It’s a baseball card collector’s fantasy: sifting through a storage trunk in the attic and finding that rare card now worth tens of thousands of dollars. Enough money to kick-start your retirement, pay off the mortgage, cover the kids’ college tuition and leave behind a nice inheritance.
That dream has been playing out in my mind ever since I read a Wall Street Journal story recently about the red-hot market for the Topps 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card.
The New York Yankee Hall of Fame slugger’s first card with Topps is now worth about $500,000 if it’s in mint condition, the story said. That’s an insane 674 percent increase in value over the past decade, the Journal reported.
What’s more, other Mantle cards from his playing days in the 1950s and 1960s are said to be worth plenty, too — the 1964 Mantle card has gone from $890 10 years ago to about $1,900 today. Mantle’s 1961 card now fetches about $2,400 today, from $870 a decade ago.
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But the 1952 Mantle is the star attraction at an upcoming card auction being handled by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. Some are predicting that this collectible could even reach $1 million or more by the time bidding ends Nov. 17.
Why is the 1952 Mantle card so hot?
Now here’s a teachable moment to share with your kids on the laws of supply and demand. Turns out Topps did not flood the market with Mantle cards in 1952. Add the demand-side fact that Mantle remains a fan favorite long after his death, and the math becomes simple. And while recent years have been tough on the baseball card market, that’s not generally been the case for cards from the 1950s and 1960s — the golden era of collecting.
I don’t possess a 1952 Mantle, but I have several other of his cards in my collection that are worth more than the pennies I paid for them in the 1960s, even if they aren’t all in excellent condition and might not haul in three figures on the open market.
As I’ve noted several times over the years, selling just isn’t yet in the cards. Like owning a high-quality stock, I want to hang onto my Mantles and all the others for a while longer before cashing out or passing them down to my kids.
For now, I’m all about preserving and protecting my childhood hobby. Some general advice:
▪ Preserve. Make sure your cards are stored safely in a relatively cool, dry place. Humidity and temperature extremes can damage cards, so avoid attics and basements. I also wouldn’t recommend putting any prized possessions in the spokes of your kid’s bicycle.
The pros recommend putting your most valued cards in plastic sleeves or thick plastic holders to prevent yellowing and aging, and maybe to keep the dog from chewing them to bits.
▪ Protect. You wouldn’t leave valuable jewelry or thousands of dollars in cash in your closet or in the sock drawer. Well, the same goes for a valuable baseball card. The safest places are in your safety deposit box at the bank or in a safe at your home.
In addition, list your most valuable cards on your homeowner’s insurance policy and take pictures of them in case they’re ever damaged by fire or water.
▪ Plan. Do your kids really want to be the guardian of your 1961 Mantle card? Ask them first before you tweak your will.
Or possibly a better strategy: Divide your Mantles and the rest of your vintage cards among your children with the stipulation that they can do whatever they want with them.
That way, you’ve made the decision and there’s one less thing to worry about. And your kids might learn a final lesson about value — that the cards are worth something only when the buyer hands you the cash.
Steve Rosen: 816-234-4879