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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.

Between the early 1980s until 2000, the collector completed set runs from all four major sports from 1948 to 2000. He kept the cards meticulously organized in massive metal file cabinets perched in a wing of his house dedicated strictly to his collection.

“It was the nicest collection of cards I had ever seen,” Arnold says. “He was well before his time in terms of collecting for condition. He made each set the best possible. A very rare feat.”

His passion for organization was surpassed only by his standard for the quality of his cards. Among the many highlights was a pristine set of 1953 Topps baseball cards. The Tuscon collector was one of the first customers of Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen, a hobby legend known for finding epic vintage unopened packs and cards in immaculate condition in the 1980s and 1990s. In this instance, Rosen had unearthed an incredibly fresh hoard of 1953 Topps in Canada. Rosen and the collector acquired the cards before independent, third-party grading was common, so the cards were “raw.”

Arnold had a trained eye, so he took a gamble on the set, and it paid off handsomely: A dozen of the 1953 Topps were graded gem mint 10s, and about 30 were mint 9s. Many of the 1953 cards ended up grading PSA 10, or gem mint, on a scale of one to ten, an amazing development, given how condition sensitive and poorly produced the set was…not to mention the wear and tear from children playing with them.

The cards had been stored in old nine-pocket binders.

“When I first opened that binder I started shaking when I saw the Mantle,”Arnold recalls. “I had to pull it out, but didn’t want to put a fingerprint on it.”

The pristine 1953 Topps Mantle was the crown jewel.  To make the deal worthwhile, Arnold needed the card to grade a PSA 9. “It was a very big calculated risk,” he says.

To Arnold’s delight, the Mantle turned out to be a PSA 10. “I have graded and sold a lot of cards,” Arnold adds. “As far as Topps goes, this is the nicest card I have ever seen, period.”

There are only two PSA 10 1953 Topps Mantles in the world; according to the company’s population report.

Collectable is now offering for sale the one Arnold originally acquired through fractional shares. (The other belongs to the famous collector Marshall Fogel.)

Of all the cards in the set—including the immensely popular Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays—none approaches the value or iconic status of the Mickey Mantle. “This is one of Mickey Mantle’s most important cards and one of two major keys, along with Willie Mays, to this popular Topps set,” PSA states.

With the exception of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle was among the most popular (and thus collectible) players in baseball history. His numbers jump off his Hall of Fame plaque. “Hit 536 Home Runs. Won League Homer Title and Slugging Crown Four Times. Made 2415 Hits. Batted .300 or Over in Each of Ten Years With Top of .365 in 1957. Voted Most Valuable Player 1956-57-62. Named on 20 A.L. All-Star Teams.”

Not only is it the only illustrated Topps cards of his 18 issues, but many regard it as his most beautiful.

“The paintings used for the 1953 Topps cards stand out because of their dramatic realism,” declares Mantle-ologist George Vrechek. “The Mantle image was taken from an earlier posed photo, but the youthful, good-looking Yankee star looks like he is ready to swing into action at any moment.”

Ross Uitts, owner of Old Sports Cards, agrees. “The 1953 Topps Mickey Mantle is one of the Mick’s most highly-coveted cards. And many collectors would argue it’s his best-looking card of them all. It’s an absolutely beautiful card.”

Uitts pays special attention to the card’s reverse side. “The design of the backs of the 1953 Topps set is one of the best they ever created. It’s got a bit of everything…even fielding stats, which you hardly ever see on cards. The sections are broken out nicely: Bio and personal info at the top, followed by a nice blurb about how promising Mantle was, and rounded out by stats and a nice trivia question at the bottom.”

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.

But the 1953 Topps Mantle poses a plethora of issues that have escaped the PSA 10. The print focus and registration is uniquely flawless. There is no speckling in the blue, as is often case. The 1953 Topps set is generally one of the most condition sensitive because of its design.  The full bleed red name plate on the edges is prone to chipping and wear. The smallest nicks and dings expose the white paper stock beneath.

Before the advent of third-party authentication, counterfeiters doctored the borders with Magic Markers. (To that end, I was burned with a 1953 Satchel Paige which had been touched up with a red marker.) As a result, only 30 cards from the entire set have graded PSA 10, and less than 1% of all submissions have reached the level of PSA 9 mint.

From all indications, the 1953 Topps was produced in smaller quantities than the 1952. Nearly half as many 1953s have been submitted for grading (143,000) as 1952s. It stands to reason that the company seriously curtailed its production after so much unsold stock the prior year. The 1953 Mantle is also a short print, and as a result, it has a lower print run than other cards in the set and the odds of pulling one randomly out of a pack are lower.

Rarity and appeal have combined to drive a PSA 9 1953 Mantle’s value from $88,000 in 2009 to $396,000 in 2019, the first time a 9 came up for sale in ten years. In 2018, Heritage Auction sold a PSA 9 1952 Mantle owned by Super Bowl champion Evan Mathis for $2.88 million.

When it auctioned off the 1953 Mantle Topps in 2019, Mile High Card Company put the 1952 and 1953 cards in context: “Only ten examples of this early Mantle card have achieved a Mint 9 rating, with only two superior. For the 1952 rookie, there are six 9’s and three 10’s. So simple logic tells us that the value of this elite specimen has plenty of room to grow. We expect the investment-minded collector to be keeping close watch.”

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.