Thinking Mick? We focus in on some of the best picks for collectors.
by Garrett R. Monaghan
Mickey Mantle baseball cards remain the driving force of the post-war era. One of the sport’s most popular and iconic players, Mantle cards can command daunting prices for even the most serious of collectors.
Mantle’s 1952 Topps card is considered one of the most sought after collectibles of any kind, thanks to its color, size, and the relative scarcity of examples in good condition. Its listed value is between $18,000 and $30,000, and ultra high grade examples go for much more. If you don’t have that kind of cash for a ’52 Topps or ’51 Bowman rookie, there are other Mantle cards that still might have room to grow in value and not break your budget.
Only one Mickey Mantle card printed prior to 1960 has a listed value below $1,000 in most online non-graded card price guides. Mantle's 1955 Bowman card is listed at $500-$800 in a near mint grade. Some sell for much less. It’s an error card, with Mantle’s birth date incorrectly listed. The biggest knock against the ’55 Bowman is that many consider it a rather ugly set. Bowman went with a horizontal faux wood “TV set” theme for the border of these cards, reducing the overall size of the picture itself. It’s not a great look, frankly, but the picture of Mantle himself is still pretty nice. For a collector looking to strike a blend between collectability and affordability, the ’55 Bowman Mantle can be a nice acquisition.
For the collector who’s looking for something a little more high-end, the '54 Bowman is a nice looking card listed at a relatively reasonable $900-$1500. Unlike the ’55 version, this features a great picture of Mantle, with a minimal white border and Mantle’s facsimile signature in the lower right-hand corner. As the first Mantle card that’s valued below $2,000, the ’54 Bowman can make a great addition to a serious collector’s set. Bowman had exclusive rights to Mantle in ’54 and ’55, and no Topps cards for Mantle exist for those two years. Topps responded by buying out Bowman in 1956, and the Bowman name disappeared for several decades.
For lower-end Mantle cards, look for cards printed toward the end of his career. The last Mantle card printed while he was an active player is the 1968 Topps. Listed at $175-$300, this isn’t a bad looking card at all. The ’68 design is simple and clean. One interesting feature of the ’68 Topps is that it’s the only Mantle card to list his position as first base, rather than outfield. Mantle made the switch to the infield in 1967, but the ’67 Topps set still has him listed as an outfielder. The 1968 Topps Mantle is a very affordable pick for collectors.
For those who just want something with Mantle’s picture on it and don’t care if he’s the sole attraction, the '62 Topps Mantle/Mays Manager's Dream card is worth investigating. This is actually a nice card that shows Mantle standing with fellow superstar Willie Mays. The faux wood border in the ’62 set has its detractors and it can be aggravating for condition conscious collectors, but it’s much better than the ’55 Bowman version. The list near mint value on this card is $100-$200, largely due to a printing error that left most of the cards off-center. Perfectly centered cards can sell for much more.
Interestingly, Hank Aaron can be seen in the background behind Mantle and Mays, giving us a look at three of the most potent bats of the era. For the collector who wants to add a Mantle to his collection, without paying premium dollar, this card can easily fit the bill. In fact, the non-regular Mantle cards that are sprinkled throughout the 1960s sets are probably a little underpriced.
For sentimental reasons, many Yankee fans like the 1964 Topps Mantle. The year represents the team’s last American League pennant during the Mantle years and the last year before the Mick started his decline. It’s a first-series card (#50) from a very clean looking, simple set and it can be had for $200-350 in nice shape.
As with all collecting, pick the Mantle card you like the most and that best fits your budget. No matter if most people under age 50 have little or no recollection of him in his prime, the popularity and value of his cards continues to grow.