Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Baseball Card Mystery – The late 1970s 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle conspiracy

You have heard of the Lincoln Conspiracy,  the JFK Conspiracy, the UFO conspiracy but have you ever heard of the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card conspiracy.

Let me take you back in hobby history to the late 1970s and early 1980s. At this time the Hobby was just beginning to reach national prominence. Baseball Card Magazine was just about to start, Sports Collectors Digest had been around a few years, there was also something called Trading Card News.

This was known as the time before Beckett.

The emergence of the trading card magazines gave birth to the trading card price guide. However there was no such thing as the internet, ebay, the Sports Card Blogroll or monthly price guides (there may have been a few yearly or quarterly price guides and a few card shows around).

At around this time something funny was happening out of New York, through mostly word of mouth reports that the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (the Steven Strasberg or Bryce Harper of his day). cards were gathering sky rocketing high price sales.

Communication in the late 1970s and early 1980s was nothing like it was today. However, it was becoming known in the growing card collecting universe that the Topps Mickey Mantle card was selling for more than $500 dollars. (the earliest price guide I have is from the fall of 1982 and the Mantle is listed at $750)

Years later, here is what was rumored as to why the prices on the 1952 Mantle were skyrocketing.  In the late 1970s, a group of baseball card dealers in New York (may or may not have) manipulated the market price on the 52 Mantles.

Here is how it worked. In order to generate interest in the card, they began selling the card(s) among each other. For example:

Dealer A sells a Mantle Card  to Dealer B for $200. Dealer B then sells a Mantle Card to Dealer C for $300. Dealer C sells the Mantle card to Dealer D for $400. Dealer D sells the Mantle card to Dealer E for $500.

This process may have gone through a few more permutations or in a slightly different format. I understand, what I have written is a really a simplified version of what may or may not have happen.

Here are a few other points that impact the above scenario.

 A 1952 Mantle in the late 1970s may have been going for about $100-150(a guess).  From first sight it looks like Dealer E has been ripped off. Well consider this - what happens if Dealer E had six 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie cards before the deal was made.   Now instead of having six cards valued at $100-150 each he now has six cards valued at $500 each (and which he can try to sell). What happens if each of these dealers had a five or six 1952 Mantles (remember his card was a double print in the set). The value of their Mantle cards now go up in price. Thus, they are now holding $2500-$3000 worth of cards instead of $500-750.

Was this a partial reason why Mickey Mantle and his Topps cards would eventually became the Gold Standard for all baseball cards (i.e. the reported sales of high prices).  It was around this time that Mickey Mantle cards including his 1952 card, began to outdistance the cards of all other players. A previous post, I wrote, mentioned that in 1982 the 1952 Topps Mays was valued at 40% of the 52 Mantle. By 1986, the Mays card was valued at 16% of the Mantle.   

When he retired, Mantle was considered one the greatest players ever, however the aura around him was not much more than an Aaron, May or Musial etc… In fact he was not in the news much for those first 10 years after he retired (except for the Casino- Baseball Banishment that he shared with Mays). But then mysteriously his baseball cards (especially his Topps rookie) began to gather high sale prices. It was understandable to a certain degree why his card prices could be a little higher than the other great players (playing his whole career in New York and race possibly (Aaron and Mays had superior numbers to him) may have helped). However, what his cards are worth compared to everyone else is kind of crazy.

Did those early reports of the high sales in the late 1970s of his rookie card cause sort of a multiplier effect: 

High priced sales ® generated more interest ® which generated higher priced sales ® which generated more interest etc…… (think of Strasberg last year)

Did a few dealers in New York manipulate the card market in the late 1970s and inadvertently make the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card and his other cards the most iconic, sought after, high valued baseball cards of all time?


  1. Wow, interesting post. I certainly could see this happening, as it doesn't make complete sense why Mantle is so much more sought after than a few of his counterparts in the set.

  2. I've always wondered that as well, but never put much thought to it. I just figured he was a Yankee and they overpay their players, why not charge more for their cards. LOL. Sorry AJ, couldn't help myself.

    But seriously, great post, I enjoyed it and it made a lot of sense. I could definitely see it happening as well.