“Mr. Mint” is no longer with us, but his influence is still impacting the baseball card market.
The most famous find made by the man who is still the hobby’s most famous individual dealer included one copy of the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle that was Alan Rosen’s favorite. He even took time to put that in writing.
Freshly graded 9.5 (Mint +) by SGC, the card has been in the possession of Anthony Giordano, the original buyer who acquired it at a card show in 1991 for $50,000.
Now, that card—Rosen’s pick as the best of a sparkling litter he uncovered in 1986—is up for sale through Heritage Auctions. The star attraction in the company’s August Platinum Night sale, it appears poised to become the most expensive sports card or piece of memorabilia ever sold.
The auction launched at mid-morning Monday and by early Tuesday, bidding had already exceeded $6 million with the buyer’s premium factored in. It’s expected to sell for at least $10 million, perhaps significantly more based on early interest.
The card was part of Rosen’s most famous “find”…stacks of virtually untouched 1952 Topps cards—about three quarters of which were the coveted high numbers– that had been saved by a Massachusetts family. 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 rare: dozens of cases had been dumped into the ocean several years after release because the company couldn’t get rid of them. The cards bought by Rosen were still in the original case. He paid about $125,000 including a finder’s fee and expenses for what became the hobby’s most valuable find.
Rosen, who died in January 2017, was set up in his booth at a New York City card show five years later—still selling some of those ’52s including one he felt was the best of the best. He had sold it earlier but bought it back for $40,000, then put a price of $57,500 on it. In true baseball card show form, local collector Anthony Giordano counter offered at $50,000 (a little less than $109,000 today). Rosen accepted, snaring a tidy $10,000 profit and then providing Giordano with a letter that stated the card was “in my estimation the finest known example in the world.”
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, that’s also considered among the best of the best.
Giordano kept the card ungraded for more than 30 years before finally relenting. He was concerned about putting its fate in the hands of “someone who knows less about this card than I do,” he says. Derek Grady, who spent years as a professional grader, and Heritage Consignment Director Lee Iskowitz ultimately convinced Giordano to send the card to SGC … then held their breath while waiting for the verdict.
“I wanted to market it the way it was, with the documentation from Mr. Mint,” Giordano says.
“I told Anthony I would handle the consignment as though it were my own, and I told him there was no logical reason not to get it graded,” Grady recalled. “Everyone today wants the authenticity and the grade of a third-party expert. But I did tell him if it didn’t come back at least a 9, we would sell it ungraded.”
“When Derek finally told me it had graded a Mint+ 9.5,” Giordano says, “I was not surprised.”
Giordano had previously rejected all offers for the card – even as the value of high-grade 1952 Topps Mantle cards soared into seven figures. His two sons suggested that it was time to sell the card but Giordano says now he was simply too big a Mantle fan to part with it,
“Four years ago one of my boys said, ‘Dad, you need to think about selling the Mantle card, because not too many people in 10 or 20 years will know who Mantle is,’” Giordano says. “I told him, ‘I disagree with that.’”
Giordano says he finally changed his mind in the last few months, at which point he began talking with auction houses. He ultimately chose Heritage, which is understandably excited about the publicity the card will bring.
“This card is arguably the finest-condition example of the most iconic post-war card in the world,” stated Chris Ivy, Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions. “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 says. “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. That this Mantle rookie card remained in this condition for 70 years is a true miracle.”
In his book True Mint, Rosen wrote about taking his Mantle to the Father’s Day 1991 card convention at Madison Square Garden, and how the card was “gem mint, unimprovable.” He also described in detail how he wound up selling the card to Giordano and one of his sons, which made the Post and was mentioned on Howard Stern’s radio show. The chapter was titled “The $50,000 Mantle.”
“I told [Giordano] that you have to pay for the best,” Rosen wrote, explaining why he was asking $57,500 for a card that had never before sold for that amount.
“We shook his hand and made the deal and picked up the card, and it has been in my memorabilia room in the dark ever since,” Giordano says. “No one has touched it.”
Not until it was graded and sonically sealed in a slab that notes it’s from the Rosen Find and is the “Finest Known Example” of the hobby’s signature card from the post-War era.
No PSA 10 ’52 Mantle has sold to this point. In April of 2018, Heritage sold one of the PSA 9s for a then record $2.88 million. Last year, actor-entrepreneur Rob Gough, an avid collector, raised the bar for a 9 with a $5.2 million purchase.
The current record for the most expensive baseball card ever sold was set last year when Robert Edward Auctions hammered a T206 Honus Wagner graded SGC 3 for $6.6 million.
“This is an item of such singular quality and importance that it’s hard to imagine its ceiling,” Ivy remarked. “It will generate competition among the most discerning collectors who pursue absolute best-in-class collectibles in any category. It has all the elements needed to set a significant record.”
The card will be on display in Heritage Auctions’ booth at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., from July 27-July 31 and later at the company’s New York offices.
The auction will close August 27.
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