters pitched, with a total of seven. 

He is deservedly recognized as the best pitcher of all-time by many fans, and he's also very popular in the card collecting community. His rookie cards are interesting because they're so limited, and there are no cards that feature him on his own. In fact, there is only one Nolan Ryan rookie card, featuring an image of him and fellow superstar Jerry Koosman. There are some international variations of this card, with varying rarity and value, but they all share the same basic design.

Cards from this era are often popular with collectors, and the Nolan Ryan rookie card has become one of the most iconic. Many collectors have it on their wishlist, but which ones should you go for? This guide will take you through the different Nolan Ryan rookie cards and which ones are the most valuable. It will also look at some of the more affordable reprints, which are excellent for building personal collections.

Investment Potential

The investment value of a Nolan Ryan rookie is potentially strong. Often, cards from this era suffer because they feature two players. Even if one is a notable player, the value may be lower if the other player is unpopular or has a fairly average career. However, that isn't the case with Ryan's rookie card since Jerry Koosman is also a celebrated player. He may not have the legendary status of Nolan Ryan, but they make a good pairing.

According to collectors, the 1968 Topps set is one of the least popular. Many people don't like the design compared with other sets from this era, but will this impact the investment potential of a Nolan Ryan rookie? The short answer is it's unlikely because this specific card is still sought-after, and the value has increased over the years.

Looking at the average price of the standard Nolan Ryan rookie card between 2012 and 2022 (tracked by PriceGuide.Cards), you can see that it increased from $428.39 to $1786.47. This is a significant increase over a decade, signaling investors that this is a sensible card to put money into. This is a high-value card that is worth at over half a million dollars in mint condition. Of course, you can find it for less than this, but it is worth a lot of money, even when not in perfect condition. So, although it requires a large upfront investment, there is a relatively strong chance that you will see a good return based on the previous price increases.

The Best Nolan Ryan Rookie Cards

1968 Topps Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman Rookie Card #177 ($30,000)

This is the original version of the Nolan Ryan rookie card, featuring the young pitcher alongside his New York Mets teammate, Jerry Koosman. The design is very typical of Topps cards from this era, with a burlap background and a double image. The reverse side has a short bio and some stats from each player. It is printed vertically rather than horizontally, like the obverse side, which is the case with many other sets.

The numbers in these Topps sets are a good indication of rarity. In general, the higher numbers tend to be more scarce, which can boost the value. So, this card is actually relatively common (cards numbered 400 or higher are much rarer). Other cards numbered this low wouldn't be as valuable, but the Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman rookie remains iconic.

This card is well-known to collectors of all ages for several reasons. Older collectors may remember pulling the card from packs at the time, and in the decades that followed its release, it would have been found in many collectible shops. It was a card that was in circulation a lot during the 80s and 90s when card collecting was growing in popularity, so it is a recognizable and desirable card for many people.

The 1968 set may be one of the less popular ones, but the design does do a good job of hiding imperfections. This is good news for investors because there are more good condition cards floating around. However, you can expect to pay a premium for a high-grade Nolan Ryan rookie card.

SportsCardsPro has records of a mint condition card selling for $612,359.83. Other cards that are in less than mint condition still sell for around $30,000 regularly. As long as the card is in reasonable condition, you can expect to get thousands for it. Historical sales from PriceGuide.Cards show steady price increases year on year. There are occasional years where the price dips slightly, but the general trend is upwards.

If you are searching for a high-value card to invest in, this may be the right choice for you. It's also good for personal collections if you are interested in the old Topps sets. Finding the rest of the 1968 Topps cards for a good price should be relatively easy too because they are not particularly popular.

1968 O-Pee-Chee Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman Rookie Card #177 ($1775.50)

With modern rookies, there are different options from various sets, each with their own designs. You've also got parallels and inserts to hunt for too. But with the Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman rookie, you are looking for subtle variations of the card coming from different international sets.

The O-Pee-Chee set is a Canadian set, almost identical to the Topps set from the USA. It also includes the same Nolan Ryan rookie, and to the untrained eye, you may not tell the difference. There are, however, some minor details that help you separate the two and investors and collectors may want to find this alternative version. 

The most obvious way to tell the difference is by looking at the copyright information on the reverse of the card. As you'd expect, this one says 'Printed in Canada' rather than 'Printed in the USA.' The cardstock that it is printed on is different too. You can see from the images of the card that it is a darker brown color compared with the yellow that you see on the original Topps card. 

The O-Pee-Chee sets have shorter print runs because they were developed for the Canadian market, and Canada has a smaller population than the US. As a result, this card is rarer than the Topps version, which often means that a card is more valuable. Yet that is not the case here because the market for O-Pee-Chee cards isn't as strong even though it is harder to find. The values of 1968 O-Pee-Chee cards on SportsCardsPro are relatively low for the most part. Although there are some worth a few thousand, most are very cheap.

The Nolan Ryan rookie from the set is given an average price of $1775.50. It's not a cheap card by any means but it's still valued much lower than the Topps card. The price data from PriceGuide.Cards shows that the value has held steady between $800 and $1,500 since 2012, and there has been a general increase over time.

Anybody that is a Nolan Ryan collector will be looking to pick this card up to complete their set. But it may also be of interest to investors because it has historically held its value well and increased in price. Plus, it's more affordable than the Topps Nolan Ryan rookie card.

1968 Topps Milton Bradley Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman Rookie Card #177

This card is incredibly unique because it didn't come in a typical set. Instead, it came complete with a board game based on trading cards called Win a Card. Milton Bradley was a big board game manufacturer at the time, and they approached Topps about a collaboration. Win a Card came complete with 50-70 cards, some baseball and some football. The cards were taken from the 1968 Topps set, but different versions were produced to go with the game. Just like a normal card pack, the selection was mixed, so you were not guaranteed a Nolan Ryan rookie card in each game. The game itself was not particularly well received and has largely been forgotten. However, there may be some interest in the cards found inside.

The main difference between the two cards is the color. If you put them side by side, you'll notice that the Milton Bradley card from the game is a slightly brighter yellow. See this picture for a comparison of the two. Some of the cards also have a small white area around the border. This is where they were printed on a sheet next to football cards with a white border, and there has been some overlap. 

SportsCardsPro is currently not listing any sale data for this card, so it is difficult to get an idea of the value. As such, it may be a big risk for investors. Milton Bradley cards are harder to find than normal Topps cards, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are more valuable, as you can see from the value of the O-Pee-Chee cards. So, for collectors, this is an interesting card to look out for, but for investors, it may be worth looking for a different version.

1968 Topps Venezuelan Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman Rookie Card #177

This is another international variation, albeit a much rarer one. The Nolan Ryan rookie card from the Topps Venezuelan set was distributed in South America in very small numbers, so this card is not easy to find. There are also a few interesting details that make it stand out from the US release.

Most notably, there is a spelling error on the reverse side of the card. The word 'sensational' is missing an 's' on the first line of the bio under Nolan Ryan. In some cases, error cards can be valuable. For example, a 1990 Topps Frank Thomas #414 rookie card is an almost worthless card. But a misprint without his name on the front has been sold for over $25,000 in the past. That said, misprints and errors are relatively common, so there is no guarantee that this spelling error will impact the value.

The overall design of the card is disappointing. It's the same as the US version, but the colors are very muted and quite dull. There is not a lot of readily available sales data for this card either, so it is difficult to speculate on the value and the investment potential. 

This card is another risk if you are an investor because there is limited data about sales prices, and the design is unlikely to increase the value. That said, it is the hardest of the Nolan Ryan rookie cards to come by, and this rarity may make it interesting for people that are building a personal collection.

Nolan Ryan Rookie Card Reprints

The original 1968 Nolan Ryan rookie cards are expensive, and the casual collector or investor may not want to pay that much for a single card. There are some more affordable reprints that you can add to your collection if you still want a Nolan Ryan card. Although not official rookie cards, they are the next best thing. 

The 1999 set of Nolan Ryan commemorative reprints has a recreation of his rookie card at #1. It is markedly different as it has a large gold seal on the front. However, if you want it for a personal collection and you are not willing to pay a lot of money, it's worth adding to your collection.

Final Thoughts

A Nolan Ryan rookie card from the US Topps set is likely to be a good investment as the value has increased steadily in the past. But, it is a very expensive card, so it may not be accessible to everybody. The O-Pee-Chee variation is more affordable but still a very valuable card that serves as a good middle ground for investors. The other versions of this rookie card are far less predictable but still have some appeal to collectors because of their rarity and unique history.

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