Even the phrase itself strikes a little fear into collectors of vintage baseball cards: 1952 Topps high numbers.
Firmly established as one of the rarest standard issue cards of the post-World War II Era, demand is high; supply maddeningly low, especially for higher grade copies. Population reports for the major grading companies show a combined total of fewer than a dozen mint 9 examples for every card in the series.
Competition for the final series of Topps’ first set is fierce among collectors of vintage cards and that’s not likely to change anytime soon unless a huge, unknown stash is discovered (but don’t hold your breath).
The 1952 Topps baseball set was printed in six series. The first four series are the most plentiful; the fifth series (251-310) is slightly rarer. The sixth series (#311-407) is so rare that many collectors consider a 1952 Topps set with cards #1-310 “virtually complete.” But if you’re a true collector, chasing that final run will be a must.
Sy and the Garbage Scow
Some legend surrounds the ’52 high numbers and it’s part of the reason for their scarcity. Before his death, Topps executive Sy Berger long maintained that a decision was made to dump a large amount of unopened 1952 “inventory” from a garbage scow after several unsuccessful attempts to sell them at rock bottom prices in the years after release. That explained why dealers who scoured America looking for forgotten collections rarely found them.
The 1952 Topps Find
One major discovery of 1952 Topps high numbers, made in the 1980s by dealer Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen, is responsible for virtually every high grade card in existence. Miraculously, a Massachusetts family had hung onto a case containing piles of cards–the majority of which were from the last series– which were eagerly snapped up by Rosen. There were dozens of Mantles and Jackie Robinsons. The cards were quickly sold at prices that once seemed unfathomable including $3,500 for a nice Mantle. Thirty years later, any of the PSA 10 Mantle cards from the find would likely fetch well over $1 million.
Scarcity and Value of the 1952 Topps Final Series
In 1952, not every kid had a chance to buy cards from the final series. Cards that were distributed were apparently concentrated in the northern states and Canada, leaving many collectors out of the loop. While the final series consists of fewer than 100 cards, the value for even a common card is three and four times what you’d pay for a lower series card. Several major stars are contained in the high number series, including Eddie Mathews, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Leo Durocher, Bill Dickey and Hoyt Wilhem–and of course, the iconic #311 Mickey Mantle.
Mantle’s card has always been valuable but prices have exploded in recent months with the last PSA 8 example selling for over $500,000. That’s good news for investors but the trickle down effect hasn’t been good for those who are willing to settle for a lower grade copy but now find themselves forced to pay over $10,000 for one that might look like it went through mom’s washer.
The series contained three double-prints–Mantle, Robinson and #313 Bobby Thomson. Each has a back variation. Type I has the “arrows” that form the stitching on the baseball that contains the card’s number pointing to the right. The other variation has the arrows pointing to the left.
Eddie, Jackie, Campy and More
Card #407, Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, is extremely rare in top condition. As the last card in the set, Mathews would have ended up on the bottom of a collector’s baseball card stack—subject to the same wear and tear as the 1952 Topps Andy Pafko (#1). Some collectors consider the Mathews card in high grade as one of the rarest Topps issues. A PSA 8 (NM/MT) example sold for over $62,000 in 2015 while a 7 brought over $21,000.
One of the ten PSA 9 #312 Jackie Robinson cards in existence sold for $57,764 last year. Single-printed Roy Campanella is #314. Even in an EX (5) grade, Campy’s card is often priced at or near $1,000.
Common cards in the 1952 Topps high numbers are valued in the $150-$300 range for cards graded VG-EX/NM. Common cards grading near mint are in the $375-400 range. Common cards grading higher than that are rare and extremely collectable and will command prices nearing and exceeding $1,000.
Among the easier high numbers to find in higher grades? Thomson is one with Clem Labine, Cookie Lavagetto, Herman Franks and Wilhelm among others with more than 45 NM/MT graded examples in existence.
1952 Topps high numbers are accessible to collectors, especially in lower grades. But if you see one you like, waiting too long might mean you’ll have to wait for the next one–quite possibly at a higher price.
You can see a few hundred 1952 Topps high numbers for sale on eBay here.