When it comes to investing in sports memorabilia, no portfolio is complete without a few, high-grade Mickey Mantle baseball cards. There is a reason why this Hall of Fame inductee commands such attention within the investing community: collectability.
Second, he was a prolific slugger. His home runs were both mammoth in distance, and theatric in timing. It was not uncommon for Mantle to come through with a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, with his team down by a run.
Third, he played on numerous, contending teams. An unusually high percentage of his teams went on to play or win the World Series. His ability to perform well in front of a national audience sealed his stature as a blue chip player.
Even now, with more than half of the fans who follow the game closely likely not old enough to remember him playing, Mantle's earliest baseball cards are almost always found on the list of most watched rookie cards on eBay.
Many of those same children that fantasized of being Mickey Mantle, in their youths, have now gone on to become prominent collectors. Their continued interest in Mantle cards and autographs has put a pricing floor under the price of his memorabilia.
Top Cards to Watch
Because of Mantle’s prominent place in the collecting world, hundreds of different cards have been issued over the years. Many modern issues have little investment value. However, several dozen vintage Mantle cards are in tremendous demand and provide long-term appreciation opportunities. If you're buying, grab the best you can afford--and the oldest. Be sure the card is well centered and looks good to others of the same grade with a naked eye. You simply can't go wrong with Mantle as long as you follow those rules.
Below are a few of his cards, which are both liquid and highly sought after. Click the title to see examples of that particular issue for sale or auction on eBay.
1952 Topps #311 – This is Mantle’s first Topps issue. While the card is a double print and there are often several on eBay at any given time, high-graded cards are incredibly difficult to find and command stratospheric premiums. Topps couldn't sell its last series of cards and several years after they were issued, the company finally got sick of trying to sell them for pennies on the dollar and dumped thousands of them into the ocean. It's one of the hobby's greatest true stories and the fact that Mantle's card was in that series just adds to the intrigue.
A PSA 9 (mint) example sold for $282,588 in 2006 but would likely bring twice that at auction as of this writing. A PSA 8.5 sold for $273,550 in 2013. Near mint 7s average $50,000 and even cards graded Poor (1) average around $4,600.
1951 Bowman #253 – This is Mickey Mantle’s true rookie card. Although not as valuable as the 1952 Topps, nevertheless, it features prominently in high-end investors’ collections. Issued late in the season, it's not easy to find, especially in high grade. There is still significant room for growth here, according to most advanced collectors and veteran dealers. It's wise to invest in slightly higher grade cards here because of the lower prices, which range from around $3,500 for VG on up. A PSA 9 sold for over $220,000 in 2013 but a nice EX/MT 6 can usually be found for around $5500-$6000.
1953 Topps #82 --One of Mantle's most beautiful cards, this card still represents a potential growth play for investors and a darn nice looking card for collectors who just want an old Mantle card. The 1953 Topps series was created from a series of paintings and is very desirable. Because of the red border at the bottom, these can be very tough to find in higher grades but a nice looking EX/MT 6 can be found for around $2,500-$3,000. Shop around and buy the best centered one you can find.
1969 Topps #500 – White Letter Variation – This is an error of Mantle’s last card. A small percentage of the Mantle cards made in 1969 had white letters for the name, instead of yellow letters. The result is incredible scarcity and consistent, investment demand for this card. Both the correct and error cards have shown consistent demand and appreciation. For example, a yellow-letter card that was graded PSA 4 recently sold for $84. Compare this to a white-letter card in the same grade that sold for $475.
Decades after he played his last big league game, Mantle cards remain the most popular of the post-War era, consistently showing growth, especially at the higher levels and we don't expect that will change any time soon.