Actor and entrepreneur Rob Gough has paid a record $5.2 million for a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle PSA 9, according to PWCC Marketplace, a leading auction site for high-value trading cards. The news reverberated throughout an industry that has seen the value of cards skyrocket over the last 12 months or so. In August, a one-of-a-kind Mike Trout rookie card set a record with its $3.94 million auction price.
While the 1952 Mantle isn’t a rookie card, it was the first Mantle Topps card. That year was the first time Topps produced a full set of cards.
Gough called the 1952 Mantle the “holy grail of sports cards,” and now he owns one of the very few that exist. The reason for the scarcity is an incredible story:
The story goes that Topps had a huge stockpile of 1952 cards that they couldn’t give away, and at some point around 1959 or 1960, they dumped the cards into the Atlantic Ocean.
Sy Berger, who was a Topps executive and responsible for dumping the cards in the ocean, told Sports Collectors Digest in 2010 that the company had no real choice but to eliminate its warehouse of the 1952 cards that it couldn’t move.
Why was there a warehouse full of 1952 Topps cards that the company couldn’t sell? It goes back to a decision made during the 1952 season.
“The 1952 Topps cards were selling like we were giving away gold. I went to J.E. Shorin (one of Topps’ founding brothers) and said, ‘What do you think about a second series?’ He said he didn’t know,” Berger told Sports Collectors Digest.
“He asked if I could get it out quickly. Little did we realize that by World Series time, baseball cards were not the feature. Mantle and Mays were in that series and a lot of players whose pictures we did not use because of the Bowman/Topps contract wrangle. I had gotten the contracts signed.
“We turned the product around real quickly. That was numbered 311 to 407. And it didn’t sell.”
Cards that were sent out across the country were returned, and Topps warehoused the stockpile. It was like they were sitting on a stockpile of 1988 Topps or 1989 Score. Berger told Sports Collectors Digest he tried to go around to carnivals and sell the 1952 cards 10 for a penny, but he couldn’t find takers.
Ultimately, left with no choice but to rid the company of the stockpile, Berger ordered 300-500 cases loaded onto a barge and dropped into the ocean. That was that.
The Mantle card purchased by Gough is numbered 311. On the back, it lists Mantle’s eye and hair color. It also notes that Mantle “is heralded as Joe DiMaggio’s successor.”