It was the card that started it all and its popularity has much to do with how baseball cards were handled by the kids of the 1950s than the prominence of the player. The 1952 Topps Andy Pafko #1 holds a special place in collecting annals.
Pafko was a solid outfielder for the Cubs, Dodgers and Milwaukee Braves. He was a flexible player, playing third base as well as outfield for Cubs manager Charlie Grimm. (For this flexibility, Grimm gave him the nickname, “Handy Andy”). He hit 110 RBI in the Cubs’ 1945 pennant-winning year and slugged 36 home runs in 1950; lifetime he hit a solid .285 and was a five-time NL All Star.
Topps chose Pafko as the first card in its landmark debut set after his arrival in Topps old Brooklyn stomping grounds in an eight-player trade with the Cubs that took place in June, 1951. The Cubs sent Pafko, Wayne Terwilliger, Rube Walker and Johnny Schmitz to Brooklyn for Gene Hermanski, Eddie Miksis, Joe Hatten and Bruce Edwards.
It’s a nice looking card but finding a high quality example has been an expensive chore for collectors over the years as it became evident that most showed signs of wear or weren’t well centered.
Many kids collecting the new, larger-sized 1952 Topps kept their cards bound with rubber bands. Pafko, #1, landed right on top of the stack. This meant that Handy Andy got the bulk of the rubber band’s pressure. It also meant that Pafko was the first card in contact with anything the cards encountered. When the cards were taken to the neighbor’s for trading or left next to the sandlot during the neighborhood ballgame, poor Pafko was bound to pick up whatever elements hit the top of the stack. This all created a scarcity of the Pafko in higher grades when such things became important.
There are no PSA 9s and just one 10 in existence–the latter pulled from a $1,000 unopened pack many years later and sold for more than $83,000. Today, it would likely command a price deep into six figures.
Two graded Pafko cards in NM/MT condition sold for over $95,000 in 2007 and over $81,000 in 2008 but prices seem to have dropped considerably since then. The latest sale checked in at over $53,000. An SGC 88 (8) sold in November 2013 for $15,130.
A PSA 6 (EX/MT) sold for $1,708 in November 2015 and lower grade cards are an easy score at no more than $250. The card isn’t rare and there’s no real reason for copies with moderate to heavy corner wear or creases to carry much of a premium over and above its status as the first card in Topps’ kickoff set.
As part of the first series, you can find Pafko cards with printing on the back in either black or red ink. Black backs are harder to find than red.
It’s also had movie and TV roles. The Pafko card was part of an episode of Home Improvement and was also part of the plot in the movie Cop Out a few years ago.
You can see several copies of the 1952 Topps Pafko for sale and auction on eBay here.