The official calling card of the hobby elite1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311 PSA NM-MT 8. It seems impossible that it has already been twenty years since the world lost Mickey Mantle, who succumbed to terminal liver disease at Baylor University Medical Center on August 13, 1995, just a few miles from the world headquarters of Heritage Auctions. The passing of any immortal is always a shock, but the man had been so emblematic of his era, so firmly tethered to an America as seen through the eyes of the Baby Boomer generation, that his death seemed like the signal of an end of far more than a human life. American idealism itself, it felt, had been dealt a heavy blow.
To be sure, the curtain had been pulled back on the perpetually boyish Oklahoman who claimed DiMaggio's center field grass for his own, but those revelations of alcoholism, of marital infidelities and substandard parenting, were never met with the contrived outrage that characterizes the modern tabloid culture. We had fallen much too hard for Mantle's diamond heroics and southern boy charm to allow him to be redefined, and forgiveness had been the correct choice. The bloodsport of toppling our heroes had not yet become the new national pastime, and if Mickey wasn't perfect, well, that only made him more human, more relatable--one of us.
In the simplest terms, Mickey Mantle was a man of his age. Just as Babe Ruth had personified the decadence of the Roaring Twenties, Mantle was emblematic of the American optimism that gave the world Elvis Presley and brightly colored automobiles with tail fins fit for a blue whale. We had won the war, rescued western civilization from genocidal totalitarianism, and we felt as if there was no stopping us. America was going big.
The ownership at Topps Chewing Gum felt it--the name itself was an expression of that infectious confidence. Though the company had dipped its toe into the trading card waters with its Hopalong Cassidy issue of 1950, Sy Berger--widely considered "the father of the modern baseball card"--set about constructing something both unprecedented and unequivocal the next fall. In both the number of entries and the dimensions of each individual card, his creation was larger than any single-year issue to date, an audaciously bold debut.
Rarely is any venture so intrepid immune to a stumble or two, and this brings us to the offered lot. The upper-pantheon significance of the man himself is only half the story, the other half inhabiting a much lower altitude, the briny deep. Mantle's #311 representation launched the "high-number series" of the 1952 Topps issue, a portion of the set that fell victim to unrealistic deadlines and thus failed to meet its expected distribution quotas. Only small quantities made it to counter displays at the local five and dime, the balance ultimately towed several miles off the New Jersey shore and dumped to clear space on the warehouse floor for newer models.
And so, today, the distance between supply and demand is nearly as vast as the Atlantic Ocean that serves as the final resting place for most of the original population of this iconic trading card. Nowhere is this more true than at the upper reaches of the PSA population chart, where we find ourselves near the start of a soaring pricing boom that elevated our December 2015 offering at this grade to a world record price of $525,800.
Condition is remarkably fine, with strong centering, flawless registration and a gloss that supplies a pack-fresh sheen to the aesthetics. There is every reason to believe that this card will represent yet another step on the climb to the pricing stratosphere, and an even more serious threat to the supremacy of the T206 Wagner as the hobby's standard bearer.
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