Thousands were drowned in the Atlantic Ocean when they were just kids. A late 1950s decision to free up space at the company’s headquarters sent the population of 1952 Topps high numbers that would be available to future generations plummeting. Those that survived were in the hands of youngsters who weren’t generally concerned with their condition. There were no “top loaders” anyway. No plastic sleeves. No grading companies to encapsulate them. Centering wasn’t always great to begin with.
And so, while the near mint, mint and gem mint examples of the set’s crown jewel, a young Mickey Mantle, are showered with headlines, the fact is he’s not the most difficult card to find in high-grade today. Not even close.
Mantle was triple printed on the sheets Topps used to cut and print its cards. There are 47 Mantles rating a pure NM/MT 8 to Gem Mint 10 on PSA’s Population Report alone. That’s more than three times as many high-end examples as you’ll find for some of the rarer cards, most of which are actually about as un-Mickey Mantle as you can get.
No, the toughest 1952 Topps high number to find in high-grade is none other than Bob Chipman.
Chipman was in the final year of a 12-season career spent with the Dodgers, Cubs and Braves. He was a tough pull for kids in 1952 and even Mr. Mint’s famous 1986 find of ’52s didn’t improve his lot. Today there are just 13 Chipman cards graded 8 and one rated 8.5. There are no 9s or 10s. Even if money is no object, the simple fact is that not many people are going to put together a graded, NM/MT set of 1952 Topps in large part because of Bob Chipman and a few other guys.
Also high on the list of rarities are John Rutherford (just 15 graded 8 and none better), Hal Rice (14 8s, one 8.5 and one 9), George “Shotgun” Shuba (15 8s and two 9s) and Davey Williams (15 8s and two 9s). Other players with just one or two 9s in the pop report and no 10s include Bob Cain (0/0); Billy Hoeft (1/o), Jim Fridley (2/0) and Eddie Mathews (2/0).
Speaking of Mathews, if you’re looking for a $50,000 card that’s “undervalued”, this is it. The Hall of Fame slugger is the rarest big name player in the high number series. There are only 17 Mathews cards graded 8 or better, most of which are 8s. Go a step further and you’ll only find 29 Mathews cards rated even NM 7. The problem with this card started at its birth. Most of the Mathews cards were miscut, with many way off-center. Add even a corner touch or two and they had no chance over time. A few PSA 8s have come to auction over the last three years, with prices ranging from $35,000 to $60,000–a lot of money, sure, but a fraction of the $350,000 and up those PSA 8 Mantles sell for and it’s almost three times as rare. Yes, Mantle is far more popular overall, but Mathews was a huge star in the 1950s and early 60s, too, so should the disparity be that great?
Two other Hall of Famers in the 1952 Topps set are available in relatively decent quantities. There are more than 50 unqualified PSA 8-10 cards for both Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. Robinson’s first Topps card, though, sells for $50,000 and up when found in a mint holder.
Better buys? Look to fellow Hall of Famers Leo Durocher, who has only 33 copies of his card graded 8-10 without qualifiers; Pee Wee Reese who has only 45;Bill Dickey (a Yankees coach at the time) who has 29 rated 8-10 and Dick Williams, whose card has been graded in that space a total of 30 times. Higher end copies of each can often be found on eBay.