Having played before the modern hobby took shape, Joe DiMaggio cards might not have quite the same place as Mickey Mantle. But that doesn't mean that DiMaggio isn't an icon with collectors because he is. And while there is no shortage of modern pieces featuring the three-time American League MVP and nine-time World Series Champion, it's the vintage Joe DiMaggio cards that usually draw the most attention.
The first Joe DiMaggio cards date back to the 1930s, even before he cracked the Yankees lineup for the first time. Because the collecting landscape was so different back then and a lot of cards came as premiums with other products, there's much debate over exactly which card is the Joe DiMaggio rookie. While individuals could make a case for several depending on their preferences, 1936 World Wide Gum, 1938 Goudey and 1939 Play Ball are the ones that receive the tag most frequently.
With many vintage Joe DiMaggio cards valued in the thousands of dollars, top-condition cards can draw lots of attention whether they show up for sale in a major auction or online.
Below is a list of ten of the most valuable vintage Joe DiMaggio cards.
Top Vintage Joe DiMaggio Cards
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1933-36 Zeenut Baseball is the first set to include Joe DiMaggio (or Joe "De Maggio" as they have it). He's on two cards in the release, one batting and one throwing, as a member of the PCL's San Francisco Seals. Originally, the cards came with coupons on the bottom that were intended to be taken off. In tact, the first Joe DiMaggio cards measure about 1 3/4" by 3 1/2". Those with the coupon command a premium over those without. That said, all are extremely sought after and valuable no matter what kind of shape they're in.
Canada was a happening place when it came to early Joe DiMaggio cards. 1936 World Wide Gum is the first traditional card to show him in a Yankees uniform. The limited distribution in the United States also adds to this card's appeal.
The Four-on-One Exhibits had been going one for a few years before the Yankee Clipper got his chance to show up on one. Yes, it's one of the earlier Joe DiMaggio cards, but it's also significant because of who he's paired with -- Lou Gehrig. In most instances, these Four-on-One cards don't get a ton of attention, however this is a very notable exception.
Here's another Canadian classic. One of the first sets of baseball cards from O-Pee-Chee, it's a stylized pop-up. Originally, collectors could use the perforated outline around DiMaggio and fold it over to display the card. Because of this, it's not unusual to find the card with the top portion missing.
There are two vintage Joe DiMaggio cards in 1938 Goudey, both of which are similar. They have an unflattering photo of the Hall of Famer pasted on top of a cartoon batter. The resulting caricature is certainly quirky, but it also makes it memorable. The first DiMaggio card (#250) has a plain background. The second one (#274) has cartoons and captions in the background, similar to what Topps often did on card backs years later.
No smirk, no awkward cut out -- the 1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio is all smiles. Simply designed, this is one of the most iconic vintage Joe DiMaggio cards. Measuring 2 1/2" by 3 1/8", 1939 Play Ball was, at that point, one of the largest sets as far as dimensions went. However, the biggest influence the set had was the photos. As far as quality went, they had no counterparts at that point. Because of this, it helped the players' personalities show through rather than being caught up in designs.
Perhaps even more attractive than the previous year's card, 1940 Play Ball is still about the photo but it has a few more design elements, particularly in the nameplate. The first card on the checklist, it can be very tough to find in top condition. The added thin frame around the border makes centering stand out especially.
1941 Double Play has two players on each full card. The design resembles something you might see in a high school yearbook or as a small captioned photo in a newspaper. Because of the dual-player format, it wasn't uncommon for the cards to be cut up. DiMaggio is paired on the sepia card with Charley Keller, a solid player but nowhere near the caliber of his teammate. However, because of DiMaggio, Keller is part of the most valuable card in the set.
Ah, glorious color. Outside of the obvious addition, this card has a lot of similarities to his 1940 card. It's the same picture, only colorized. Much of the card's value comes from the fact that it's part of a batch of short prints making the supply that much more scarce.
DiMaggio kicks off 1948-49 Leaf, the first color set in the post-War hobby. It's a big reason why he's still one of the most valuable cards in the landmark set that also includes rookies of Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige, as well as a very popular Babe Ruth card.
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