I don’t typically dwell on the prices of cards as much as most; I am traditionally more drawn to them because of the players pictured and the design of the cards. There are, however, exceptions, and the image shown here of a display of boxes of 1952 Topps cards at a Woolworth’s clearly qualifies as exceptional. In every sense of the word.
The fantasy quality of it all is what makes the thing so utterly compelling (It is the cover of the May 1 issue of Sports Collectors Digest). As the advertising sheets included in the display indicate, the boxes are from the first series in 1952, so we're talking 57 years ago.
While reference guides usually indicate that there were six cards in a nickle pack in 1952, it’s interesting to note that the signs on the right and left of the display say “Bubble Gum with 5 Picture Cards.”
So where did we come up with the figure in the title of $46,200,000? That was the fun part. I consulted two of the most prominent unopened pack experts in the country (Steve Hart of Baseball Card Exchange and Reed Kasaoka, director of purchasing for Dave & Adam’s Card World), explained what I was trying to do and asked for an estimate of what an unopened box of perfectly pristine 1952 Topps first series cards might sell for.
With nary a bit of hemming and hawing, both immediately came up with a figure of $200,000 per box, on the button. Both also conceded that this was a sort of fantasy figure that I was looking for, and noted that their per-box estimate didn’t take into account the obvious marketplace saturation that would take place if that many unopened boxes of any product – even one as wildly coveted and revered as 1952 Topps – were to show up on the market all at once.
So with that understanding, the rest was simple. I studied the picture as carefully as I could and came up with three rows from front to back, 11 rows from right to left, with boxes stacked eight, seven and six boxes high. Obviously, that calculation, too, is subject to some debate, but for our purposes it seemed like a good guess.
And voilá, with 231 boxes at $200,000 each, you come up with $46,200,000, or almost enough to pay for a couple of years of Alex Rodriguez’s talents or maybe provide a smattering of federal bailout money to a tiny savings and loan. Not bad ROI for an initial investment of $277.
I know, I know, I can hear you out there saying, “Geez, what if they had been high numbers?”