For past three decades, David Seideman has covered the sports memorabilia industry for Forbes.com, Sports Illustrated, Time, The Intelligent Collector, Sports Collectors Digest, and other publications.
Meet One of History’s Greatest Baseball Cards, the Topps 1953 Mickey Mantle
Invest in this card now from just $25 per share on Collectable
In August of 2015, Tony Arnold, a top card dealer and owner of TonyeTrade in Scottsdale, Arizona, bought a big league collection from a veteran hobbyist who took his passion to extraordinary heights. Arnold’s score was so great that his bonanza became known as “The Tucson Collection.” He competed with several heavy hitter auction houses, but as an independent dealer with enormous resources, earned the collector’s confidence. NFL Pro Bowler Evan Mathis, a devoted collector in his own right, leveraged his star power on Arnold’s behalf in exchange for the first chance to cull from the collection.
The unknown painter, who was paid all of $50 for his work, created a masterpiece. The color schemes of blues and reds endow the portrait with a touch of class, plus, the facsimile autograph in red on the back adds an extra punch.
In 1989, Marriott paid $121,000—the equivalent of $250,000 today—for the card’s original 3 1/4 x 1/2 inch artwork to display it across the country. (Side note: I paid a personal visit to view it at the flagship Times Square hotel and, for me, the experience was visceral.) Today, the artwork would probably sell for more than $1 million, given the stratospheric prices being paid for original photos used to produce vintage cards.
All mint sports cards are rare from their inceptions because they were cheap, disposable playthings, “previously loved and enjoyed,” as one collector puts it. Boys wrapped them in rubber bands and jammed them into the back pockets of their Levi’s before flipping them on the playground. When attached with clothespins to bicycle spokes, cards replicated the sound of motorcycles…sort of. (I even met a Bronx native in his 70s who only used Mantles in his bicycle as a badge of honor, much to my horror. Not surprisingly, his and other cards usually have creases, sometimes big ones, and rounded corners.)
By contrast, the PSA 10 is factory-fresh with a shining gloss as though it was just pulled from a pack. It shows no wear to the edges and sports four razor-sharp corners. And it has been perfectly preserved since the year it was made.
Unavoidable condition issues began during production when standards were inferior. Topps did not start to modernize its equipment until the late 1980s. “When the company printed baseball cards, it did so in sheets—and stacked and cut the sheets,” explains Marshall Fogel, the owner of one of the PSA 10 1952 Mantles. “Many of the sheets would slip during the process and the resulting cards would be imperfect. So to have a card that’s a perfectly centered Mantle is very rare.”
In other words, the centering seldom achieves a 50/50 proportion that would yield a perfect grade as the 1953 Topps PSA 10 does. Most 1953 Topps have borders favoring one side. Furthermore, over time, the blades became dull. The result was rough-cut edges lowering today’s grades and value. The two surviving gem mint Mantle cards are, thus, all the more remarkable.
The 1953 set was also sold in one- and five-cent wax packs with bubblegum, leaving glue stains from the paper and residue from the gum.
Back in 2015, while trying to strike a deal with the owner of sets spanning four decades, including the 1953 Topps Mantle, the aforementioned dealer Tony Arnold brought his friend and prospective buyer, Evan Mathis, to view the collection.
“I saw the Mantle sitting in a binder and my jaw hit the floor,”
recalls Mathis, who is selling the card through Collectable. “I tried everything I could to make a deal before the card was graded, but Tony wouldn’t budge because he knew it was 10. Once it was a 10, we had to work out a two-plus year payment plan because I didn’t have close to that liquidity for it. My collecting motto has always been that you can’t go wrong with the best of the best and this card couldn’t fit that mindset any more perfectly.”
Perhaps someday, another perfect 1953 Topps will take the collecting community by storm. But based on the card’s history, the likelihood remains as remote as there ever being another Mickey Mantle.