Anthony Giordano had spent two years looking for a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card before his 15-year-old son, Ralph, stumbled upon the “finest known example” at a 1991 baseball card show at Madison Square Garden.
To Giordano, the card’s value is not a surprise, but he wrestled with the idea of selling such a prized possession. In 1991, Giordano bought the card from Alan Rosen, a card dealer so renowned he was nicknamed “Mr. Mint.” Rosen is well known for his association with the famous 1952 Topps find.
Rosen told Giordano the card at that 1991 show was the best of that lot. After two years of searching, not only had Giordano found a 1952 Topps Mantle, he had happened upon arguably the highest quality one to exist.
“When he said that, I said, ‘Would you mind documenting that and putting that in writing for me?’ ” Giordano said.
Rosen obliged. That letter, written on Rosen’s “Mr. Mint” letterhead, says the card is “in my estimation the finest known example in the world.”
“If he was asking $100,000 for that card back then, I probably would have paid it,” Giordano said.
Well, not exactly. Giordano, 75, is the president of a recycling and waste management company in New Jersey who said he possesses a knack for hunting for a good deal. When Ralph discovered at the MSG show that Rosen was selling the card for $57,500, his father instructed him to offer $50,000. Had he known Rosen had purchased the card for $40,000, he said, Giordano might have lowered his offer to $45,000.
“Whatever he asked, I probably would've just offered less,” Giordano said. But any of those figures pale in comparison to what the card is expected to sell for today.
Mantle played all 18 seasons of his career with the New York Yankees, won seven World Series titles and was a three-time American League MVP. The switch-hitting center fielder was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1974, the first year he was eligible.
Joe Orlando, recently named executive vice president at Heritage Auctions, has a long career in the sports collectibles industry. He explained that, while the card would be extremely valuable on its own, the accompanying letter elevates its worth to unprecedented levels.
“It’s that extra layer of pedigree or provenance which separates this particular example from every other high-grade example that has ever come through any of the grading services,” Orlando said.
The 1952 Topps Mantle is widely regarded as the crown jewel of baseball cards. There are known to be only three copies of the card that have been graded a Mint 10, meaning virtually perfect, per PSA Authentication and Grading Services, as well as six that have been judged to be Mint 9s. In November 2020, a Mint 9 version of the Topps Mantle card sold for $5.2 million.
Five years ago, before Giordano’s card had been graded, he was approached with an offer of more than $2 million. But after discussing it with his sons, Giordano turned it down.
This time, he almost passed on selling again but ultimately decided parting with the card was the best course of action. He partnered with Heritage Auctions to facilitate the sale and heeded the auction house’s advice to submit the card for grading. When he did, it was graded a mint-condition 9.5.
Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions for Heritage Auctions, said Giordano’s 1991 purchase came just before a spike in professional card grading. He estimates that today more than 95 percent of cards that sell for more than $1,000 are graded.
Orlando provided context for the level of quality required to attain that grade.
“If I were sitting down with someone who was not familiar or not experienced in card collecting or card grading, even an eight on a scale of one to 10, at arm’s length looks like it’s in mint condition,” Orlando said. “It looks virtually perfect.”
The quality and prestige combined to create a card that has captivated the attention of card collectors, resulting in a top bid surpassing $6 million weeks before the auction closes. Ivy and Orlando expect that number to climb well over $10 million.
“Our job is to present this in the best possible light to collectors around the world, and we think this piece definitely warrants it,” Ivy said. “And it’s on its way to setting a world record.”