Question: When is a baseball card that auctions for nearly $130,000 a bargain? Answer: When it’s a 1952 Mickey Mantle Topps card with a grade of PSA 7.
We saw just such an animal last month on eBay. On Aug. 22, a seller listed this holy grail of baseball cards at a starting point of $234 — with no reserve (meaning that it would be sold regardless of the price). The card’s bidding history shows that it drew exactly zero bids over the auction’s first six days.
Could a top-condition ’52 Mantle actually slip past the millions of eBay bidders? Not a chance.
On the seventh day of the auction, the first bid dropped in, and it wasn’t just a minor increase over the starting point. It was $71,000. From there, it was off to the races. Over the next two days, the card inspired 255 more bids. Now that’s a bidding war.
During those two days, the price jumped by thousands every hour. When it closed on Aug. 29 just before noon, it had soared to $128,109.
And yet the buyer got a steal. Consider that in May 2021 at Goldin Auctions, a PSA 6-graded 1952 Mantle sold for about the same price ($123,000) while a PSA 8 went for $861,000. And two months prior, Goldin sold a PSA 6 example for $209,100.
More to the point, in April, Robert Edward Auctions offered a 1952 Mantle with the same grade, PSA 7, as the one listed on eBay. It sold for $264,000 — nearly $136,000 more than the eBay PSA 7 example in August.
Want more 7-grade comparables? Over the past few years, Heritage Auctions has handled multiple PSA 7 Mantle 1952 cards that sold for prices between $200,000 and $250,000. So the buyer who paid $128,109 on eBay got away with a below-market price.
HAVING A BALL
Speaking of surprising bids, how about the No. 1 card on our Top 10 list? While the 1952 Topps Mantle discussed above was a bargain buy, the 2020-21 Panini LaMelo Ball card that brought $150,100 feels like an overpay — for now.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the NBA, Ball is a versatile and attention-grabbing 20-year-old rookie with the Charlotte Hornets. He’s averaging 6.1 assists and just under 16 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals per game. They’re not bad numbers at all, but they don’t begin to compare to rookie-season numbers of, say, LeBron James.
If Ball ascends to his potential, the $150,100 card that topped our list may actually be a good buy. After all, it’s a rare Green version of his National Treasures rookie, one of only five made. Plus, it’s autographed.
However, it doesn’t have the benefit of a professional grade. Is it a 10? A 9? An 8? There’s a big difference in value between those grades.
Furthermore, we’ll point out that the jersey patch in the card isn’t cut from game-used apparel. Per Panini’s disclaimer on the reverse: “The enclosed officially licensed material is not associated with any specific player, game, or event.”
So while it’s an enticing piece, it represents a risky speculative buy.
ULTIMATE ALL-PURPOSE BACK
Your fantasy football draft likely featured Christian McCaffrey disappearing from the board with the first or second pick. At age 25, he’s coming off an injury-plagued season, but gridiron fans can’t forget his remarkable 2019 season: 1,387 yards rushing, 116 receptions for another 1,005 yards and 19 TDs total.
On the other hand, McCaffrey’s lost 2020 season (he played in only three games) has kept his memorabilia values soft. The highest-selling McCaffrey items to sell in the past three months are relatively modest, compared to those of other NFL stars.
Here’s a look at four desirable McCaffrey examples, each preceded by a recent auction price paid at eBay:
• $2,247 on 47 bids for a 2017 Panini National Treasures marked #59/99. It includes an autograph and jersey patch and is graded BGS 9.5.
• $1,195 on 30 bids for an ungraded 2017 Panini Select Green Prizm marked #5/5.
• $1,175 on 61 bids for a 2017 Panini Flawless Silver card marked #19/20. Graded BGS 9.5, the card features both an autograph and jersey patch.
• $1,035 on 4 bids for a die-cut 2017 Select Prizm Gold marked #8/10. Graded BGS 8, the card features McCaffrey’s autograph.
OHTANI A TRUE TWO-WAY STAR
We’ve never seen a player quite like Shohei Ohtani. Yes, the incompatible Babe Ruth was a top-shelf pitcher and a revolutionary slugger. But during his pitching years (1914 to 1919 with Boston), Ruth wasn’t an everyday hitter. And once the Yankees acquired him for the 1920 season, he all but gave up pitching to focus his efforts on offense.
Ohtani is a true two-way player. His numbers prove it. Through Sept. 5, he had 43 homers and 93 RBI as a DH. As a pitcher, he owned a 9-1 record and 2.97 ERA, with 135 Ks in 112 innings.
In the process, Ohtani has moved to the head of the class in terms of the baseball-collectibles hobby. Teammate Mike Trout’s injury this season doesn’t hurt his appeal long-term (not with his track record!), but Ohtani is such a unique player that collectors are swarming.
His 2018 autographed Bowman Chrome issue is the one collectors are chasing. It comes in multiple Refractor colors and variations. One of the true rarities: an Orange Refractor from a limited run of 25. A BGS 9.5 with a 10 auto recently sold for $40,117 on 106 bids.
OHTANI AND AURELIO
Speaking of Shohei Ohtani, one rarity vintage collectors will appreciate is his 2018 Topps Heritage card, designed in the same style as Topps’ 1969 set.
You can find a base-set example of Ohtani’s 2018 Heritage for a few dollars. But special insert variations of the card can get pricey. Example: A Black Refractor version of the card graded PSA 10 recently sold for $3,828 on 40 bids. It was marked #65/69.
The photograph on the front of Ohtani’s Heritage bears a passing resemblance to an enigmatic piece from Topps’ 1969 set: Aurelio Rodriguez’s card. It’s not an exact replica, but there’s a similarity.
Fans of classic Topps issues know the story of Rodriguez’s 1969 card. The photograph on the front is actually batboy Leonard Garcia. To this day, no one knows for sure how the mix-up occurred. Accounts from multiple sources (including one at the Baseball Hall of Fame) rule out a prank on Rodriguez’s account: It was his first Topps card — why would he pursue such a trick?
The error was more likely a mix-up in Topps’ production process. It makes the card a cool curiosity, though not a valuable one. You can pick it up for less than $5.