So we have Mickey.
We’re proud to offer his true “rookie card,” among others – this collector-grade 1951 Bowman. Still a card worth thousands, this particular example has a clean surface but two soft corners and weaker centering that bring it below EX condition. Still, it would be difficult to find a nicer 4 than this.
The 1952 Topps Mantle is an iconic card; the most valuable Mantle, called his “rookie” card so frequently that SGC actually notates the card as such on their grading labels. The classic ’52 Topps design, largely credited with ushering the modern card collecting hobby into the mainstream, is a big reason for the card’s popularity. The scarcity of the “high number” series in the ’52 set, along with the legend of cases of unsold second series cards being unceremoniously dumped into the ocean is another. Postwar collectors frequently bemoan the idea of cases of ’52 Mantles, disintegrating in saltwater at the bottom of an ocean somewhere. If they could only go back in time!
And yet an examination of grading company population reports might change one’s mind about the relative scarcity of the two cards. PSA and SGC have graded 1,677 copies of the 1951 Bowman Mantle. The “scarce” 1952? They’ve graded 1,372. Not much of a difference, relatively speaking, and certainly neither card could be considered “scarce” by the standards of some of the other items we’ve posted on this blog over the last few weeks.
The ’52 Mantle in VG-EX condition is likely to bring $10,000 or more at auction; the perception of scarcity coupled with the iconic nature of the card has made it one of the key cards in the hobby.
The ’51 Mantle, however, is Mantle’s true “rookie card,” issued a year earlier than its Topps counterpart. Like the ’52 version, the ’51 is part of the tougher-to-find second series. And the image is, even today, one of the most attractive Mantle images on a baseball card (much like the rest of the ’51 Bowman set, which remains one of the most beautiful postwar baseball card issues).
Many collectors give Mickey credit for the popularity of the hobby, with the Baby Boom generation actively seeking out nostalgic reminders of their childhoods. It would be hard to argue. Mantle cards continue to increase in value, with his early cards continuing to fetch thousands of dollars even in lower grades.
Without Mickey Mantle, it’s not really a sports auction. And so we’re proud to have a few, beginning with his very first mainstream card – this beautiful 1951 Bowman.