The 1952 Topps baseball card set has long been one of the most desired complete sets to own in the entire hobby of sports cards. While many people new or unfamiliar with the hobby tend to think it is due to the Mickey mantle card, the reasons for the sets popularity go far beyond that. What we will explore here is a little bit of the background on this historic set, some of the key cards, and a little information you likely never knew as to why some cards carry high values in the set.
For starters the dimensions of the Topps set are 2 5/8 x 3 3/4 which at that time was a large card. One of the benefits of this over the competition, Bowman, is that it allowed for bigger photos, the inclusion of team logos on the card, and backs that contained both statistics and a short “bio blurb.” While by our standards today this is all old news, back then this was a huge deal.
The set did have its problems as some would call them as they overlooked many players when pressing the set whom were incredibly popular, and three whom were omitted due to their failure to secure a contract with them in time for inclusion. The three players they failed to hammer out a deal with were Ralph Kiner, Stan Musial, and Ted Williams. Although they printed a template for Joe DiMaggio, he retired prior to the print run and was cut from the series, another move considered by many a mistake as four of the most popular of the time were missing.
So far as the players they decided to leave out of the set for nothing more than space restrictions, the names are a mind Boggling “Who’s Who” of talent. These names do surprise many people that aren’t acquainted with the set: Ed “Whitey” Ford, Casey Stengel, Satchel Paige, Nellie Fox, Carl Furillo, Vic Raschi, Sal Maglie, Hal Newhouser, and Marty Marion. As a New Jersey based company, many to this day still cannot understand why they left out some very popular New York players when that was to be the market they really wanted to establish a foot hold in.
There has long been a story that a big reason the Topps set is so valuable is based on scarcity. That is absolutely true and confirmed by Topps as well as people who collected in that era. Comparing the value of the ’52 Topps set to Bowman is like night and day. Topps initially released card number 1-311, and later numbers 312-407. The first series had dismal sales numbers, due in part to a number of errors and sloppy workmanship.
To expand on this, there are numerous cards that were double and triple printed, very poorly cropped cards, sloppy printing that made some portraits fuzzy, and of course the cards that were printed with the wrong information. Notably Joe Page and Johnny Sain had the wrong biographies on their cards. Kids noticed these things and stuck to Bowman. Because of this however, the second series which included the Mickey Mantle card were printed in a more limited quantity.
To further complicate things, the demand for the cards were so low that Topps was stuck with literally thousands of pallets of them they had no idea what to do with. As the season ended and the cards were still sitting there, Topps had to do something to get rid of them. The first idea was to insert one 1952 card into each pack of 1953 cards. Somewhere along the line this idea was partially nixed and this was only done with 1953 packs being shipped to Canada for sale. How long this was done however is unknown. As they were still overcrowded and had no storage room, Topps actually did charter a barge to take the remaining stock a few miles off the jersey coast to be dumped in the ocean. Instantly the entire second series became more valuable.
So far as the money cards in the set go, there are several very notable cards that always remain in demand. The number 311 Mickey Mantle is the obvious heavy hitter in the set accounting for about 25% of the total set value under normal grading conditions. The Mantle has sold for $160,000, with rumors of a sale for a gem mint 10 card going over $275,000 although the concerned parties will not confirm this. Under normal conditions the card can grab $20,000 with tremendous ease. What many people fail to think of though is that a very highly graded Eddie Matthews and Andy Pafko card are worth well beyond their listed book value. The reason for this is that they are the first and last card of the set and took the most abuse from kids that kept their cards stored using rubber bands.
Aside from those cards, the key players to home in on are the following: Monte Irvin, Bob Feller, Willie Mays, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Larry Doby, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Bill Dickey. These are the cards that generally constitute the bulk of the sets value.
As you can see now, the 1952 Topps baseball set is valuable for more than just containing the Mickey mantle card or being the first foray into baseball for Topps. The scarcity of this set along with some of the incredible players included make this set timeless. The only question that likely never will be answered in full is what they were thinking when they left all those tremendous stars out of the set?