I read the other day that a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card was being valued at $12 million by its owner.
Because of its pristine condition, said owner Marshall Fogel of Denver, it is the “holy grail” of baseball cards, on a par with the 1909 Honus Wagner card.
Two weeks ago, Fogel removed the card from a safe deposit box and transported it via armored car to the History Colorado Center. It was displayed for three days in the same secure casing that once housed Thomas Jefferson’s bible - UV-lens protection and temperature/humidity control.
Pretty heady stuff for a thin piece of cardboard that was worth, oh, maybe a half-penny when it came off the production line. Mantle was a 20-year-old playing his first full season with the New York Yankees and was paid just $50 to put his signature on the card.
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I used to think I had once owned a 1952 Mantle card, but I’ve revised my thinking. More than likely I had a 1953 Mantle card. I was 13 and now had a paper route that let me spend countless nickels on baseball cards. And Mantle was my favorite player.
It’s actually reassuring to know I didn’t have a ‘52 card. By comparison, the ‘53 card is worth peanuts, only about $5,000, give or take a few thousand. Mom was right to throw it out after I left home.
I always knew the Honus Wagner card was valuable because so few were made after he objected to the card being sold with tobacco.
But what about the Mantle card? Why is his 1952 card so valuable?
I found the answer in a 1989 story in Newsday, the Long Island, N.Y., daily.
The card was in a batch produced near the end of the 1952 baseball season, the so-called seventh series. By the time they arrived at retailers, baseball season was almost over and kids were beginning to buy football cards.
Topps was stuck with cases upon cases of unwanted pictures of baseball players and Topps employee Sy Berger was told to dispose of them.
“Unable to make arrangements at the incinerator,” Berget told Newsday, “I had the cards loaded on two big trucks, which took them - and me - to a floating barge and out to sea.
“While I watched, gobbling seasick pills, the cards were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of New Jersey.”
Mantle wasn’t alone in this watery grave. Also destroyed in that year’s dumping were cards of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Pee Wee Reese, none of which ever reached the value of a Mickey Mantle rookie card.
Fogel says he paid $120,000 for his card in 1996. He now figures it’s worth 100 times that much or $12 million.
I don’t know if he’s right about its market value, but no matter. It still sounds like a final home run for the Mick.
Contact Bob Bestler at email@example.com.