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Mickey Mantle Rookie Cards

1951 Bowman Mantle Vs. 1952 Topps Mantle:
Which is the true rookie?

1951 Bowman


1952 Topps


The most sought after cards of most players are their first year card, or "rookie" card.  Mickey Mantle cards are no different.  Collectors rountinely discuss if the 1951 Bowman or 1952 Topps is Mantle's rookie card.  At first glance the answer seems obvious; one card is from 1951 and the other is from a year later.  But there is more nuance to it than that.  To get a better understanding we must take a look at the card landscape at the time these cards were released.


During the 1950s there were two major players in the card market: Bowman and Topps.  In 1951, Bowman was the established brand.  They had been putting out card sets since 1948.  Topps attempted a small set in 1951, but felt their product could challenge Bowman for card supremacy.  In the spring of 1952, Topps released a set of 407 cards, printed on higher quality stock.  The size of the card was significantly larger than Bowman's, and each card contained beautiful artwork with vibrant colors.  Kids loved the innovations that Topps made, and Topps started outselling Bowman. This continued for several years, and by 1956, Bowman was out of business. 

There is also another layer to the 1952 Topps set.  During the 50s and 60s, Topps would release different series throughout the year.  For example, in the spring of 1952, Topps released series 1, which contained the first 80 cards in the set.  Subsequent series were released as the year went on.  The last series in the set, series 6 (known as the "high number series"), was released in the fall.  By this time of the year, football season started and kids started to lose interest in baseball cards.  Series 6 did not sell well, and many cases of inventory were returned to Topps.  Topps tried to sell the cases for deep discounts but by 1960 there were still some 300-500 cases of series 6 left in their warehouse.  Room was needed in the warehouse so executives ordered the cases be disposed of.  Cases were loaded onto a barge and dumped into the Hudson River.  Included in this "high number" series 6 were many legends including first year Topps cards of Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Ed Matthews, and Roy Campanella!

You are probably wondering why all this is important.  The generation which fell in love with Mickey Mantle also developed a deep love for Topps cards.  As the Bowman brand faded away, kids continued to collect Topps into the 60s and beyond. This connection to Topps created "brand loyalty".  The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card has long been considered the holy grail of collecting.  It features one of the games most popular players, a beautiful image with vibrant artwork, Mantle's first Topps card, and the mystique assosiated with 1952 Topps high numbers.  While the 1951 Bowman card may be his true rookie card, most collectors still prefer his Topps "rookie".  Auction prices clearly reflect that preference, as 1952 Topps cards regularly sell for 3x the value of 1951 Bowman cards in the same grade (see price guide below).  The Bowman rookie is still quite desirable and valuable, but 1952 Topps is the king.


PSA price guide for 1952 Topps

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PSA price guide for 1951 Bowman

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Selling a 1951 Bowman or 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle? We are buying! Reach out to us today!

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