Last summer, Rob Gough started talking to some buddies who were buying trading cards like crazy.
Gough, an actor and entrepreneur who started the DOPE clothing line, hadn’t collected since he was a kid. He was a little shocked by the uptick in the market. As he got reintroduced into the hobby, Gough realized the opportunity for financial rewards as well as having some fun.
“As a kid when I collected, of course, I didn’t have money for this kind of thing,” Gough said. “So, when I got back in, I dove in full force and just went crazy buying fast and got super addicted very fast. In talking to every industry expert and anybody that bought a card, I’d talk to them for hours, and auction owners, and (went) hunting.”
The card Gough aspired to have? A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. But not just any Mantle, the highest grade he could get his hands on.
In mid-January, Gough bought a PSA 9 version of his dream card for a record-setting $5.2 million through a private sale on PWCC. There are only six PSA 9s and three higher-graded PSA 10s in existence.
“I feel like I just doubled my money,” Gough told Sports Collectors Digest. “It’s so cool. I mean, to me it’s just like a piece of art. It’s so rare and iconic and a part of the hobby that I think really set the hobby off. I’m just honored that I’m able to have it in my possession.”
Gough knew that obtaining one of the extremely rare PSA 10s – which are all privately owned – might not be an option, so he took the next best choice. In 2018, the card was sold by former NFL lineman Evan Mathis for $2.88 million to the person who recently sold it to Gough.
“This 9 is the best 9 out of all six and some have argued this 9 is better than some of the 10s,” Gough said. “The card is gorgeous. So, even if it’s to have the fourth-best Mickey Mantle card in the world is insane.”
“It’s a really, really nice 9,” said Jesse Craig, PWCC director of business development. “I’m not a grader. I know quality when I see it, and out of all the 9s I’ve seen, it’s hands down the nicest.”
Gough started buying lower-graded 1952 Topps Mantles before getting to the 9. He grabbed a 5, 6 – he sold that to his friend, disc jockey-producer Steve Aoki – and then an 8, all the while searching for a higher grade.
Gough got in touch with Craig, who said that PWCC had a beautiful PSA 9 Mantle in its vault, but he didn’t know if the owner was willing to sell. Craig pinged the owner, and the two parties started negotiating.
“Compared to the rise that we’ve seen in the market, I thought the price was very fair for both parties and I think the card itself – it’s a piece of art, basically,” Craig said.
PWCC, which has over $150 million in assets in its vault, is extremely pleased to be involved in the mega transaction, which resulted in the card becoming the top selling sports card of all time, surpassing the Mike Trout Bowman Superfractor that went for $3.936 million last year.
“We are big proponents in trading cards as a legitimate tangible asset class, and I think a sale like this for such an iconic card and for such a public announcement of the sale is only helping to achieve that goal and to truly legitimize the trading card industry as an asset class,” PWCC director of marketing Chris Callahan said.
With the trading card market being red hot, it was unknown what a PSA 9 Mantle might fetch since it went for nearly $3 million in April 2018.
“All the iconic cards have (increased in value by) more than 10 times, so for this card, for me to be able to buy this card, the most iconic card in the hobby for less than a double in 2½ years, in my eyes is an absolute steal,” Gough said. “If you just look at the data of the industry and of other cards, it was a no-brainer.”
Acquiring the Mantle isn’t the only big card Gough has picked up since returning to the hobby last August. The Indianapolis native has purchased a 1916 M101-5 Sporting News Babe Ruth SGC 4; a 1917 Collins-McCarthy blank back “Shoeless” Joe Jackson PSA 6.5, the highest graded of its kind; a few 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan rookies in PSA 10s; a 1984 Star Michael Jordan (PSA only graded nine cards and Gough bought an 8); a couple 2000 Bowman Chrome Tom Brady PSA 10s and a 2000 SP Authentic Brady PSA 10; and a few Peyton Manning rookies.
Gough looks at his collection as a diversified portfolio.
“A little bit of new, current, which for me is like a penny stock, and then a lot of more iconic, vintage where I think is more of the safe play – Apple, Google,” Gough said. “I have a wide range; definitely been having a blast.”
Gough’s goal is to find a 1980 Topps Larry Bird/Magic Johnson rookie card in a PSA 10. He also has his sights set on a 2000 Playoff Contenders Brady.
But Gough isn’t done with acquiring ’52 Topps Mantles. He would like to complete the rainbow of that card – pick up one card at each PSA grade starting with a 1. It would be a phenomenal feat, especially if he can get his hands on one of the PSA 10s.
“If a 10 trades hands, it’s going to be going for $20 million, I know that,” Craig said. “To have a sale that significant – you’re really talking art at this point. You look at a lot of these other high-end paints, they go for hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Gough wants the ’52 Topps Mantle in a PSA 10 in his collection and nothing might stop him from making a big offer if an opportunity presents itself.
“I’m definitely very humbled that I have the 9 and thankful and very happy with it, but, of course, who wouldn’t want the 10?” Gough said. “Even just to meet those three gentlemen, or whoever’s got those cards, would be an honor. If they are ever wanting to part ways with the card, then yeah, I’d love the opportunity to put it in my hands.”