It’s easy to imagine that building up an awesome vintage card collection takes an incredible amount of time and money. And yes, that’s pretty much true, at least for most collectors. However, it is equally possible to do pretty well in vintage without breaking the bank. To illustrate this, I put a simple challenge to myself a couple weeks back.

Pretend you have no baseball cards at all but what you do have is $50 to spend right now on the 5 cards that will make up your entire collection. Oh, and one more catch. Once you spend the , you can never buy another card again! What do you buy? Ignore shipping. 

Here are my results. All listings were active and available as of November 15, 2018. I think you’ll agree there’s some great cardboard here.

Hank Aaron

If you know me at all, you know I needed to start with the Hammer. Turns out one of his most essential cards is only $3!

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Next on my list was the Splendid Splinter, and I knew exactly where to look!

Ted Williams

While most of the Topps, Bowman, Leaf, and Play Ball cards from Teddy Ballgame’s playing days would bust my entire budget and then some, the 1959 Fleer set is full of bargains. From the time I first saw a picture of it as a kid, I fell in love with this one in particular. I didn’t luck out on the price or centering; I’ve certainly seen nicer specimens priced several dollars cheaper. Still, this was THE Williams card I needed, and $14 was the best I could find that day. SOLD! (Okay, not really since I already had this card. This is really just a thought exercise.)

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Stan the Man

An era of baseball that has always captured my imagination is the 1940s. The Major Leagues featured four of the games most iconic performers: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, and Stan Musial. Meanwhile, the Negro Leagues were thriving thanks to such veterans as Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson as well as a newcomer who would change baseball and America forever: Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

Given my remaining budget of $33 and knowing I still needed three cards, I went with this beauty–probably the single best deal I found all day.

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Willie Mays

If your vintage collection has only five cards, one HAS TO BE the great Willie Mays. Particularly if you’re not picky about condition, his 1970s Topps cards are all very much within reach. However, when I think of Mays, I think of The Catch, so here’s where I put my money: 1959 Topps Baseball Thrills, possibly the greatest subset ever. Honestly, looking back, I am wondering why the hell I didn’t buy this card for real. Damn.

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The Mick

Truth be told, I’m kinda meh on Mickey Mantle. Still, there is a certain status you can never attain as a vintage collector if your collection has no trace of the Mick. Of course, with only $14.06 left to spend, adding a vintage card of the hobby’s most overpriced superstar wouldn’t be easy. At one point I thought the best I would do was his 1975 SSPC card, which did not make me happy. I wanted my vintage collection to be all playing days stuff.

It turned out here that I had to cheat a little but not much. I found a great card for $19.95 or Best Offer and rolled the dice that an offer of $14.06 would be just enough to make it happen.

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So there you have it: a collection of fantastic Aaron, Williams, Musial, Mays, and Mantle cards for only $50 plus shipping. I went in expecting to do MUCH worse and certainly to settle for a lot of creases and rounded corners. In truth, these are NICE looking cards, with only the Aaron leaving a little to be desired.

Keep in mind that I found all of these on the same day and–particularly with the Williams–would have had even better options if I were willing to stretch my search out over a few weeks. Either way, I think the point is proved beyond any doubt. It doesn’t take a fortune to assemble a nice vintage collection. If these iconic players could be had at an average of $10 per card, just imagine how little you’d need to spend to add on Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey, Duke Snider, and other top stars.

Best of luck, and happy collecting!