1/1 Sports Cards: Holy Grails or Traps?

Part of the fun of collecting sports cards is finding truly rare and unique cards.   Card companies often number or short print their cards to motivate collectors to buy more products and hunt for those super rare cards to add to their collection. Another thing short printing and numbering does, is it helps control the supply of cards and limits the market to prevent it from becoming flooded. The card companies almost bankrupt the industry in the late 80s and early 90s because they over produced cards which caused them to decrease in value. It’s the same concept when it comes to overprinting money, that it loses value the more of it that is printed.

1/1 Sports Cards: Holy Grails or Traps?

Like everything else in the world, the rarest thing you could possibly have is a one of a kind item, meaning it is the only one in the world and none others like it exist, in theory anyways. In the world of sports cards, cards get numbered 1/1 or some higher end sets will write out “one of one”, meaning they are only one printed that look exactly like this. It is supposed to be the rarest card in the set and one of the nicest pulls you could have. I personally, have two different 1/1s in my collection, one of Mike Mussina and the other of Clay Buchholz (jersey card too) and a 1/1 printing plate the of Edmonton Oilers star Jordan Eberle.

Printing plates (in the card industry) are thin metal sheets the size of cards that are sensitive to light. An image is burned on the plate using a light of high intensity. When exposed to light, an image is transferred to cardstock using ink and will only reflect the image on the plate. This is how most sports cards are manufactured and produced. Printing plates come in four colors: black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. I have yet to see a printing plate that was not numbered 1/1. Usually the back reads something along the lines of “Congratulations! You have received an authentic printing plate used to manufacture card (name of player and card #). This is truly a one of a kind collectible.” Then above this is “1/1.” There are some collectors who argue the printing plates aren’t worth as much as cards because they technically aren’t cards, and they use four of them to make one card.

While a 1/1 is probably one of the highlights of most card collections, they are not the most valuable cards in the world. Often considered the most desirable and valuable baseball card in the world is the 1909-1911 T206 of Honus Wagner. Less than 60 legitimate Wagner’s are known to exist today, at least three of which are stored in museums or libraries. The Wagner can fetch anywhere from a couple hundred thousand dollars to a record breaking $2.1 million in April of 2013 depending on grade and condition. To put things into context my Mike Mussina and Clay Buchholz 1/1, I paid somewhere around $20 – $30 apiece for them. This leads to my first point regarding 1/1s, they are not valuable just because they are rare. Despite the fact that my cards are rare and the only ones in existence, they are nowhere worth the money of the T206 Wagner, even though they are not 1/1 and more than one is known to exist. If I wrote a diary it would be unique and a 1/1 item, but since I am not famous nobody (except maybe my girlfriend) would want to read it. My diary would not have any value and I could not sell it. However, a celebrity’s diary would be worth much more and could be sold and sought after.

However some sellers of these cards seem to think otherwise. When something is so unique that it is a one of a kind collectible, it is hard to price. Part of this struggle is because there is nothing else like it to compare it too for a price. Therefore it is only worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it. If you do a quick search on eBay for 1/1 (use true 1/1 for an easier time) some 1/1s are listed for the price of a new car. There is a seller who is selling a 2013 Topps Tribute bat knob card of Derek Jeter numbered 1/1. The card contains the bat knob (bottom of the bat) of a bat Jeter used a MLB game. The seller is asking $24,000 or best offer. Most collectors or anyone for that matter does not have an extra $24,000 to spend on a single baseball card. In fact, you can purchase an entire game used bat used by Jeter certified by Steiner or PSA DNA (both leading authenticators of sports memorabilia) on eBay for $2,000-$ 4,000. Double that range ($4,000 – $8,000) and you can get an entire game used bat of Jeter that is also autographed by him complete with the same LOAs/COAs (Letter of Authenticity/Certificate of Authenticity). For $24,000 you could buy 3 – 12 game used bats of Derek Jeter, some including his autograph on them, a 2015 Ford Mustang, or a baseball card numbered 1/1 with a bat knob from a bat that Jeter used in a game.

While one of kind items are rare, just how rare are 1/1s in collecting? Speaking from personal experience, In my twelve years of collecting, I have pulled two Bowman 1/1 printing plates (first one was of Cole Hamels, the second was of a prospect named Gabriel Rosa) from the same exact store about two months apart sometime last year. According to the backs of the pack the odds of pulling printing plates were about 1 in 3,500 packs. While it could have been coincidence or pure luck, it made me wonder just how many 1/1s are out there and how rare they are. According to Beckett, there were 29,793 1/1 cards made for baseball alone in 2009. That excludes football, basketball, and hockey cards (as well as other sports like soccer or NASCAR) but I’d be willing to bet those numbers are similar. In 2010, an editor for Beckett did some digging and discovered the following: Beckett had close to 340,000 1/1 cards listed in the Beckett database — just for baseball. Again that is excluding, football, basketball, hockey, and other sports and that was five years ago. That 340,000 figure has probably doubled since 2010 if not grown even more than doubling.

Let’s take a look at the 2014 Topps Series 1 for baseball. There are 330 base cards in the regular set excluding inserts and memorabilia cards. Each base card comes with a platinum border 1/1 variation. That alone means 330 1/1 were made. However, each of these cards were made with 4 printing plates, numbered 1/1. That means they used 1320 (330 x 4) 1/1 printing plates to make 330 cards. Cards are double sided, so the front and back each need their own printing plate; however the last back printing plate I have seen was from 2005 (I don’t believe they release the back printing plates anymore but if they did it would be 330 X 8 = 1640). On top of this, there were special subsets such as “Strata Cuts” which include cut signatures (signatures on checks or letters cut and placed into the card) of very famous players like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. There were 31 cards in that set each numbered 1/1. Another set was called “In the Name” which included a letter from the last name of the player on the back of his jersey. It featured 61 different players, which means that is another 61 1/1s. If we add the platinum bases, the printing plates, the 31 and the 61 from these subsets that means Topps Series 1 in 2014 produced 1742 cards numbered 1/1. However, the “In the Name” set included a card for each letter of the players’ last name. So players like Adam Wainwright produced another 10 (11 characters minus 1 because he was already part of the 61 total set count) cards numbered 1/1. Add up every player and include the printing plates from all the inserts and subsets and who knows how high this one set would get. Probably close to a couple thousand just from 2014 Topps Series 1. That does not include Series 2, Update Series, Topps Museum Collection, etc. or 1/1s made by Topps for football. That figure also excludes 1/1s coming from rival companies such as Upper Deck and Panini.

The 1/1 used to be a highly collected and sacred card sought by many collectors. To some they were the holy grails of collecting. However, the industry has managed to over produce them with such a large quantity, there are probably over a million in existence across all four major American sports. While they are still rare and one of kind items, I find it hard to believe they are worth the hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars sellers try demanding for them. I understand individual players have their own values based on performance, attitude, and fan bases, but I could go to a state university for a year or own a card with a bat knob that Derek Jeter once touched in a game. I think Beckett’s equations for determining prices of cards has its flaws; however 1/1s offer a new challenge. Bottom line, there are much more collectible and valuable cards around that are not numbered 1/1. Frankly, I’d rather have a rare card from the old days or a beautiful patch and autograph of a decent player than a 1/1 of a prospect or no name. I think the 1/1 has lost its way and will never become the rarest baseball card in the world.

Got any 1/1s? Any questions or suggestions for an article you’d like to see? Leave your comments below.

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  1. The technique I usually use in judging the value of a 1/1 is: I’ll look at the price of the standard card, then I’ll see what the values on its parallels are. Beckett has been known to release values on cards with a scarcity as low as /15 in production. So in example, if the multiplied value is x2.5 on a card #’d to /15, I might give my 1/1 a multiplied value of x4 or x5 the standard value depending on the year and player. As far as calling the value of a rare card, being the price you paid for it…I cannot stand by that statement. because in the secondary market of the hobby, cards are normally sold for anyways between half the book value, to a quarter of the book value. If I were to pay $60 for a 1/1 card, I would like to at least have assurance that I got no less than double the value of the purchasing price.

  2. I have three different years of Jeter cards numbered 2/2……………..I was an avid collector and fan of Jeter………………….I cannot find any way to put a value on these ……….working with an appraiser who cannot either. My attorney who is asking for a
    seperate listing of values for most of the cards ………….I would call it and an addendum to the will.

    any help?

    1. I would use Beckett’s Book Guide for the Jeter cards value. That’s what most insurance companies rely on when making a claim on cards. You can probably find a book/guide at Books A Million or the magazine version at a hobby shop. If they are older Jeter’s I’d use the book as the magazine is more recent cards.

  3. I think that authenticated 1/1 printing plates autographed by hall of famers have significant investment potential.

  4. How about cards that are numbered to match the players jersey number or say numbered to 75 and you have the card 75/75 are cards like this considered 1/1

    1. No they aren’t. But a lot of people will try to convince you otherwise. You’ll often see the magic words “ebay 1/1” on listings. The most valuable numbered cards if there is more than 1 is the player’s jersey number if possible, followed by the first printed card so 01/xx or 001/xxx and after that it is the last printed one so 75/75. But a card numbered 44/75 and 53/75 would be worth the same to most people.

  5. I have been after a guy in the city I live in for him to trade his 1/1 2015-2016 Yellow Connor McDavid Printing Plate and finally today I traded him McDavid’s Young Guns, along with 7 other good young Guns in return for his rare 1/1 Yeklow Printing Plate of Connor McDavid, who is by far the best hockey player in the world, now that Gretzky is retired. I am pretty sure I can get thousands for my 1/1 yellow (top colour to get) printing plate of Connor McDavid.

  6. Yeah I’m glad I read your article which you wrote in 2016. It’s now y days away from 2018, and I’ve been getting back into collecting. In the 90”s I collected basketball cards. I took really good care of them but they are still worthless now. Things are different now and I see these limited number cards. I even pulled a 1/1 Matt Williams from a postseason Topps signature. It’s a beautiful chrome card, which gives it a bit of personal value, but Even though I hadn’t followed mlb for years I could tell that he’s not highly sought after. I also realized that with so many 1/1 cards out!it doesn’t raise the value unless people want that players memorabilia. People buy Jordan commons all the time. They are the only cards worth more than a dollar for nba in all the early 90’s practically but if you. Had a 1/1 Jordan that would be a different story. I think 1/1’s have an inherent downside in that if it’s not a marketed product no one knows about it, and there is no interest, people only want what everyone else wants. It sounds to me like 1/1’s are the new base card almost. I.m not even looking for them. Limited yes, but there are many factors to consider. I say it’s more of a trap in most cases.

    1. no idea. As I stated in my article, it’s hard to price 1/1s because, theoretically, there is nothing else to compare them to. It also depends what set it came from. If it was Upper Deck Series 1 or MVP those worth be worth less than a premium set like UD The Cup.

  7. There will always be a demand for 1/1 Printing Plates of the most popular Hall of Famers.
    But how do I know that a plate card is authentic?
    I have purchased 1/1 plates with blank backs (no acknowledgment of their being “1/1”). Some of the images are off center and some are actually tilted diagonally (looking like Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa).
    Are these imperfections also red flags that challenge their validity?

  8. I pulled a 2017 Panini Preferred Rookie Penmanship Cyan Printing Plate of Deshaun Watson (Redemption card) … Can’t find any kind of value on it

  9. I have saquon barkley rookie printing plate 1 of 1. Now if he does what most people believe he will do, what do you think ? Hold on to it for a bit or sell now while the hype is there ?

  10. I have a 1 of 1 cyan printing plate of Saquon Barkley. By far the best player to come out of the draft this year. If he does what many expect him to do in his career, I’m hoping 8-10 years from now it may have some real value. Either way though its pretty cool to have the only one in existence.

  11. I have a Shohei Ohtani college 1/1 card and 1999 topps gold label class 3 black label rc 1/1 Jevon kearse card. Now that I read this article I’m no longer excited about it lol. Probably not worth much.

    1. Hey Benjamim,
      I’m a Jevon Kearse collector and would love to purchase that Jevon Kearse from you. It might not be valuable to most, but it is to me! Email me and I’ll buy it!

  12. I have a 2017 TOPPS Mallex Smith #512 MAGENTA PRINTING PLATE serial #d 1 of 1, his base card sells for $92, how would I price this card or even have an idea of what it’s worth??

  13. I have a 2017 TOPPS 1 of 1 MAGENTA PRINTING PLATE of Mallex Smith #512, his base card sells for $92, how would I price this plate or even know what it is worth, if anything!!?? I guess it’s worth whatever a buyer is willing to pay, huh!!??

  14. What would it be worth if I found a card with ones name and stats but someone elses picture on the front and back?

  15. Is it frowned apon to get a printing plate autographed if it doesn’t already have one? Is this why they make them so collectors can get them signed?

  16. I found a one of one drew brees national treasures 2016 panini, and dont know how much its worth, or if its even real or fake. Is there a way that I could figure those out?

  17. I have over 200 1/1’s (baseball) from the Topps Finest sets between 2005-2009 and I am just starting to unload some of them on ebay. Other than the few I have sold to buyers who collect a specific player I believe that market saturation has hurt the mystique that used to be associated with the 1/1 and the returns on the original purchase price are unfortunately low. One of ones of current players with tremendous upsides are the hot ticket but you need to move them before they prove to be a bust….it’s a crapshoot.

  18. I pulled a 1/1 Eugenio Suarez 2018 topps series 1 card 209 parallel . Don’t have no clue on pricing it for E-Bay sale. Any suggestions?

  19. Kobe Bryant 1/1 signature that came with a secondary can in the pack as an authentication card for the initial one?


    He’s arguably one of the greatest of all time.

  20. Every year I scoop up some 1/1 printing plates or 1/1 cards of players drafted that year or rising up in the minor leagues. Mostly of my hometown team, the pirates. I consider them to be an investment for my kids. Cards used to be valued high because of the interest of us when we were children. A lot of us on this feed are part of the over production of cards. Let’s face it…. any normal bowman chrome card will ever be worth anything when there are 250/250, 75/75 and so on. 1/1 is something significant and the suppliers know that. So yes, they are borderline scams but an over production of 1/1 cards is the new rare rookie card. When my kids get my cards they will find it amazing to see 1/1 mostly because they won’t know the difference of how the business had to go this route. One day cards will be back in for younger kids and they won’t have the McGwire and Griffey rookies in their dads collection to look for. They will be looking for their new “Griffey” in our 1/1’s.

  21. Good article thanks for creating it. Like many here I am a product of the 80’s & 90’s card craze and recently got back into it. Personally I think it’s fun that the industry as gone in this direction.

    It is mind boggling how many 1/1’s there are – signature series autos, printing plates, jersey patches etc. With that said not all 1/1’s are created equal, and while they are certainly risky investments I feel like it can be mitigated to a degree. One can’t go wrong by sticking with 1/1’s that are parallels of the base set (especially if it’s one of the 2-3 most sought after lines for that year). Variations of the familiar ‘commons’ are appealing to everyone, versus the subsets which are often just random filler stuff that everyone secretly hates. Additionally autos are great, and if possible on-card autos are always best. Of course these are more expensive, but I think the additional value one gets out of these attributes outweighs the additional cost.

    Most important of all though have some fun with it. Collect players you like, so if it doesn’t really pan out as an investment it won’t make you feel as sour.

  22. I got a one-of-one green Pete Alonso autographed card 2019 numbered 1 of 1 just trying to see what it could be worth please let me know something if you can thank you very much it is graded by Beckett 8.5

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