Any talk of Mickey Mantle’s earliest rare cards usually starts and stops with the debate over the 1952 Topps #311 and his ‘true’ rookie card in the 1951 Bowman set. Mantle collectors will tell you those are a breeze if you’ve got the cash but if you want a true challenge, try finding a 1952 Tip Top Bread Mantle for sale or auction. PSA and SGC have graded only seven combined.
In fact, it’s probably not a stretch to say the entire population of the 1952 Tip Top baseball set is among the smallest of any vintage post-War set. Just over 100 have been graded and authenticated with the vast majority graded “Authentic” or “Poor”.
PSA’s Population report shows no ’52 Tip Top labels graded higher than a 3. SGC’s tally includes one “40” and one rated “60” but the other 26 are all low grade because of the natural wrinkling and other issues. There are no complete sets on PSA’s registry but many collectors have no doubt saved them in their natural state.
The 1952 Tip Top set isn’t a traditional baseball card set and that could be what’s kept the general popularity at bay over the years. Tip Top was a brand of bread produced by Ward Baking Company of New York and in ’52, they used pictures of 46 big league players on the end of their loaves of bread. There’s a 47th label featuring Phil Rizzuto that has a different photo cropping pattern.
Issued only where the bread was sold and requiring the collector to physically remove the labels from the rest of the plastic wrapping meant most simply wound up in the trash.
Mantle is far and away the most desirable label in the set but it had plenty of star power. Heavy on Yankees, Giants and Dodgers because of its distribution area, the set includes Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Gil Hodges, Warren Spahn, Robin Roberts and a few other recognizable names from the era. Willie Mays had begun his second season with the Giants but was called to military service and doesn’t appear in the set.
The labels are red with the player’s name and team straddling a photo inside a star. The ‘Tip Top’ name is at the top with the slogan “It’s Tip Top With Me” at the bottom and four white stars around the edge. The labels are in a die-cut shape.
Complete sets of 1952 Tip Top bread labels are almost unheard of. A set missing the Andy Pafko sold through Goldin Auctions for over $32,000 and included a letter from the company to a collector at the time with a printout of the checklist.
A Mickey Mantle graded ‘poor’ sold for over $6,500 in 2014. With so few surviving to this day, that actually seems like a bargain.
A few labels are currently listed on eBay.