Original Mickey Mantle rookie year baseball cards and rookie year Type 1 photographs are among the sports collectible market's most valuable items from the post-war period. However, both hobbyists and non-hobbyists alike usually recognize Mantle's famous 1952 Topps card before his actual rookie card. As legendary Topps baseball card executive Sy Berger tells T.S O'Connell in an interview on blowoutcards.com, the 1952 card is famous not because it is a rookie card but for quite another reason. Debunking what even some hobbyists had believed was a myth, Berger stated, “I couldn’t give them away. So we said let’s get rid of them. We decided to dump them in the ocean. They were put in boxes. It took three garbage trucks. I would say 300-500 cases. All high series of 1952 Topps. I found a friend of mine who had a garbage scow and we loaded the three trucks-worth on the barge. I was out there with it. Opposite Atlantic Highlands, a few miles out. And that was the end of it. Whoever thought that they would have the kind of value that they would have?”
Who indeed? The four most recent PSA 8 NM-MT sales of the 1952 Topps Mantle have realized prices of $660,000, $501,900, $525,800, and $486,100. The only PSA 8.5 example to sell during this same period over the last two years fetched $1,135,250. There are four PSA 8.5s in existence, and there are six PSA 9s and three PSA 10s graded above them, none of which have sold in over a decade. Based on market trends, however, we can estimate the PSA 9s to be worth anywhere from $5,000,000 to $10,000,000 and the PSA 10s to be worth anywhere from $10,000,000 to $20,000,000 or more. These stratospheric figures put American-made baseball cards on par with original Picasso and Van Gogh paintings and the world's most admired and treasured fine and pop art masterpieces.
The thing about baseball and other sports cards is that a player's rookie card (or cards) are almost always those which collectors value the most. So whether we're talking about Babe Ruth or Christy Mathewson, Ted Williams or Willie Mays, Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter or Mike Trout, this maxim holds true for 99.999% of all players. Indeed, the 1952 Topps Mantle is the only card which we can call to mind that supersedes the value of what is The Mick's true rookie card, the 1951 Bowman high series card #253. While not quite as valued as his iconic 1952 Topps card, the 1951 Bowman has nevertheless made strong moves over the last two years, with the last four PSA 8s fetching $179,095, $156,000, $207,142, and $204,000. There are no 8.5s in existence, but there are nine PSA 9s and a single PSA 10, none of which have sold during this same period. The nine PSA 9s, however, are likely to be worth anywhere from $1,000,000 to as much as $5,000,000 each, and the lone PSA 10 may just be the most expensive baseball card in existence.
In addition to Mantle's 1951 Bowman rookie card, however, there exists one other Commerce Comet "card" produced and distributed during his rookie year of 1951. Enter the offered 1951 Wheaties Premium Photo. According to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, "Whether or not these 5" x 7" black-and-white, blank-back photos were ever issued at all, or only on a test basis, is unknown. Despite being unmarked, they are reliably attributed to General Mills, possibly intended for use as a Wheaties premium." Only a few hundred examples are believed to be in circulation, and until recently the single highest graded of the 69 copies on record at PSA had been a lone PSA 7 NM followed by two examples in the EX-MT+ 6.5 grade. The cards feature a high-gloss coating that typically shows scratches and other surface imperfections as well as significant chipping around both the corners and edges, making high-grade examples a challenge.
Proudly offered by Small Traditions as the #1 lot in our inaugural "Set Registry Masters" Premium Auction is a stunning PSA 9 Mint example of Mickey Mantle's 1951 Wheaties Premium rookie card. Only one other copy has ever achieved the same grade, and only one other copy has ever graded higher. We know it isn't exactly a rookie "card" in the traditional sense. It is more like a cross between a Type 1 rookie photo and a rookie card, both of which, as we stated at the start, are among the most coveted post-war (post-1945) sports collectibles in the market. In addition to the 1951 Bowman card, it is one of only two items currently graded by PSA from Mantle's rookie year of 1951, and its scarcity carries a substantial weight of 5.0 on PSA's Mickey Mantle Master Set Registry, which is equivalent to Mantle's 1953 Bowman Color and 1954 Bowman and Dan-Dee issues, which for comparison's sake report 1,986 and 3,114 and 362 total submissions on record at PSA, respectively. The 1951 Wheaties Premium Mickey Mantle is a truly awesome, ultra glossy, high-quality, condition sensitive rookie year image of the figure most often cited by baby boomers as their idol. We know it isn't worth millions of dollars like his 1951 Bowman rookie card or 1952 Topps high-number card in the same advanced grade, but it is a Mint 9 Mantle rookie worthy of inclusion in the world's most renowned collections, be they of fine art, pop art, or American-made baseball cards.