The 1952 Topps baseball card set was printed and issued by the Topps Chewing Gum Company of Brooklyn, New York. It was Topps' first major baseball card issue.
In 1951 Topps had issued two small and somewhat unattractive sets, each contained a scant 52 cards and were formatted like playing card decks. One set featured cards with a blue reverse, while the other featured cards with a red reverse. Today the blue-back set is considerably scarcer. Also in 1951, Topps issued three supplementary sets; "Connie Mack All-Stars," "Current All-Stars," and "Team Cards." While all three of these sets are quite scarce, they are not very popular with collectors (perhaps due to their non-standard 2 1/6 x 5 1/4 inch size). Although none of these five sets would win an award for outstanding design or artwork, they were commercially successful nonetheless, prompting Topps to continue producing cards.
The following year Topps knew they had to produce a blockbuster, innovative set if they were really going to give the market leader, Bowman Gum Company, a run-for-their-money. After months of exhaustive design work, Topps produced a set that is widely acknowledged as the absolute pinnacle of post-war sportscard issues - the 1952 Topps baseball card set! The 1952 Topps set was truly colossal for its day. At 407 cards, it was the largest single-year issue ever produced. Its 2 5/8 x 3 3/4 inch cards were the largest sized baseball card ever offered for over--the-counter sale. Other major design innovations included: the insertion of player statistics for the previous season and career totals on the backs of the cards, and the use of color team logos on the fronts. The artwork on these cards is positively beautiful! The fronts feature black and white photos that were hand-colored with bright, vibrant reds, blues, greens, etc. The text on the backs is neat, clear and very easy to read. Topps really hit a home run with their 1952 baseball card set!!
BY THE NUMBERS
The 1952 Topps set was printed on a total of six 100-card sheets and issued in six different, consecutively numbered series. The first sheet included cards numbered 1-80. It contained 60 single-printed cards and 20 double-printed cards, accounting for a total of 100 cards. The first print run of cards numbered 1-80 featured black-printed backs and contained two of the post-war market's most famous error cards, #48 Joe Page (with card #49 Johnny Sain's write-up on the back) and #49 Johnny Sain (with card #48 Joe Page's write-up on the back). The second print run also featured cards with black-printed backs, but included the corrected versions of card #48 and #49. The final print runs featured cards with red-printed backs and didn't include any error cards. Apparently, there were either several print runs of red-back cards, or one extremely large print run, because the red-backs are encountered much more frequently than the black-backs. In general, all cards numbered 1-80 are very difficult to find in high-grade. The first 10 or 15 cards are virtually impossible to find in high-grade. This sheet featured all-time greats: Phil Rizzuto, Warren Spahn, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and Robin Roberts.
The second sheet included cards numbered 81-130. It contained 50 double-printed cards, accounting for a total of 100 cards. Evidently there was a very large print run of this second series because cards numbered 81-130 tend to be the most plentiful in the set. This sheet featured the Bob Feller card.
The third sheet included cards numbered 131-190. It contained 40 double-printed cards and 20 single-printed cards. This sheet featured Billy Martin's rookie card. The fourth sheet included cards numbered 191-250. It contained 40 double-printed cards and 20 single-printed cards. This sheet featured the Yogi Berra card, an extremely difficult issue to find in high grade.
The fifth sheet included cards numbered 251-310, the "semi-high" series. It contained 40 double-printed cards (#251-280 and #301-310) and 20 single-printed cards (#281-300). These cards must have been produced in lesser quantities than the preceding four series as they are much rarer. The first Topps card of Willie Mays is featured in this series.
The sixth sheet included cards numbered 311-407, the famous "high--number" series. It contained 94 single-printed cards and 3 double-printed cards. These cards were produced in extremely small quantities and are generally regarded as the rarest regular-issue Topps cards. When these cards do show up, which is hardly ever, oftentimes the source is from Canada. Apparently, Topps must have distributed the majority of the high-number production in Canada. The high-number series is chock full of great players including: Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bill Dickey, Eddie Mathews, and, of course, the Topps rookie card of Mickey Mantle the most famous baseball card ever issued!
The three cards that were double-printed on the high-number sheet are #311 Mickey Mantle, #312 Jackie Robinson and #313 Bobby Thomson. Interestingly, even though both copies of these three cards were printed on the same sheet, they have subtle differences between them. For example, all three cards exist with two different back varieties. The Type I variety features the arrows, which form the stitching on the ball that contains the card's number, pointing to the right. The Type 2 variety features the arrows pointing to the left. Also, the Type I Mantle has an incomplete black box around the team logo on the front of the card, and a small white print fleck in the upper left field. The Type 2 Mantle has neither of these minor printing "flaws."
MOST IMPORTANT CARDS IN THE SET
The following is a listing of the most important cards in the 1952 Topps set. The cards are listed in numerical order. For reference purposes, I've included the current Sportscard Market Report - (February 1997) value for PSA graded, unqualified NM-MT 8 examples:
#1 Andy Pafico ($8,200). The first card in the 1952 Topps set and one of the postwar market's toughest condition rarities. This card is rarely encountered above EX and is virtually impossible to find in NM-MT. Whenever a specimen with sharp corners shows up, it's usually way off-center or has slight corner "tears." This card is definitely a "stopper" in high-grade. Unfortunately, the marketplace realizes this fact and is currently fully valuing the card.
#48 Joe Page error ($820). The rare low-numbered card mistakenly features the biographical write-up for card #49, Johnny Sain, on its reverse. It is only available with a black-back.
#49 Johnny Sain error ($660). This is the "twin" error to card #48. This features the biographical write-up for Joe Page on its reverse. It is also only available with a black-back.
#261 Willie Mays ($3,750). This is the key card in the very scarce, semi-high number series. It's Willie Mays' first Topps card and is a beautiful, richly colored work of art.
#311 Mickey Mantle ($33,000). This is the key card in the most popular baseball card set ever produced. It's also Mickey Mantle's (the most popular baseball player ever) first Topps card. All things considered, I rate this as the most important baseball card ever produced! It's truly a classic.
#312 Jackie Robinson ($2,150). This is the second card in the very rare high-number series and is Jackie Robinson's first Topps card. It has particularly beautiful artwork and is one of the keys to the set.
#314 Roy Campanella ($3,250). A key, single-print high-number, this is Campy's first Topps card. It is virtually impossible to find in high-grade.
#333 Pee Wee Reese ($2,250). The beloved Dodger shortstop's first Topps card is a key, single-print high-number. It is exceedingly difficult to find this issue well-centered.
#392 Hoyt Wilhelm ($1,050). This is the rookie card of one of baseball's all-time most durable pitchers. Wilhelm played from 1952 to 1972 and pitched in an incredible 1,070 games. He is widely credited with being responsible for establishing "relief pitcher" as a major position in baseball.
#400 Bill Dickey ($1,400). This is another high-number, Hall-of-Famer rarity. This card pictures Dickey as a coach and is another example that's very difficult to find well-centered.
#407 Eddie Mathews ($6,750). The final card in the 1952 Topps set is a major condition rarity. This is the rookie card of the great Braves slugger. This card is rare in all grades and the centering is usually way off. In my opinion, it is the rarest regular issue post-war baseball card in NM-MT condition.
1952 TOPPS - WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU
The 1952 Topps baseball card set is the most popular sportscard set ever produced. Although it certainly receives a great deal of attention, I feel it's still one of the sportscard market's best buys. Here are five reasons why 1952 Topps baseball cards should continue to appreciate in price and why purchasing them could be a very rewarding endeavor.
1. Intense Demand. 1952 Topps baseball cards are the subject of very intense demand, as collectors fiercely compete with each other to purchase high-grade examples. As a matter of fact, they are the most "in-demand" cards in the entire post-war market. My company's average turnover time for high-grade examples is usually measured in hours. Remember, intense demand is the number one factor that contributes to price appreciation.
2. United Supply. The available supply of 1952 Topps baseball cards is very limited indeed. Despite a couple of major "finds" of these cards in the late 1980s, they just aren't available in any significant quantity. Apparently, almost all of the cards from the "finds" must be residing in long-term collections. I aggressively scour the floor of every major card show trying to buy 1952 Topps cards from other dealers. If I get lucky I might find a half dozen or so non Hall-of-Famers and one or two star cards. If you plan on purchasing some 1952 Topps cards, you'll need to be patient and you should definitely act quickly whenever a high-grade piece becomes available.
3. Reasonably Priced. When you consider the extreme popularity and very limited supply of 1952 Topps cards, their current prices seem very reasonable. With the exception of a few higher priced rarities, the majority of the great Hall-of-Famers in this set sell for less than $1, 000. And most of the non Hall-of-Famers can be purchased for less than $100.
4. Fantastic Long-Term Track Record. The 1952 Topps set has a long-term track record of price appreciation that would be the envy of the hottest "growth stock" Through thick and thin, year in and year out, prices for these cards just keep going up and up. Since 1980, the price of a NM-MT complete set has risen a staggering 2,300%. Although past performance is never a guarantee of future results, the previous three factors (intense demand, limited supply, and still reasonable prices) bode well for its future potential.
5. A Truly Beautiful Classic Set - The Pinnacle of an Era. If you forgot about their rarity price potential, etc. and just take a look at 1952 Topps, you're sure to be awestruck. They are truly beautiful. They are vividly colored, well-designed works of art. They represent one of the greatest periods in our nation's history and some of the most legendary names in baseball. This set is the pinnacle of an era.
Putting together a set of 1952 Topps baseball cards can be a terrifically rewarding accomplishment. Imagine how much fun you'd have acquiring these beauties, one card at a time, all the while learning more about the history of baseball and the pursuit of card collection.
1952 TOPPS - THE BEST BETS
The following are the cards in this great set which I feel have the most potential. I've included the current "Sportscard Market Report" (February 1997) value for PSA graded, unqualified NM-MT 8 examples. Because these are essentially the most underpriced cards in this important set, you may have to pay more (perhaps substantially more), than the listed prices in order to acquire these cards. In NM-MT 8 or better condition, I give the following 1952 Topps my highest personal recommendation:
#2 Pete Runnels ($95). This is the second card in the set and a major condition rarity. It is considered to be a common value card by most price guides, but definitely not one in my book. This issue is almost as difficult to find in high-grade as the #1 Pafko, yet sells for less than 2% of the price. Centering is a major problem on the majority of these cards. Extremely undervalued.
#11 Phil Rizzuto ($360). A great low-number rarity. This is the "Scooters" second Topps baseball card, and definitely his most popular. It's nearly impossible to find a well-centered NM-MT example. The current market price is way too low.
#20 Billy Loes ($350). A major low-number condition rarity. Good luck trying to find this card well-centered. It's nearly impossible. Almost all of our clients who are trying to put together a high-grade 1952 set need this card.
#33 Warren Spahn ($640). Another great low-number rarity. This is a beautiful card that is extremely popular. Could easily double or triple in price.
#36 Gil Hodges ($310). A tough low-number card of the Dodgers' powerful right-handed slugger. Great potential at current price levels.
#37 Duke Snider ($610). The great Dodger centerfielder's most popular Topps baseball card. A key low-number rarity. This card usually comes off-center, with subdued original gloss, off-white borders and weak color. A truly NM-MT example, with nice eye-appeal, should sell for well above today's levels.
#48 Joe Page error ($820). One of the post-war markets' key error cards, and definitely one of its rarest. You just can't find this card! When one does surface it's usually way off-center (typically with an inverted cut) or has terrible eye-appeal. I think this card has an extremely bright future and could easily sell for two to three times current levels.
#49 Johnny Sain error ($660). My comments for this card are essentially the same as for the #48 Joe Page error. These cards are good deals because, as more and more collectors finish off their standard 407-card sets, they're going to want to continue collecting 1952's. So, they will probably try to put together a run of low-numbers in both red and black backs, or they might try to collect both varieties of the three double-printed high numbers, and they will definitely want to own both of these error cards.
#59 Robin Roberts ($475). A touch low-number rarity. Roberts was a great pitcher for the Phillies. He had six consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins and 300 or more innings pitched. The current market price on this card is absurdly low.
#88 Bob Feller ($420). The key card in the second series. Although not the rarest '52 Topps, this is still a good deal because Feller is a major Hall-of-Famer. The card is extremely attractive and popular, and the price is very reasonable.
#175 Billy Marlin ($490). Billy Martin's rookie card. This is the key card in the third series. It usually comes with major chipping along the borders. Also, it's incredibly difficult to find well-centered. If you have an opportunity to purchase a NM-MT example, go for it!
#191 Yogi Berra ($675). The key card in the fourth series. In high-grade, this card is an ultra-rarity! Like the Billy Martin, it typically comes with a lot of paper chipping along the borders and on the comers. Evidently Topps must have used a very thin and brittle paper on the third and fourth series cards, because this chipping problem is common to quite a few of them. Of all my 1952 Topps "Best Bet," Hall-of-Famers, this is my number one choice for future price appreciation potential. I think its price could go up 300-400% without having any effect on demand.
#261 Willie Mays ($3,750). The key semi-high, fifth series card. This issue is extremely popular as it's Mays' first Topps card, is an incredibly beautiful card with deep violet color and is quite scarce. The number one quality defect common to this card is poor centering. To find a 60/40 or better copy is a challenge, to find a 55/45 or better copy is virtually impossible.
#277 Early Wynn ($280). A rare semi-high, fifth series card. Cards of this great Indians/White Sox pitcher are overlooked by collectors, and, therefore, are undervalued if you take into account "quality of player."
#311 Mickey Mantle ($33,000). This is the most popular baseball card ever produced! It's the most famous card, of the most famous player, in the most famous set. It's a proxy for the entire sportscard market. It's a pretty fair bet that "as the '52 Mantle goes, so goes the market." Although, from a percentage price appreciation standpoint, this card is not the best deal around. I think the above facts are compelling enough to recommend purchase. If you don't have the time or patience to try to piece together a complete set of 1952 Topps, but you do want to buy just one really great, really famous card, I think the '52 Topps Mantle would be a superb choice.
#312 Jackie Robinson ($2,150). A key high number and Robinson's first Topps card. This issue is extremely popular and is truly a gorgeous baseball card.
#314 Roy Campanella ($3,250). One of the most desirable high-numbers and one of the toughest to find in high-grade. This is Campy's first Topps card and is notorious for being very poorly centered. A well-centered, NM-MT example is definitely a rare find and a great deal at today's price levels.
#321 Joe Black ($300). This is considered to be a common value card by most price guides, but I do not agree! A rare card of this popular Brooklyn pitcher, it usually comes with weak color and poor centering. Very undervalued.
#333 Pee Wee Reese ($2,250). One of the most popular and in-demand cards in the entire 1952 Topps set. This key high-number is Pee Wee's first Topps card and is incredibly difficult to find well-centered. This card rates a strong buy!
#369 Dick Groat ($620). The rookie card of this popular Pirates shortstop. This is a very attractive card and a great deal at current levels.
#372 Gil McDonald ($720). This is another popular, yet undervalued high-number rarity. All of the 1952 Topps semi-star high-numbers are great deals at today's price levels.
#392 Hoyt Wilhelm ($1,050). One of the key high-numbers and one of the ten most important cards in the 1952 Topps set. Wilhelm's great knuckle ball kept him in the big league until close to his fiftieth birthday. He was also the first relief pitcher to be elected to the Hall-of-Fame. A solid deal!
#400 Bill Dickey ($1,400). Very difficult to find well-centered. This great Yankee catcher is immensely popular with collectors. He was the link between two New York dynasties, the great Ruth--Gehrig teams of the 1920s and the Joe DiMaggio-led teams of the late l930s and early 1940s. A great card!
#406 Joe Nuxhall ($300). This is the second to last card in the 1952 Topps set. Most price guides consider this a common value card, but I strongly disagree! It's an incredibly scarce, condition rarity. In my opinion, it's the third or fourth most difficult card in the set to find in strict NM-MT condition. It's virtually impossible to find well-centered. At today's market levels, this card is an absolute steal. It could easily double or triple in price.
#407 Eddie Mathews ($6,750). This is one great card! It's the last card in the high-number series, and in my opinion, the rarest card in the entire 1952 Topps set. In fact, in NM-MT condition, I think it's the rarest card in the entire post-war market! This card is the subject of fierce demand from collectors. We must have at least 30 want-lists on file for it. You probably won't have an opportunity to buy this card, but if you get lucky and one becomes available, don't let it pass by.
All low-number, non Hall-of-Famers.
(#1 to #80) ($95). All of these cards are rare in high-grade and they are a terrific deal at current levels. This is a great, low cost way to participate in the future potential of the 1952 Topps set.
All fourth series, non Hall-of-Famers.
(#191 to#250) ($55). From a percentage price appreciation standpoint these may be the best deals of all the non Hall-of-Famers in the 1952 Topps set. Due to poor paper quality they are frequently encountered with lots of "chipping" along the borders and on the corners. Also, poor centering is a common defect among these cards. I think you should be an aggressive buyer of all fourth series non Hall--of-Famers!
All high-number, non Hall-of-Famers.
(#311 to #407) ($300). The last series is the key to the 1952 Topps set. Everyone wants to own these cards, and importantly, it seems everyone needs them for their sets. As more and more people decide to collect the complete 1952 Topps set, there's going to be increasing demand for the high numbers. Remember, increasing demand, plus decreasing supply, equals upward price movement. Try to buy as many as you can find.
1952 TOPPS-Recommended Strategy
The following is a list of the three best ways to buy 1952 Topps:
1. BUILD A COMPLETE SET! Without a doubt, the best ways to participate in the tremendous potential offered by 1952 Topps is to build a complete set. This project would probably take two to three years and would cost between $150,000 and $175,000.
There are three compelling reasons to build a complete set of 1952 Topps. First, almost all 1952 Topps cards are great deals at current market levels. If you build a complete set you'll find all of the cards and won't miss out on any potential big winners. Second, it's my belief that a complete set of 1952 Topps will, in the future, be worth more than the sum of its parts. Don't you think someone would be willing to pay a premium not to have to spend all the time and energy necessary to locate each card individually? Third, it would be loads of fun to build a complete set. If you have the patience, and the financial resources, it would be a very enjoyable, educational and rewarding challenge.
2. BUILD A SET OF THE HIGH-NUMBERS. If you don't have the patience or capital to build a complete set, then you might want to think about assembling a set of the high-numbers. This project would probably take you a couple of years and cost between $75,000 and $95,000.
3. BUY THE BEST BETS. If you're working with a limited budget, or if you just want to own specific cards that you like, try to buy any of the Best Bets. I've attempted to list the issues that I feel either have the best potential for percentage price appreciation, or are solid blue-chips that will always enjoy strong demand. These are literally the best cards within the best post-war set. They are all great cards that would make superb additions to your collection/portfolio.
The preceding article is an excerpt from a recent issue of his excellent newsletter, The Sportscard Insider.