Hank Aaron Rookie Card Market Guide
Posted on 5/24/2021
When Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run on April 8, 1974, breaking Babe Ruth’s longstanding record, he became part of baseball folklore like few that had come before him. As only the second Major League Baseball (MLB) player in history to surpass 700 homers, to this day, he is one of only a handful that have crossed the hallowed mark.
Aaron is part of the MLB’s elite 700 Home Run Club, which includes Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Albert Pujols (703). Additionally, the slugger's magic number of 755 remained a record for decades until Barry Bonds broke it on June 5, 2006. Yet, how does Aaron’s storied MLB career translate to some of his earliest sports cards? This guide will look at his few rookie cards on the market and discuss their current trending values.
From Rookie to Home Run King
In 1951, Hank Aaron began his professional career in the Negro American League, where his stellar play got the attention of talent scouts from both the New York Giants and the Boston Braves. As Aaron recounted it, the Braves offered $50 a month more, so in 1952 he signed with the team. After a couple of seasons playing in the minors, he made his MLB debut with the Milwaukee Braves (they had since moved from Boston) on April 13, 1954.
By 1955, Aaron had a .314 batting average and was named to the National League All-Star team, in the first of a record-breaking 25 All-Star Game appearances. In 1957, Aaron was named The Sporting News Player of the Year, and in 1957, he won the NL MVP Award. A year later, he won the first of his three Gold Glove Awards.
Throughout the 1960s, Aaron continued to lead the league in home runs and RBIs. After the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, he continued to increase his home run tally. In the 1970s, he began his chase to surpass Babe Ruth’s iconic record. When he hit #715 off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing, it was televised live nationwide. Today, it’s still considered one of the greatest events in MLB history.
Aaron played almost his entire 23-season MLB career with the Braves franchise, except for two final seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. By the time he retired in 1976, he held many of the MLB’s power-hitting records, with a batting average of .305, 163 hits a season and more than 32 home runs and 99 RBIs per year. From 1955 through 1973, he hit at least 24 home runs every season. In addition, he’s one of only two MLB players (the other is Alex Rodriguez) to have 15 seasons with 30 or more home runs. Aaron was named to the MLB Hall of Fame in 1982 and continued working for many years as an executive manager with the Atlanta Braves. He passed away from natural causes in 2021, at the age of 86.
Are Hank Aaron Rookie Cards Valuable?
Hank Aaron played at a time when players typically only had one or two rookie cards issued, and Aaron is no exception. His only official nationally released rookie card is a Topps issue from 1954. In August 2022, this card, in Grade 9 condition, sold for $720,000 in a PWCC auction, surpassing the previous record of $645,000 for one of his rookie cards.
While Aaron’s Topps rookie issue is a holy grail card in the sports card world, many collectors aren’t aware that there’s also another, lesser-known Aaron rookie issue, the Johnston Cookies card. In addition, there’s an Exhibits card that can be categorized as a rookie card, if you can find an early version. For MLB card enthusiasts, all three of these cards are indispensable for any Hank Aaron collection.
Investment Potential for Hank Aaron Rookie Cards
The 1954 Topps Hank Aaron is deservedly considered one of the most important cards in sports card history. Given Aaron’s astonishing achievements and enduring legacy as one of baseball’s greatest all-time players, interest in this card will always remain high. And since there’s only one official rookie card, rarity plays a factor in values as well.
Top Hank Aaron Rookie Cards
These are the three Hank Aaron rookie cards to look for:
- 1954 Topps #128
- 1954 Johnston Cookies #5
- 1947-66 Exhibits (if issued 1954 or before)
Here is a look at how fair market values are trending for these cards, according to auction tracking sites such as PriceGuide.Cards, SportsCardsPro and Sports Card Investor. These sites are constantly updated, however, so prices can change on any given day.
1954 Topps #128 Hank Aaron ($473,400)
Hank Aaron’s only nationally released rookie card is well-known to everyone in the sports card industry and is considered one of the greatest sports collectibles of all time.
The 1954 Topps Baseball set is famous for its colorful backgrounds, and its duo photos that feature both an action shot, and a full-size portrait shot of each player. The Aaron rookie card has a beautiful color portrait shot of Aaron smiling and looking slightly away from the camera, plus a great black-and-white shot of Aaron fielding with his glove near the ground.
Graphics include a bright orange background that runs all the way to the top of the card, with the image framed by white borders on both sides and the bottom. The upper right contains his name “Henry Aaron,” his position and team name. On the opposite side of the card is the team logo.
The back of the card features stats for “Henry Louis Aaron,” including a humorous cartoon panel referencing the time when he won 13 watches and 12 sports jackets, thanks to his batting skills with the Class-A Jacksonville Braves.
Because of the always-high collector demand for this card, Topps also came out with a Topps Archives #128 Reprint card that’s popular with collectors. It looks like the original, except that the Topps Archives Reprint is printed in a modern size (2 5/8” by 3 8/4”), while the original 1954 card is larger, as baseball cards were during that era.
If you're in the market for an authentic 1954 Topps #128, be sure to check the size, and make sure that you're buying an original and not a reprint.
Pro tip: Commercially authorized reprints are one thing, but counterfeits are a whole different ball game. Counterfeit cards are made with the malicious intent to defraud someone, and counterfeit copies of the Topps #128 are plentiful on the collector's market. Whenever there’s an exceptionally valuable card, you can rest assured that there are plenty of forgeries out there, with scammers just waiting for an inexperienced collector to take the bait.
If you’re considering purchasing a better-grade Topps #128, or any high-profile or valuable sports card, it's crucial to purchase a professionally graded card from a trustworthy sports memorabilia merchant or reputable auction house. These vendors should offer a money-back guarantee for authenticity on every product they sell.
For an authentic 1954 Topps #128, SportsCardsPro shows Ungraded trending at $1,848, Grade 7 at $14,827, Grade 8 at $48,800 and Grade 9 at $394,500. Grade 9.5 trends at $433,950, and Gem Mint at $473,400.
PriceGuide.Cards shows Ungraded trending at an average price of $688, and a top price of $30,000. Graded trends at an average price of $2,672, and a top price of $105,000 (grades unspecified).
At Sports Card Investor, low prices trend at $1,895, with a top price of $35,000 (grades unspecified).
1954 Johnston Cookies #5 Hank Aaron ($6,250)
Issued by the Johnston Cookie company in Milwaukee, this is from a set of locally released cards featuring Milwaukee Braves players. Interestingly, each card’s number in the set corresponds to the player’s uniform number. Back in 1954, Aaron’s number was still #5 — he didn’t change to #44 until the following year.
The card features a portrait shot of Aaron smiling and facing slightly off-camera, with the words “Henry Aaron” below. The image is framed by white borders on all sides. This card is much harder to find than the Topps #128, although trending prices are still significantly lower.
A search of online auctions shows this card trending at a low price of $510 (grade unspecified), with SportsCardsPro reporting a top price of $6,250 (ungraded).
1947-1966 Exhibits Hank Aaron ($1,500)
Exhibit cards were postcard-sized sports cards printed by the Exhibit Supply Company and sold in arcade machines. Since these cards were manufactured to be sold over a long period of time, they were printed without a production year. This makes them difficult to date, but they’re still popular with collectors because of their historical value.
Hank Aaron Exhibits cards are listed as having been produced from 1947 to 1966, but this probably isn’t accurate because Aaron was a 13-year-old high schooler in 1947. However, the black-and-white photo shows a very young Aaron in an unidentified uniform, so it could very well be a pre-rookie photo from his minor league days.
A look at online auction prices shows this card trending at a low price of below $100 (grade unspecified), and a top price of $1,500 (Grade 8).
Where Can I Purchase Hank Aaron Rookie Cards?
You can find Hank Aaron rookie cards, as well as all kinds of Aaron cards and collectibles, at sports memorabilia shows, sports collectibles retailers and online auctions. Here’s a list of some of the most popular auction sites for sports cards:
- SCP Auctions
- Pristine Auction
- Memory Lane
- Heritage Auctions
You can find upcoming sports memorabilia shows by searching Google, social media sites and collectors’ forums. These shows are held across the country year-round, so you should be able to find one coming to your area soon.
How Are Hank Aaron Rookie Cards Graded?
Sports cards are graded by certified experts who use a numeric grading system that ranges from Ungraded to Perfect 10. Here’s how it works:
Perfect 10: Gem Mint scores across the four grading criteria: centering, corners, surfaces and edges. This is a flawless card, even when viewed at 10x magnification.
Gem Mint: A card with vivid colors, perfect centering and sharp corners. Gem Mint cards have no condition damage or manufacturing flaws.
Grade 9.5: Considered Near Mint, with just a minor flaw.
Grade 9: Excellent, almost in Near Mint condition except for a couple of minor flaws.
Grades 8 and below: These lower-grade cards have condition damage or production flaws and are graded accordingly.
Ungraded: These cards have never been graded.
Raw: Raw cards have just been taken out of their original boxes or packs and are new to the market.
While sports cards are graded according to condition, they’re valued according to three components: condition, rarity and collector demand. Of the three, when it comes to value, collector demand is the most difficult to calculate, because it can change dramatically. A card that’s incredibly popular one year may fade into obscurity the next.
Likewise, a card that’s relatively undiscovered may suddenly spike in price, especially if there’s been a bidding war over it in a recent auction. Players experience ebbs and flows in popularity too, and if a retired player makes a comeback in another entertainment venue, their card values may start climbing again.
As for condition and rarity, it’s a well-known phenomenon in the collecting world that a rare Gem Mint card may stagnate on the market if there isn’t enough collector demand for it, while a lesser-graded more-common card may skyrocket in price. Despite these fluctuations, Mint and Gem Mint cards typically fare better than their lesser-graded counterparts. And because of this, experts always advise collectors to try and invest in the best condition cards they can afford to buy.
Should I Get My Sports Cards Graded?
Professional grading can add a whole new quality level to your sports card collection. When cards are graded, a certified expert evaluates each card’s condition and authenticity, as they look for originality, condition issues, damage and manufacturing flaws like uneven centering. When a card is graded, its grade and information are entered into an international database as a permanent record of the card’s quality.
Grading is beneficial if you ever plan to sell or trade your cards, because graded cards typically sell much faster than Ungraded cards, and often sell for higher prices. If you plan on keeping your collection, grading will authenticate your collection’s originality and quality level.
Whether you plan to keep, sell or donate your cards, professional grading can provide an enduring record and quality assessment of your collection that will last for generations to come. For further information on CSG's 10-point Grading Scale and to find out more about our industry-leading services, visit CSGcards.com.
*Any mention of "investment potential" is for entertainment only and should not be construed as investment advice. The Certified Collectibles Group does not provide investment advice and is not liable for any buy, sell or trade decisions made by any parties.
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