Photo: Heritage Auctions
This week, the Hobby has been invigorated by the news that Heritage Auctions is set to sell an SGC 9.5 graded 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card. The card, from the famous “Rosen Find”, is the highest-graded in the SGC population, sharing that distinction with no other example. Heritage contends that it's on par with the three PSA 10 examples, the only three cards it trails in esteem.
With an estimate of at least $10 million and with bidding already close to ensuring that it will be the most expensive card ever sold, this piece of cardboard will continue to draw mainstream headlines. These landmark results tend to have widespread impact, and nowhere is it felt more acutely than in the Mantle market itself.
The last game-changing 1952 Mantle transaction came with the $5.2 million private sale of a PSA 9 example via PWCC in January of 2021. The sale took place against the backdrop of a market on the rise in 2020 but with considerable positive momentum still behind it. What can we learn from what unfolded next? How did that sale trickle down into lower ‘52 Mantle grades? And into other Mantle grails?
On average, across grades of the 1952 Topps Mantle, the next sale after January 14th, 2021 was 109% higher than the sale immediately preceding the landmark sale. 109%! In other words, the average ‘52 Mantle immediately sold for more than double what it sold for previously.
For 9 of the 26 grades included in this analysis, that very next sale represents the peak value for the card in that grade, meaning that the first sale after the $5.2 million sale was the highest value that card has achieved to date. Five of those nine were grades lower than PSA 4, while three of the remaining four were SGC graded. Ten grades reached their peak within ninety days, and half of the grades in the analysis reached their peak value within 180 days of the sale. Those outcomes may suggest to holders in lower grades that the immediate aftermath presents an attractive selling opportunity if they’re considering parting ways with their treasure in the near future.
Also worth noting: in almost every case, there was eventually an opportunity to buy a card at a valuation lower than the first sale post January 14th. For those collectors with long-term intentions, being the buyer in that first sale perhaps doesn’t make a significant difference, but nonetheless, there were very frequently better buying opportunities available in the following sales.
On average, the value of 1952 Topps Mantles today is 125% higher than it was before the $5.2 million sale. Taking that in tandem with the 109% average increase in the sale subsequent to the headline result, we see that much of the appreciation was locked in quickly, with limited appreciation since. On average, the cards are 18% off their peak values today, but nonetheless, there was a clear resetting of values higher following the landmark sale, and that new level has demonstrated resilience through two market downturns.
Now some might be quick to invoke the age-old cliché, “a rising tide lifts all boats”, arguing that it wasn’t the key sale that lifted the Mantle market, but rather broad market appreciation. Yes, this appreciation took place in the context of a massive bull run in cards.
BUT, isn’t a 1952 Mantle among the very few cards that are much more tide than they are boat?
Many measures of card performance show the market broadly rising in the immediate aftermath of the sale, and that’s not the only instance. One of the key data points that played a role in reversing market sentiment to arrest the spring 2021 skid was the July sale of a PSA 8 ‘52 Mantle for a record $2.1 million at Memory Lane.
Using more limited grade samples, we also examined how the result flowed into values for the 1951 Bowman and 1953 Topps Mantles. Interestingly, results for the Bowman were even more pronounced than they were for the 1952 Topps. On average, the first sale following the $5.2 million result was 157% higher than the sale immediately preceding it - contrast that to 109% for 1952 Topps. If you listen closely, you can still hear the passionate “it’s his true rookie!” arguments reverberating.
However, this reaction may have been more irrational in its exuberance, particularly at the high end. Five of the eight grades sampled peaked within just 60 days of the sale, and today, values are 37% off of their peaks on average. Values today are 114% higher than they were before the landmark sale, again suggesting that the initial reaction (157% higher) was somewhat overdone. Excitement about what the sale could mean for another Mantle grail created an excellent opportunity to cash in before that excitement ultimately subsided, particularly relative to the 1952 card which has better held its ground through downturns.
Positive momentum took longer to flow into sales of the 1953 Topps card. On average, the first sale was only (“only” - ha!) 49% higher than the sale preceding the $5.2 million result. At peak, values were 151% higher, but 1953 Topps was much slower to reach those peaks than the 1951 Bowman. On average, peak value was reached 195 days after the $5.2 million sale, compared to 165 days for the Bowman card. So, in this case, you actually could have made a buying play in the immediate aftermath of the record sale and achieved decent results with the right sell discipline - not the case in the other two cards. Notably, in every single case, the peak actually came before the record $3.1 million sale of a PSA 10 1953 Mantle in August of 2021. Today though, values are 38% off of their peak on average (similar to ‘51 Bowman), but 55% higher than they were before the 1952 landmark sale.
Assuredly, there are no guarantees that the market will follow the same path that it did in early 2021. Say it with me: past performance is no guarantee of future results. And of course, this is only one case study. Other big sales have been met with tepid reactions in the past - for example, the exact same card as the 2021 sale sold at auction in 2018 at Heritage for a then-record $2.88 million, and markets hardly batted an eyelash. However, that result failed to meet the pre-sale estimate of $3.5 million+. Early bidding activity suggests that the current sale poses a strong chance of hurdling the estimate and capturing public attention.
If recent history is any indication, the headline-commanding power of this sale could be a shot of adrenaline for both the Mantle and broader card markets, with the latter in particular need of momentum at the moment. That shot, though, is generally more welcome news to sellers than it is buyers in the short-term.
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