There are millions upon millions of baseball cards out in the world, but only a handful of them are rare enough to command a sale price in the seven figure range. According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, one of those cards sold on Thursday night, a 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card. And the price is overwhelming: $2.88 million, making it the second most expensive baseball card ever sold.
The only card to sell for more money than this 1952 Mantle rookie card? The famous 1909 Honus Wagner card, which sold for just over $3 million in 2016.
The history of the Mantle rookie card is fascinating. When the card packs originally came out (in Topps’ second year in business), it was too late in the year to generate any interest, so the cards didn’t sell. The packs of cards sat in the Topps warehouse for seven years, and then the company tried to get rid of them. After selling packs at carnivals for lower and lower prices, the remaining 300 cases of card packs were dumped into the ocean. Anyone who’s had their treasured baseball cards sold while they were away at college might be feeling a familiar pang right about now.
We don’t know who bought the card, but we do know who sold it: Evan Mathis, former NFL offensive lineman for six teams including the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles. Mathis talked to ESPN’s Outside the Lines about the card while it was on the auction block, and told host Bob Ley that he’d owned the card for about two years. Mathis didn’t say how much he originally paid for it, but he did reveal that he had to sell pretty much his entire card collection to acquire it. And considering that he’s been collecting cards since he was a kid, that’s no small thing.
So why sell it? Mathis told ESPN that it’s mainly to buy a Tennessee “dream house” for his wife and three daughters. But considering that he unloaded pretty much all his cards in pursuit of the Mantle rookie card, he also wants to have a little money to start buying cards again. Once a collector, always a collector.
The card was estimated to sell for $3.5 million, which would have beaten the sale price for the Wagner card. While it didn’t live up to that estimate, it came really close. Not too bad for a baseball card.
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