Mickey Mantle’s net worth at the time he died in 1995 was around $10 million. Early Sunday morning, one of his old baseball cards sold for more.
One of the highest graded copies of the Hall of Famer’s 1952 Topps card netted $12.6 million at Heritage Auctions after a flurry of late bids, becoming the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia ever sold. The price for the card graded 9.5 (Mint+) by SGC includes a 20 percent buyer’s premium added to all winning bids.
The card had been expected to sell for at least $10 million. The name of the winning bidder wasn’t immediately revealed.
It’s the 11th time in the last two years that a sports card has sold for at least $4 million.
“An eight-figure auction result in the sports market was the stuff of fantasy just a decade ago,” says Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage. “We always knew this card would shatter records and expectations. But that doesn’t make it any less of a thrill to be part of an auction during which a single item breaks the eight-figure threshold for the first time.”
The old record, set by the $9.2 million sale of Diego Maradona’s jersey from his “Hand of God” and “Goal of the Century” performance in the 1986 World Cup, lasted less than four months. The Mantle card also broke the record for a trading card established over three weeks ago when Goldin Auctions brokered the sale of a T206 Honus Wagner graded SGC 2 (Good) for $7.25 million.
The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle SGC Mint+ 9.5 closes at $12,600,000, a world record price for any sports item. A huge night for The Hobby and sports collectors everywhere pic.twitter.com/A8nFVimLsP
— Heritage Auctions Sports (@Heritage_Sport) August 28, 2022
The Back Story
Originally sold by well-known dealer Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen to collector Anthony Giordano at a card show in 1991, the Mantle card was being offered at auction for the first time. It had remained ungraded since Giordano purchased it. Earlier this year, he decided to consign it to Heritage Auctions, which felt the card was a strong candidate to achieve the “Mint+” grade from SGC.
It made multiple trips by armored car before the auction ended, first from Giordano’s home to Heritage headquarters in Dallas, then from Dallas to Atlantic City, NJ for the National Sports Collectors Convention at the end of July. After that, it was on display in Heritage’s New York City offices.
The auction launched July 25 and bidding quickly climbed past $6 million. It wasn’t until the extended bidding portion of the auction late Saturday night that the card became the first sports card to reach $10 million.
The card was part of Rosen’s most famous sports card “find,” a hoard of virtually untouched 1952 Topps cards—about three quarters of which were the coveted high numbers– that had been saved by a Massachusetts man named Ted Lodge.. Among the approximately 5,500 cards were 65 of the iconic Mantle, sought after by collectors thanks to his popularity as a player and the story that made his first Topps card into the stuff of legend.
In the late 1950s, Topps’ Sy Berger hopped aboard a barge and watched as they were dumped into the ocean because the company couldn’t get rid of them, even for less than a penny apiece.
The cards bought by Rosen were still in the original case. They had been put away by the family of a Lowell, MA man who had worked for a toy distributor called Grayco in the 1950s. After learning Lodge had several thousand 1952 Topps cards, Rosen borrowed $25,000 from another dealer, hired a security officer and made the trek from his home office, carrying $150,000 in cash.
He counted 75 Mantle cards among the huge stacks sitting on a large silver tray. There were dozens of each of the other valuable high number cards, too, including Jackie Robinson and Eddie Mathews.
“My hands were shaking. It was like going on a pirate ship and discovering boxes of gold,” Rosen said in a 2007 interview. “I took the cards outside and sniffed them. I was just so unsure of spending all that money. I didn’t know if they were real or not. I go in the kitchen and there’s the original case. Couldn’t believe it.”
After striking a deal for the main batch, the man then produced another large stack of “rejects” that were badly off center or had other issues. There were 15 additional Mantle cards in that group.
Best of the Best?
Rosen, who died in January 2017, sold the card Giordano eventually purchased, but then bought it back for $40,000 because of the quality. He was still selling cards from the find at a New York City card show in 1991 including the Mantle. Giordano offered $50,000—a $57,500 discount from Rosen’s asking price. Rosen accepted, snaring what was at the time a tidy $10,000 profit and then provided Giordano with a letter that stated the card was “in my estimation the finest known example in the world.” Giordano saved the letter, which now accompanies the card sold by Heritage to a new owner.
That endorsement is important, albeit a matter of opinion. There are three other 1952 Topps Mantle cards rated Gem Mint 10 by PSA, including one owned by Marshall Fogel, the Colorado attorney who has loaned his for display on a couple of occasions and another that’s in the collection of Arizona Diamondbacks Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick and isn’t likely to be sold anytime soon.
“This card is arguably the finest-condition example of the most iconic post-war card in the world,” Ivy said. “That grade, plus the fact it has documented provenance from the most storied find in hobby history, puts this card in a category of its own. The card more than lives up to Rosen’s claim when viewed in person.
“It bears the finest qualities any 1952 Topps can possess: perfect centering, registration and four sharp corners,” Ivy stated. “If you were to put this card in a lineup with the other known examples graded 9 or 10 and covered the labels, this would stand out as a clearly superior specimen.”
Another high grade ’52 Mantle, this one graded 7.5 (NM+) by PSA, sold for $705,000.
The original wholesale cost of the full case those 1952 Topps cards Rosen bought was $12.60. Today, the value of the half of what Rosen bought alone is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Saturday night also saw a record price for any baseball bat with the $1.68 million sale of a 1918-22 Babe Ruth autographed game bat originally owned by fellow Hall of Famer Frank “Home Run Baker.