1954 Bowman Mickey Mantle, a deceptively tough card
1954 Bowman Mickey Mantle, a deceptively tough card

Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Clemente, and Koufax. These five names inspire more collector interest than any other names in the last half-century of baseball and baseball cards. Each player has, in his own way, ingratiated himself with fans of the game from every nook and cranny of our great country.

Mantle's eye-defying ability in the clutch, Aaron's silky smooth combination of grace and power, Mays' spectacular all-around game, Clemente's superior skills combined with his culturally heroic stature, and the great Koufax's utter domination of the National League over a 5 year span have set these five players apart from all others from the same era. Each had a rookie card issued in the 1950s and continued playing at least through the late 1960s. The goal of this article is to look closely at which cards of these five immortals offer collectors the greatest challenge in terms of scarcity and demand!

Typically, one would expect that the older a card is, the tougher it would be to find in high grades, such as NM-MT 8 or Mint 9, and generally that holds true, but much more so in the case of the 8's than the 9's. When dealing in the exclusive field of Mint 9 and Gem Mint 10 cards, the year of the issue can be of very little consequence.

For example, there are 17 copies of Henry Aaron's 1954 Topps rookie card that are graded 9 or 10, while a mere five examples of his 1966 Topps card are graded that high. See what I mean? Now, I'm not saying that a 1966 Aaron in Mint 9 should be worth as much as the '54, but it should sure sell for a lot more than a '67, which was issued only one year after the '66 card and has a full 17 copies graded 9 or 10!

A careful analysis of the Spring 2001 PSA Vintage Population Report reveals many things: 1958 Topps are the most difficult year of the 1950s to find in Mint condition, while 1962 and 1966 are the most difficult to find, generally, of the 1960s issues! Each player has several tough cards in high grade, and here's a listing of their five easiest and toughest cards, respectively, with the total number of copies graded either Mint 9 or Gem Mint 10 shown in parentheses. All cards are Topps regular issue unless noted:

Hank Aaron

Easiest: 1968 (31), 1964 (21), 1971 (21), 1963 (19), with 1954 and 1957 tied with (17) each.
Toughest: 1958 Yellow Letter (1), 1955 Bowman (2), 1958 (3), and 1960, 1966, and 1970, each with only 5 examples graded that high!

Willie Mays

Easiest: 1965 (25), 1968 (19), 1967 (18), 1956 (15), and 1961 (15)
Toughest: 1951 Bowman (1), 1952 Bowman (3) and 1953 Topps (3), 1955 Bowman (4) and 1966 Topps (4)

Mickey Mantle

Easiest: 1968 (61), 1961 (42), 1967 (39), 1965 (23), and 1960 and 1969, with (21)
Toughest: 1951 Bowman (3), 1969 White Letter (5), 1954 Bowman (6), 1955 Bowman (7), and 1952 Topps (8)

Roberto Clemente

Easiest: 1972 (70), 1969 (50), 1961 (50), 1963 (22), and 1957 (22)
Toughest: 1958 Yellow Letter (4), 1970 (5), 1955 (8), 1958 (9), and 1962 and 1966, with (11) each

Sandy Koufax

Easiest: 1964 (31), 1961 (28), 1960 (20), 1956 (20), and 1965 (17)
Toughest: 1962 (3), 1958 (5), 1963 (5), 1957 (7), and 1966 (7)!

These players all, of course, had several other issues picturing them during their careers on Topps baseball cards, such as All-Star cards that were part of the sets from 1958 - 1962 and began again in 1968. It's very interesting to note that while Mantle, Mays, and Aaron were All-Stars and included in each of the issues from '58 - '62, there were no cards of either Clemente or Koufax from those years.

Especially difficult cards in the mint grade are the 1958 Aaron and Mays All-Star cards, with two and four graded, respectively, the 1959 Aaron, with only one copy graded 9, and the '62 Aaron A.S., which shows NO examples to have been deemed worthy of the Mint 9 or Gem Mint 10 grade! All Star cards like the 1958, 1959, 1960, and 1961 Mantle cards, each with a population of 15 or higher, are easier to find. Other exceptionally scarce cards featuring these players are the 1964 Stand Ups of Aaron (1), and Mays (1), 1963 Buc Blasters (1), and the 1962 Mantle #318 card, with only (2) copies graded Mint 9!

Enjoy your hobby!

The 1964 Topps Willie Mays, always elusive in PSA 9
The 1964 Topps Willie Mays, always elusive in PSA 9
Black borders make this 1971 Topps Aaron card tough to find in PSA 9
Black borders make this 1971 Topps Aaron card tough to find in PSA 9

Chris Porter handles both Direct Sales and Auctions for Superior Sports Auctions of Traverse City, Michigan. He can be reached at (231) 922 – 9862.