Sixty years ago, some were sitting in warehouse while others were likely on their way back to New York, all of them unsold and unwanted. Case upon case of the final series of Topps’ inaugural entry into the bubble gum card market was dead inventory.
The company’s first cards had fared well in their competition with Bowman but by early fall, kids were headed back to school. There was no time for flipping. Many had already spent too much on those silly little cards according to mom and dad. Retailers and wholesalers had pallets of stock they couldn’t move. Sure, Mickey Mantle was in there but so what? Who really knew if he was all that great anyway? Besides, the new 1953 cards were on their way to drug stores and supermarkets all over the country.
And so, pallets full of unsold 1952 Topps cases were eventually loaded onto a garbage scow and dumped into the ocean. A tax write-off and a lesson learned by the company’s young executives. They had exhausted all avenues of breaking even. No one wanted them.
And how crazy is this: Martin’s company is now offering what is believed to be the lone surviving empty case that held those boxes of 1952 Topps high numbers for $49,995.
Almost fifty grand.
For an empty box.
(Update: price has been dropped).
While it may sound preposterous, the whole story of how that case survived is hobby legend. It was once once full of boxes, and stuck in an attic for more than three decades before it was discovered, opened and the cards sold to Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen. The seller’s father had worked for a company that distributed baseball cards and other candy products to stores. Somehow, the case was stuck away and forgotten.
There were hundreds of mint high numbers including 90 of the double-printed 1952 Topps Mantle cards in the case. Jackie Robinson and Eddie Mathews are two of the other extremely valuable cards that once resided in it.
The most valuable 1952 Topps cards in the hobby today came from that case. The case would have been worth more had the seller left it unopened but who did that? Instead, the gentleman opened every pack, put them on a giant silver tray and greeted Rosen and his group at the door. Jaws dropped. A huge (for the time) cash payment was made. The seller and Rosen were both elated.
After he sold the contents, Rosen hung on to the empty case as a momento from his greatest day as a hobby dealer. Last week, Dave and Adam’s purchased it from a Rosen friend who had acquired it.
“I’ve really been coveting this in the back of my mind for years,” Martin told Sports Collectors Daily. “I love the ’52 Topps set, as we all do. The significance of what Al bought, the back story of the dumping of the cases into the ocean and the place the set has in the hobby just makes this a really cool item to have.”
Martin, who traveled with Rosen on buying trips in the 1990s, says he’s already received a couple of inquiries including what he called an “interesting” trade offer. However, he doesn’t expect the case will be sold immediately at the asking price. After all, would any of us be able to successfully explain to friends or family that we just purchased a cardboard box for $50,000? It’s definitely for the 1952 Topps collector who thought he had it all.
While Rosen profited nicely from his purchase, the publicity from the find helped push the market for high quality, vintage baseball cards forward at the time and the arrival of grading and PSA’s Set Registry a few years later was like strapping a jet pack on the market. Those who went against the common criticism that the cards were overpriced and bought singles from the case find have seen their investment perform better than just about any stock you could have picked.
“PSA 8 Mantle cards sell for upwards of $100,000 now,” Martin said. “Nines are worth around $250,000. All three of the PSA 10s in the hobby are in private collections and all of them came from this case and would probably sell for $1 million each. If you found an unopened case today and bought it for $10 million and cracked it open, it would wind up being a steal.”
At the very least, the case and its story are a unique marketing tool. Complete with a letter of authenticity from Rosen, Dave & Adam’s plans to show the case off at its Buffalo area headquarters and, if no one steps up to the plate at the asking price, they’ll bring it to this summer’s National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago. It’s not hard to imagine vintage card collectors standing in front of it, lost in a daydream about what was once inside.
First, Martin says they have to find a way to safely put it on display.
“I wouldn’t want the cleaning crew to come through the office thinking it’s just an old empty box and find it went in the garbage.”