The 1952 Topps set remains one of the most iconic baseball card issues of all time. Featuring a total of 407 cards, it wasn’t quite as massive as the famous T206 or N172 Old Judge pre-war sets. However, it was among the largest issues of all-time when it was printed and includes one of the top cards in the hobby in the Mickey Mantle (No. 311).
The cards were mass produced and there really isn’t a shortage of them to this day (despite the fact that many were dumped into the Hudson River). Even though countless quantities of the cards have been lost over time, population reports indicate that 1952 Topps cards are still quite plentiful. How plentiful? PSA, SGC, and Beckett have combined to grade more than 275,000 of them.
Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps Card
Of particular interest is that 1952 Topps card of Mantle. While the card is still somewhat rare in high grade, it is not hard to find. Far from it, actually. To date, more than 150 in all have been graded as a seven or higher by PSA, SGC, and Beckett. As a whole, more than 2,200 (in any condition) have been graded and finding the card these days is not difficult. There are typically around 50 of them on eBay at any given time. Despite that, however, demand continues to outpace supply, keeping the values high.
We all know about the big-dollar, high-grade Mantle cards that have sold. A recent sale of a PSA 9 netted nearly $3 million in 2018 and nearly became the most expensive baseball card of all time. But even the low-grade Mantles draw a ton of interest from collectors. Even cards graded close to near mint typically sell for six figures. Even heavily-damaged cards, such as this one in a recent auction, easily bring more than $5,000 (one of the few cases where putting a card in your bike spokes didn’t totally kill the value).
The card, in any condition, is desirable and collectors are paying big money for them. So are investors.
Studying its Rarity
The question becomes, then, can these high prices continue?
I considered the same question recently when I wrote here about the T206 set and its rising prices despite the overpopulation. Both cases are fascinating to me because they represent cards that still exist in large quantities with values that seem on the high side. The same, redundant question of supply/demand is of course the ultimate barometer. But the rarity factor is an interesting point with this card.
The Mantle is such a rock star card that I’m not sure it ever comes down in price drastically. Beyond the Honus Wagner T206, it is arguably the most popular baseball card of all time. It seems destined to always be a valuable card. But the elephant in the room is if it will be possible to curb what population reports already suggest – that it isn’t a particularly rare card.
The real issue for the card is that it seems new ones are being found on a seemingly routine basis, thanks in part to the publicity afforded some big dollar sales of high-grade examples. Five quality Mantles, for example, as well as a slew of other 1950s stars, were recently discovered. Finds like that may not be happening every day but as the card is ‘only’ 66 years old, more will be discovered as houses are bought/sold and collections are discovered or liquidated. Many collectors (including this one) often keep the bulk of their cards raw and ungraded–even expensive ones. The card isn’t really rare now by the standards of population reports and it’s even less rare when you consider the number of raw 1952 Topps Mantle cards undoubtedly floating around in the hobby.
Now, some cards are graded, cracked open, and resubmitted in efforts to achieve a higher grade. That surely inflates the numbers in the population report to some degree. But the number of cards removed from their slabs is still minimal compared to the number of cards out there that haven’t been graded at all. In other words, there are more of these suckers than many collectors know about.
So we know the card isn’t all that rare. That means it can’t possibly sustain these numbers, right? Not necessarily.
We see that every day. Notably, it is seen with T206 cards that were also mass produced and have increasing prices nonetheless. But we also see it with other cards that are actually rare but have muted values, too. That happens when there’s a lack of interest from collectors. Thus, even if it becomes known that the card is less rare as time goes on and more are discovered, that doesn’t necessarily mean prices will plummet as long as someone else is there with a fistful of cash ready to buy.
A card can be relatively easy to find and still quite valuable. As with anything else, the supply/demand ratio will drive the bus in determining this card’s future fate. As long as collectors have reason to believe it is an important card, prices will remain high.