You’ll sometimes hear the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle referred to as his rookie card. I guess if you’re strictly a Topps collector it is. Topps didn’t yet have a full MLB license until then so the famous #311 card from the scarce series is the first time Mantle appeared on a Topps card. However, true fans of vintage baseball cards know that the 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle is really his true rookie card.
Despite being a double print in the ’52 Topps issue, Mantles still sell for thousands of dollars, even in lower grades. The smaller ’51 Bowman is valuable, too, and it represents the actual start of The Mick’s legendary career…the first time kids enamored with the youngster from Oklahoma saw his image emerge from a pack of bubble gum cards. The ‘true’ rookie card not nearly as pricey as the ’52 Topps, though.
Let’s take a look at the PSA Population Report to see how many of each are out there.
- PSA has graded a total of 1,369 1951 Bowman Mantle cards compared to 1,107 1952 Topps.
- There are 9 PSA 9 1951 Bowman Mantles compared to 7 1952 Topps
- There are 47 1951 Bowmans graded PSA 8 compared to 30 1952 Topps
- There are 102 1951 Bowman cards graded PSA 7 compared to 69 1952 Topps
- There are 165 1951 Bowman cards graded PSA 6 compared to 103 1952 Topps
It’s clear the ’52 Topps is harder to find…but not that much harder. Despite the fact that there are only 33 more 1951 Bowman Mantles in PSA 7 holders than 1952 Topps, the average selling price of a PSA 7 1952 Topps Mantle over the last 6 ½ years is $30,255. The average selling price of a PSA 7 1951 Bowman Mantle is barely over one-third of that: $11,951.
Those numbers would seem to indicate that the 1951 Bowman Mantle —the true rookie card—is underpriced. The ’52 Topps set carries the prestige of being Topps’ first set, a very challenging set to put together and on the whole, far more attractive. It’s immensely popular with vintage card collectors who have the financial resources to chase it.
All things considered, though, it would seem the 1951 Bowman Mantle (see them here) would provide a far better value—just in a smaller size.