Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Guiding Lights

This third and final part of my study of pricing structures in the hobby, which will be much more compact than what has come before, will show a dramatic shift from traditional hobby publications to the slicker formats of newsstand magazines and retail books. By 1981 the hobby had effectively "grown up" and was a big enough phenomenon to routinely enter mainstream publishing circles and monthly and annual price guides became the norm. It also became easier to track pricing in certain conditions, although there was enough variance between all publications to make it necessary to extrapolate pricing in some grades.

I used the following books and magazines plus Bill Henderson's Pricing Grid in The Trader Speaks for a portion of 1981 and 1982 as it was practically set up like the TTS Grid, to track prices from January 1981 to May 1990 (where my run of hobby publications ends for the most part):

1981: Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide, The Trader Speaks, Baseball Cards Magazine (two issues per year during baseball season)
1982: Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide, The Trader Speaks, Baseball Cards Magazine (two issues per year during baseball season)
1983: Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide, Current Card Prices, Baseball Cards Magazine (two issues per year during baseball season)
1984: Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide, Current Card Prices, Baseball Cards Magazine (four issues per year, issued bi-monthly April through October) 
1985: Baseball Cards Magazine (four issues per year, issued bi-monthly April through October) 
1986: Baseball Cards Magazine (four issues per year, issued bi-monthly April through October) 
1987: Sports Collectors Digest Baseball Price Guide, Baseball Cards Magazine (8 issues as it went from baseball season to bi-monthly to monthly this year)
1988: Baseball Cards Magazine (12 issues)
1989: Sports Collectors Digest Baseball Price Guide, Baseball Cards Magazine (12 issues)
1990: Sports Collectors Digest Baseball Price Guide, Baseball Cards Magazine (5 issues January through May)

Full disclosure-I worked for Current Card Prices (CCP) for two-and-a-half years (covering the first 25 issues) where I assisted with the initial development of pricing and then a large portion of the monthly updates thereafter.

I gave up on TTS pricing in this study after 1982 as Dan Dischley was clearly losing momentum and the price grid practically disappeared thereafter. He sold out in September 1983 and the new owners (his neighbors) tried to turn it into a price guide publication like CCP but it was not to be and I was not able to verify their hobby bona fides. It ceased publication after the March 1984 issue when Krause Publications (Sports Collectors Digest parent company) bought the mailing list. You can also see my Sport Americana Guides are bereft after 1984, when I stopped purchasing them.  After 1990 I will only show sporadic pricing as my run of publications is not as robust as it could be. I'll conclude with PSA's current pricing, which will amaze and or/anger many of you, depending upon when you sold off some of your cards!

This mostly 80's overview will be presented in the form of yearly averages with commentary regarding each along the way.  It was an unexpected challenge to wrangle the pricing for Ex-Mt, NM and Mint conditions into a cohesive whole. For pricing through 1986 I used Ex-Mt as the baseline, then NM thereafter.  I extrapolated prices for the other grades according.  From 1981-86 the NM price was extrapolated to 120% of Ex-Mt and Mint to 140%.  After that, the spread between Ex-Mt and NM grew and I calculated Ex-Mt at two-thirds of the NM price and Mint at 120% of NM.  It's not perfect but it's close enough to show what I want to show. Rounding to the nearest penny or dollar sometimes occurs, especially for the latter years of the decade, as it seemed silly to show trailing cents for $100+ cards.

As noted in my last post, the 1981 edition of the Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide had a key article that revealed three 1952 Topps high numbers had been double printed, including one of my research subjects. This had a deleterious effect on the pricing of this card in what also turned out to be a little bit of a down time for 50's and 60's cards that lasted into 1982. That revelation, coupled with a huge amount of interest in current issues thanks to Donruss and Fleer issuing sets along with Topps, plus a little thing called Fernando-mania, together with the player's strike mid-season and poor economic conditions generally, resulted in that utmost rarity, a Mantle card pricing depression.

The averages for the year are as follows (order is Ex-Mt/NM/Mint) and I've put the 1980 Sport Americana pricing in parentheses.  I decided to add the 1961 high numbers, which at one point later in the decade were considered in some collecting circles to be the hardest of all the 60's high numbers and in fact considered replacing the 57 mids with them (and didn't) but they debut here, blog-wise. I didn't track the full year, nor did I do so for 1982 either. Tough noogies.

1952 Highs: $42.50/$51.00/$59.50 ($55.00). Slight uptick as collectors continued to chase these for sets.
1952 Mantle: $1,095/$1,315/$1,534 ($2,500). Mantle prices plummeted and were down to $750 or so for an Ex-Mt example by December.
1957 Mids: $2.17/$2.60/$3.04 ($1.80). As with the 1952 highs, sets were being filled in by collectors.
1961 Highs: $6.00/$7.20/$8.40 ($4.00). Gotta start somewhere.
1966 Highs: $1.94/$2.33/$2.72 ($1.80). Gotta get those high numbers for your set!
1966 Perry: $43.39/52.07/$60.75 ($10.00). Only Sport-Americana picked up on this trend, first noticed at conventions around the summer of 1980 and even commented upon in The Trader Speaks yet bizarrely not addressed in their pricing grid.
1967 Highs: $1.42/$1.70/$2.00 ($1.50). Their pricing would lag the 66's for the entire decade.
1967 B. Robinson: $63.58/$76.30/$89.01 ($120.00). Brooks was plummeting along with the Mick.
1972 Highs: 37 cents/44 cents/52 cents (22 cents). You could still buy large quantities of mint high numbers in 1981 but these and the 1970 and 1971 highs were poised for increases.

I want to show you the Bill Henderson Pricing Grid, which was ubiquitous for many years in the hobby guides and magazines. He was the self proclaimed "King of Commons" and boy was that an appropriate moniker, especially if you saw the mountain of cards he used to bring to the National and other major shows:

Some of those pricing ranges on 60's high numbers were due to grouped together All Star or Rookie cards bringing more then regular commons. His 1967 high number pricing spread may indicate Bill knew about the short prints as there's just plain old commons, tough cards, Rookie Stars and Team cards randomly sprinkled throughout.

On to our pricing averages for the year:

1952 Highs: $38.13/$45.76/53.38.  Down a smidge, possibly just due to the relatively high price per card.
1952 Mantle: $677/$812/$947.  The low point for the Mick came in the November TTS, where he was listed at $695 in Ex-Mt. Still a lot of money at the time but just an absolute bargain in retrospect.
1957 Mids: $2.61/$3.13/$3.65. Holding their own.
1961 Highs: $5.93/$7.12/$8.30. See 1957.
1966 Highs:  $2.00/$2.40/$2.80. See 1961.
1966 Perry: $31/$36/$43. Overheated too early, cooling down period ensued.
1967 Highs: $1.39/$1.67/1.95. Steady as she goes, just down a couple of cents.
1967 B. Robinson: $59/$71/$83. The idea this was a true short print was wearing thin.
1972 Highs: 47 cents/56 cents/68 cents. Up a little but ample supply in Mint was still out there.

The first full year of tracking the 1961 highs here, after a high-atus (sorry). 

1952 Highs: $36.74/44.09/51.44. Still down a little.
1952 Mantle: $941/$1,130/$1,318.  The comeback at last.
1957 Mids: $2.62/$3.14/$3.67. Rock steady in the extreme.
1961 Highs: $4.62/$5.54.$6.47. A down year, not sure why.
1966 Highs: $1.82/$2.18/$2.55. Just down a hair.
1966 Perry: $41/$49/$57. No hair, but growing.
1967 Highs: $1.61/$1/93/$2.25. First time these went up and the 66's went down it seems.
1967 B. Robinson: $78/$938/$109. Looking up for Brooksie in '83 with his HOF induction no doubt helping.
1972 Highs: 48 cents/58 cents/67 cents. Another steady series.

The big change this year was the introduction of Short Print and Double Print Pricing for the 1967 high numbers in Current Card Prices. This was partially the result of my research at CCP, which was the only publication to track these at all in the 1980's from what I can tell and only identified the Double Prints in the last six months of the year. The publisher and I disagreed on some of the Single and Double Prints and he listed far less of the former and far more of the latter than I had uncovered based upon his years of experience as a dealer. Fair enough as the current research indicates there may be three or possibly four levels of scarcity, some of which may be related to a production problem and not the array of the press sheets.

The standard pricing in my figures down below is essentially a blended figure of "DP" and "regular" prints.  I've not parsed it further as the pricing in this study from 1985 onward does not include anything further from CCP; I have the January 1985 issue, which was the last one I worked on but have not included it in any figures here.

If you include the #531 checklist, there are 77 cards in the 1967 high numbers. CCP identified 23 DP's and 5 of the cards broken out in the individual listings were shown as as Short Prints: #553 Yankees Rookies, #558 Orioles Rookies (Belanger), #563 Adcock, #581 Mets Rookies (Seaver) and #586 Jimenez; the dot meant a card had been added to the listings. The rest of the highs were just treated as "regular" prints" although there are six other cards I believe to be true short prints and 11 others that could be as well. I regret that I do not have all of my original notes anymore.

Meanwhile, things were decidedly looking up for Mickey and friends in the '52 highs:

1952 Highs: $43.02/$51.62/60.23. They would never be this cheap again.
1952 Mantle: $1,360/$1,632/$1,904. It's off to the races from this point. Still racing...
1957 Mids: $2.62/$3.14/$3.67. Stagnation nation.
1961 Highs: 4.67/$5.60/$6.54. Very little movement.
1966 Highs: $2.03/$2.44/$2.84. The separation between these highs and those from the following year was starting to grow.
1966 Perry: $45/$54/$63. Steadily going up in the first year of his retirement.
1967 Highs: $1.61/$1.93/$2.25. Nowheresville, as all the action was in SP/DP activity.
1967 Short Print Highs: $4.07/$4.88/$5.70. The short prints priced here are really just three commons.
1967 B. Robinson: $76/$91/$106. A little down. It seems to me that a good supply of 1967 high numbers were still out there, whereas the 66's were drying up.
1972 Highs: 58 cents/70 cents/81 cents. It doesn't seem like much but this is a 20% increase from 1983.

A big focus on 80's rookie cards (yawn) was developing in the hobby and articles about speculating on same were starting to permeate Baseball Cards magazine.  That trend would continue for the rest  of the decade.

My "grid" now excludes the 1967 Short Print highs.

1952 Highs: $43/$51.00/$60. Hopefully you stocked up on these in 1984.
1952 Mantle: $1,200/$1,440/$1,680. Same here.  Wonder if FOMO was starting to take hold?
1957 Mids: $2.50/$3.00/$3.50. Surprisingly down just a hair.
1961 Highs: $4.75/$5.70/$6.65. Unsurprisingly up by a hair.
1966 Highs: $2.13/$2.56/$2.98. These just kept up their slow grind upwards.
1966 Perry: $48/$57/$67. Following the herd.
1967 Highs: $1.60/$1.92/$2.24. This is getting ridiculous.
1967 B. Robinson: $74/$88/$103.The decline continues.  
1972 Highs: 68 cents/82 cents/95 cents.Almost a 20% jump again.  It's amazing but the 1970-72 high numbers, which were all trading in this kind of range, were creeping up on the 67's.

This was the last year default Ex-Mt pricing was a thing.  It was a useful description back in the days of letter-writing and hobby publications that were all text but more and more it came to signify cards that were "pack fresh" but with potential to be wildly off-center. And with millions of new cards issued every year, everybody wanted "NM or better" anyway.

1952 Highs: $49/$58/$68. They just kept going up, up, up.
1952 Mantle: $1,800/$2,160/$2,520. 50% increase from 1985. Mickey was a fixture at card shows at this point, certainly helping his popularity.  I saw him at a show once around 1983-ish (I was waiting on line to get a Duke Snider autograph) and he was a good signer, great with kids, probably due in part to his ever present glass of "water."
1957 Mids: $2.56/$3.07/$3.58. Down just a tad.
1961 Highs: $4.75/$5.70/$6.65 UNCH, as the old daily stock market tables used to show.
1966 Highs: $2.38/$2.86/$3.33. Grinding, grinding.
1966 Perry: $49/$59/$69. Just about unchanged. 
1967 Highs: $1.60/$1.92/$2.24. Essentially three years in a row of stagnant pricing.
1967 B. Robinson: $78/$94/$109. The ebb and flow of Brooks continues.
1972 Highs: 70 cents/84 cents/98 cents. These had cooled off a bit.  

1987 (Standard Pricing is now NM, other grades are calculated from that baseline with a 20% increase for Mint and deduction of one-third for Ex-Mt. Grading spreads were changing as condition became paramount to collectors. "Mint freaks" were once derided by some Long Island dealers I knew but the joke turned out to be on them).

There's finally some decent movement on a lot of my subjects.  1987 was the year when things exploded in terms of new card production and it seemed interest in the hobby was growing almost exponentially.

1952 Highs: $58/$87/$104. First good increase in a couple of years.
1952 Mantle: $2,121/$3,180/$3,816. If Mickey was a hobby (race)horse, he'd be Secretariat.
1957 Mids: $3.44/$5.15/$6.18. Perhaps the most amazing story here, a noticeable increase after half a decade.
1961 Highs: $5.77/$8.65/$10.38. These too were showing signs of life.
1966 Highs: $2.93/$4.40/$5.28. Up almost 20%, just like the other highs above.
1966 Perry: $52/$78/$94. Priming the pump as the HOF got closer.
1967 Highs: $1.68/$2.52/$3.02. Still lagging the 66's.
1967 B. Robinson: $79/$104/$125. As the highs went, so did Robinson.
1972 Highs: 68 cents/$1.02/$1.22. A surprising, albeit slight, retreat.

If 1987 was the year of great hobby interest, 1988 was the year prices really stared zooming. I became a part time dealer starting in the Fall of 1988 and there were literally people walking around shows with large paper bags full of cash.  Somehow, in the year of crisis following one of the biggest stock market crashes in US history (Black Monday anyone?) people were shelling out huge bucks for old cardboard.  This may seem like a familiar theme to us all in this pandemic year.

1952 Highs: $91/$136/$163. Up close to 35%.
1952 Mantle: $3,928/$5,889/$7,067. Mickey was almost double from the prior year's average. With a bad stock market, invest in good cards I guess.
1957 Mids: $6.26/$9.38/$11.26. Huge jump for these.
1961 Highs: $9.59/$14.38/$17.26. And these.
1966 Highs: $5.26/$7.88/$9.46 Same.
1966 Perry: $102/$153/$184. Samer.
1967 Highs: $2.59/$3.88/$4.66. Not quite as much as the other subjects above but a healthy bump.
1967 B. Robinson: $87/$130/$156. A 20% boost.
1972 Highs: 92 cents/$1.38/$1.66. Close to a 40% rise from the year prior.

Things cooled a little as a recession was teeing up.  The trend was still up though. Of note, 1966 Short Prints were finally being broken out and priced.

1952 Highs: $99/$149/$178. Up 10% or so after a hot 1988.
1952 Mantle: $4,336/$6,500/$7,800. 10% as well on the upside.
1957 Mids: $9.81/$14.71/$17.65. Almost a two-thirds rise on a percentage basis.  I can't recall if this was a particularly hot set at the time but it sure seems like it was.
1961 Highs: $12.10/$18.14/$21,77. Lagging the 57's, practically a first.
1966 Highs: $12/$18/$21.60. These more than doubled-wowsers!
1966 Short Print Highs: $13/$19.50/$23.40. Baseball Cards Magazine picked up on these at the beginning of the year, although I'm not sure of their source. The SP/DP spread would grow but eventually wane a bit.
1966 Perry: $160/$240/$288. His HOF vote inched ever closer and prices escalated accordingly. 
1967 Highs: $3.20/$4.80/$5.76. Best bump yet.
1967 B. Robinson: $110/$165/$198. Following along with the highs still.
1972 Highs: $1.29/$1.93/$2.32. The best year yet for this psychedelic favorite of mine.

Given the recession was essentially in full swing by Summer, my meager collection of Baseball Cards magazine that ends in May is not a huge help for annual pricing studies. Still, here's a snapshot before things went awry.  I can tell you that shows in the latter half of 1990 were not good from my perspective as a part-timer. The trend would continue into 1991 after which my partner and I gave up; a lot of smaller shows were dying at this point too.

1952 Highs: $100/$150/$180. This is not really movement at all.
1952 Mantle: $5,136/$7,700/$9,240. The road to five figures was paved and just waiting for traffic, recession be damned.
1957 Mids: $10/$15/$18. Stagnation nation regeneration.
1961 Highs: $13.44/$20/$24. These were still going up a little.
1966 Highs: $10/$15/$18. The SP/DP split was affecting the DP pricing it seems.
1966 Short Print Highs: $13.34/$20/$24. It's worth noting there is still no true consensus on which SP''s are really SP's. A debate over which high numbers and their respective SP's are harder to find in 1966 vs. 1967 rages on.  These two years have oddly printed and/or produced and/or collated and/or distributed high numbers, for reasons that are still unclear.
1966 Perry: $167/$250/$300. Little bit o'bumpage.
1967 Highs: $3.34/$5/$6. Same as Perry.
1967 B. Robinson: $117/$175/$210. Same as the highs.
1972 Highs: $1.50/$2.25/$2.70. Nice increase on these toughies.

And now I punt...half the fun of this exercise was re-reading all the old hobby publications.  Price guides are just not the same and from about 1987 they really supplanted the tradition hobby 'zines in terms of setting the pricing pace.

Fast forward to 2011 and things are, well, interesting when looking at The Standard Catalog, which basically supplanted the old SCD Guide and is sorely missed by me and the hobby in general.  I'm only going to use NM pricing as the spread to Mint turned into a chasm and Ex-Mt was but a distant memory.

1952 Highs: $400 - you need a Brinks truck full of cash to collect the high numbers in any kind of decent shape.
1952 Mantle: $35,000 - Make it two Brinks trucks for the Mick.
1957 Mids: $25 - They finally grew up!
1961 Highs: $20 - They finally calmed down.
1966 Highs: 12.50 - Equlibrium.
1966 Short Print Highs: $16 - Shrinking spread.
1966 Perry:  $170 - Great pitcher but not all that popular in the hobby other than with certain team and HOF collectors.
1967 Highs:  $12 - Parity with 1966 achieved.
1967 B. Robinson: $250  Compare to the Seaver rookie at $500.
1972 Highs: $12 -  As I mentioned w-a-a-a-y back in the first of the posts in this series, these were thought to be the hardest (i.e. printed in lesser numbers than 1970 or '71) of the 70's high numbers.

I'm going to jump ahead here again and show PSA pricing as of August 2020, in NM 7. Once grading really came to the fore in the mid 90's, the old "raw" guide prices became somewhat outdated in a way.

1952 Highs: $300 - eBay has made it clear these are not as difficult as believed by prior generations of collectors. In demand certainly and definitely not common but not the ne plus ultra of major tough postwar cards either. as collectors of the 50's and 60's once thought.
1952 Mantle: $115,000 - This speaks for itself. Holy crap.
1957 Mids: $32 - This feels about right if you ask me.
1961 Highs: $28 - This too, as their perceived scarcity has also been both unmasked and affirmed in a way by eBay.
1966 Highs: $15 - These look like they hit an early peak and got stuck on the mountain.
1966 Short Print Highs: $25 - I still don't know how the SP's are determined.
1966 Perry: $135 - Party's definitely over for Gaylord.
1967 Highs: $20 per the series tranche at the top of the listing, $16 per the individual player listings and no mention of SP's or DP's.  Curious.
1967 B. Robinson: $250 - Stability has been achieved. Seaver is a $900 card in this grade with a lot more potential to grown that Brooks in my opinion
1972 Highs: $5.  Didn't see that coming.  1970 at $6 and 1971 at $12 have surpassed them but those both have full bleed color to the edges.

 I thought it would be interesting to show the PSA 7 results for all high or scarce numbers from 1952-1973 to finish this study off. I'll repeat the above figures from August 2020 for the sake of clarity, without getting too deep into Short Prints, Double Prints or Extra Prints:

1952: $300
1953: $110
1954: $45 for the "series" running from #51-#75. These are not really high or scarce series cards in actual fact but the print arrays beyond the first series of 50 cards are quite bizarre this year, with huge numbering gaps.
1955: $50 but there's not really much a spread on these vs. the lows.  1954 and 1955 were short sets and Topps didn't have to issue more than four series in either year.
1956: $30 for high numbers that are relatively abundant in comparison to prior series. Again, 4 series and not 5 or more helps smooth things out.
1957: $32 for fourth series of course.
1958: $14 for everything beyond the first series, which shows at $18.  With Stan Musial signed and a high number all star card of the Donora Greyhound was triple printed (same with the Mick), at the expense of four other subjects on at least one slit (132 card half sheet) or press run. Topps pumped the last series hard in the first year of truly national major league baseball.  First series issues were probably due to all the new pictures and write-ups that had to be made. The four cards that got short shrift in the all star shenanigans are listed at $25 each.
1959: $16 for the first high numbers of note (in terms of print run) since 1953. Noticeable color change on the back as well.
1960: $12 in a year where the highs are not too difficult.
1961: $28
1962: $16. PSA has a bunch of SP's listed higher ($20) but I don't know how they figured them out.
1963: $10, or $2 less than the semi-highs. There is semi-active research going on over at Net54 on the 1963 press runs and sheet arrays.
1964: $12 for another fairly easy year.
1965: $10 for an abundant series of highs priced just $2 more then the semi-highs.
1966: $15 for another year being dissected over at Net54.
1967: $20 (or $16) for a popular set and another being looked at over at Net54.
1968: $6 for the last two series vs. $5 for all below.
1969: $9 vs. $7 for all other series.  These are not hard at all but the year is very popular.
1970: $6
1971: $12
1972: $5
1973: $3 vs. $2 otherwise in a year where a good percentage of cards got distributed all at once from the get-go.

Other than 1952, 1953 and possibly 1954, it's not too hard to find highs or the tougher series in decent shape, although if you like truly good centering you may feel differently. Other years where production seems to have accelerated are 1959, 1965 and 1969. 1961 is still a bit tough, 1962 and 1963 have full bleed borders on some or all of the edges that makes nicer looking cards harder to find.  As always, your experience may vary!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

We're Only In It For the Money

Back at it kids-today we pick up the scarce series pricing saga circa 1977 in part two of our ongoing Saturday study. This will be a very TTS-centric post as I only have that publication's run and a clutch of Mike Bondarenko's Baseball Card News (BCNissues at my disposal for the late 70's. In reality, there wasn't much else out there at the time other than Sports Collectors Digest and maybe Sport Fan (which was about to merge with BCN anyway) as other long term hobby periodicals withered away one by one.

February 1977, which brought us an issue of The Trader Speaks that I think was a special giveaway given how many copies of it I've seen and owned over the years, has a Jack Wallin ad that priced 1952 Topps cards like so:

#1-80        75 cents
#81-250    50 cents
#251-310  $1.00

No highs though, rats! Things would pick up quickly though on the 52 highs (and a lot of others) and it was all due to a name we still know today, Dr. James Beckett.

Beckett had a survey form appear in the centerfold of the January TTS (he had solicited this information in other 'zines as well and at various collector conventions) and the results, which also included tabulation from collector mailings, appeared in the April and May issues.  It's the April results that are of interest here (VG-EX pricing was the standard condition across the entire survey):

Given the lack of prior scarce series pricing information for most Topps sets in TTS ads and elsewhere, earlier Beckett results from the collector mailings and convention must have informed some of the survey questions. Note too the continuance of the error involving the fourth 1952 series ending at #252!

The above results have the first indications I can trace of widespread diverging series pricing for Topps Baseball. It's certainly the first mention of the 1966 and '67 highs I can find. This also appears to be the very beginning of specific series pricing tranches, which would wax, then wane (except for the truly tough ones) somewhat over the ensuing forty-plus years. While we now know the 1968 and 1969 sets had differing degrees of high number difficulty (the former being slightly tough, the latter not really with the customary pullback not affecting the last series too much) and the 1970-72 highs are a fair bit harder than say the 68's, the demand had not yet outstripped the available supply.  Indeed there are multiple ads in most 1977 TTS issues offering vending boxes and cases from those years and I suspect Topps was clearing out warehouse space in Duryea at the time.

April and May TTS issues also brought forth, in apparent arrangement with CCC, Don Lepore ads selling 500 count 1967 vending boxes for $20, with 100 highs, presumably still from vending, going for $20, a 5 X premium that roughly mirrored the Beckett results. I will also say the 1957 scarce 4th series and 1967 high number pricing seems to have been a bit ahead of Beckett's findings from the ads I've seen in these two "results" issues.  And I mean by maybe another 25-30% for the 57's and 50-60% for the 67's.  20 and 10 year anniversaries may have played into that, not sure, but both set's high numbers seemed to be having a hobby moment at the time.

Baseball Card News, in their July 4, 1977 issue, had an ad from Chicago's Sports Collectors Store with 1972 highs priced at 15 cents apiece, vs. a lowly 6 cents for anything below the last series. This issue also featured a Don Lepore ad with 12,000 card cases of 1969, 1970 and 1971, series not indicated but clearly not highs at those prices. The 1967 highs he had offered only six weeks or so prior were nowhere to be found.

In August of 1977, Card Collectors Company ran an ad in The Trader Speaks offering the 1972 high numbers in bulk. 1,000 assorted for $120 or you could nail 10,000 assorted for only $900, so clearly there were large amounts of vending still out there. And then this dropped the next month, which after noting on the first page (not shown here but which consisted, I am not kidding, mostly of 1951 Red Back cards) that they had received a "great response" to the August ad, presented the following for sale:

OK, so clearly some massive amount of old Topps inventory popped up at the CCC, supporting my warehouse dumping theory.  No 1963, 1964 or 1966 vending cases in the run from 1962 but those high numbers at 5,000 cards per batch-ye gods!!

The math works out like so per card (heck, I'll do all the high series calculating for ya) on the 5,000 counts, with low series pricing in parenthesis where possible and factoring in the offered 10% reduction:

1962: 17.55 cents (4.5 cents)
1965: 14.4 cents (just over 3.5 cents)
1967: 14.4 cents
1968: 9 cents (about 2.14 cents)
1969: 9 cents (just under 2 cents)
1970: 4.68 cents
1971: 4.68 cents (just over 1.5 cents)
1972: 6.3 cents (1.35 cents)

And how about some assorted 1970's Basketball or even older Football at a penny a throw-yikes!  CCC would also repeat the case offerings in the next month's issue.This pricing structure really shows high numbers from the 60's and 70's were just starting to gain differential pricing mere months after the first Beckett results were made public.  Coinkidink?

A truncated version of the CCC TTS ad with the same case and large lot pricing ran in the August 1, 1977 BCN and not to be outdone (kidding) John Metzger, Jr. had an ad in the same issue offering the 1972 complete high number series in Ex-Mt  for $21, or a hair under 16 cents a card. There was clearly ample unopened product floating around.

A buy ad from Tony Spaneo in the October TTS offered $6 each for 1952 highs (commons) and $75 for the Mantle, all in Ex-Mt.  Dickey and Mathews were worth $25 and Jackie Robinson and Campanella $20, so the Mantle pricing had clearly eclipsed other '52 HOF highs as the World Series approached. Bad timing for Mr. Spaneo though as Lew Lipset was offering $10 for common 1952 highs and $35 for the Campy in the same issue.

Fast forward to The Trader Speaks in December of '77 and Lew Lipset himself reported some auction results from a couple of competitors.  1952 highs in roughly VG-EX were described as bringing "$14-$15 each. It's worth noting that what we now know as the Philly Show had about 4,700 attendees at their September offering, which was a tremendously huge amount for the time. TTS offered their own price guide as part of their "Checklist" book as 1977 ended, which added to the data collectors and dealers could also glean from The Sports Collectors Bible (2nd edition, also issued at year's end) and the Stirling Sports Card Catalog, which had been available since July-things were really starting to hop!

February (and March) 1978  brought remnants of the great high number case sale from the Card Collectors Company in TTS (and more indications of their somewhat infamous 1975 warehouse fire):

In addition to losing the 10% discount, note that full cases of high numbers for most years between 1962 and 1972 had dissipated, leaving only the 1,000 count offers, some of which had their pricing adjusted nominally (except for 1962 highs which had jumped almost 40% with the prior discount gone). Some low number cases had also seen their last at CCC. I have to think most cases had been sold to dealers as the pricing and volume was pretty robust for the time, even given what incredible bargains these lots were then. Indeed, some non-high number cases showed up in a Don Lepore ad a couple of months earlier.

February also brought another Lew Lipset price report on 1952 high numbers, as follows:

VG: $15-$18
EX: $16-$22

The April '78 issue of TTS had some sad news to share, namely the death of Woody Gelman (which occurred on February 9th), which would lead to a profound change at the Card Collectors Company not long after, although he had been steadily stepping back from his company.  The same issue also brought the results of the 2nd Beckett price survey and if it feels like a torch had been passed, I could not disagree. VG-EX price results for the five scarce series being tracked as part of this series on the blog were as follows:

1952: roughly 10% increases to the low series cards (still going #1-252 for the first four though), highs had gone up $2 to $10 from the year prior.

1957: roughly 10% increases as well for all but the tough 4th series, which went up from 49 cents to 58 cents.

1966: lows had no change but the highs went from 23 cents to 27 cents, which would surpass the 67's for the first time that I can find.

1967: lows unchanged, highs actually down 3 cents from 1977's .28 - don't forget there were no 1966 high numbers offered in the Card Collectors blowout ads over the prior year or so, but they had 67's.

1972: lows still at four cents (as were all cards in the first survey) but highs were broken out now at 12 cents each.

Beckett noted 343 collectors had responded to the 1977 survey, with 201 providing updates for this one. Also of note in this issue, Lew Lipset offering $15 for Ex-Mt 1952 highs.

May brought another Card Collectors Co. ad to TTS:

Following a nice but brief tribute to Woody Gelman, we can see only scant remains of the high number vending case hoard were still on hand with pricing remaining almost static.

You want the skinny on the Mick?  You got him, courtesy of Lew Lipset in the June TTS, where tracked several recent sales of 1952's #311:
  • $230 - high bid (scrape on border noted)
  • $245 - high bid (VG)
  • $200 - St. Louis Convention ("less than excellent")
  • $365 - Lew says April 1978 TTS auction but I can't find the ad (condition unknown)
  • $500 - private sale (Ex-Mt)
$500 is the highest price I have seen to this point in time. Also worth noting from this issue-Card Collectors Co. was out of 1967 highs (72's as well). The hobby was really heating up and almost 7,000 people attended the spring Philly show, with 136 dealers there to sell 'em everything they possibly could.

Speaking of Lipset, in the July 1978 TTS, issued in advance of a major convention to be held at Shea Stadium the following month, he was offering $18.50 apiece for the 1952 highs and offering to buy Micks at $250, all in the usual Ex-Mt condition. Then in the August issue (Lew was really starting to monitor prices and he would eventually launch a newsletter that really delved into that subject) he noted an average price of just over $28 for Ex-Mt '52 highs. Meanwhile Card Collectors Co. continued with 12,000 count low number cases in their ad (1968-1976) indicating they were still getting direct feeds from Topps, likely after the respective prior season's returns had come back to home to roost. The highs were down to lots of 100 or 1,000 for 1962, 1965, 1968, 1970 & 1971.

A retrospective in the June 1980 issue of The Trader Speaks indicated a record sale in September of the Mantle at $1,750 while the October TTS brought news in Lipset's column of a pricing frenzy surrounding the 1967 Topps Brooks Robinson card, selling in the $35-$60 dollar range at the time, a huge amount for a late 60's card. Lew correctly pointed out the card was as obtainable as any other in the high numbers but that the pricing was speculative.  I believe the commotion concerned a much publicized vending box or two being opened at a convention (possibly in 1977) and yielding, if memory serves, only a single Brooksie.  Of course this was just a random box with somewhat typical Topps collation but it still throws off the pricing of this card today.

Speaking of 67's, a Card Collectors Co. ad in the same issue offered varying amount of mint highs from 1958-1971 but there were no 1967's to be had.  Don Lepore, though had some: 73 different, all mint, for $50 (68.5 cents each), or 100 assorted with roughly four of each number at 25 cents apiece.  He even had what looks like two vending boxes for $300, or 30 cents a throw. Those 1967 overprints were already worming their way into the hobby! And 1972 highs were 16.5 cents each in bulk.

Meanwhile, Lipset's ad makes it seem like he was holding back his 52 highs (smart man). And what to make of Evans Clagett, offering full cases of all series from 1971-77 Topps, best offer or trade? Clearly you could still buy such cards in bulk but those days were ending.

Lepore had some pricing of interest in his November 1978 TTS ad. 1,000 assorted 1967 highs with good differentiation that worked out to 32.5 cents per card.  If you could handle a little more duplication then it was 25 cents a pop. 1972 highs were up to 17.5 cents apiece if you bought 1,000 at a clip, or you could buy the entire series for $35. Card Collectors Co. had no 67's but 50 1966 highs worked out to 28 cents each. These were all advertised as mint by both dealers.

The TTS holiday issue for 1978 brought readers of The Trader Speaks a truly stupendous ad from the Card Collectors Company. An auction brought forth wonders such as a 1955 Topps Baseball Stamp of Don Mossi (earliest reference to these I've seen), some Rookie Banquet programs and a wrapper for the ridiculously rare 1970 Baseball Booklets standalone issue as Topps tried to recycle the inserts from that year as a test. But mint high numbers in quantity were back! 1968's and 1970-72's were offered at set sale pricing, with 1972 highs fetching the now ubiquitous 17.5 cents each.

And to top it off, a reprint of the 1956 Bowman Baseball designs, which set was aborted once Topps took over that storied subsidiary of Connelly Containers in February 1956, was made available. Oh yeah, Don Lepore had now formally joined forces with Richard Gelman at the CCC-crazy!

Lew Lipset in the same issue was offering EX 1952 Topps highs at $30 per card and he had a range of conditions available as well if you wanted to settle for lesser examples. The thrust of The Trader Speaks ads in general had clearly moved into the Topps and Bowman realms during 1978 and that trend would continue.  Not quite speculation yet but a "buy and hold" environment was developing.

Speaking of Lipset, January of 1979 saw him offering a full high number series of 1952 Topps with a minimum bid of $3,800! He was also selling a lot of fifty one 1957 scarce series cards for $38, or 33 for $25. A Card Collectors Co. ad in the same issue of TTS had many wondrous offerings but I'll stick with 1957 scarce series (50 for $40), 1966 highs (10 for $10) and 1967's (a bargain 50 for only $30), indicating interest in the 66's was taking off.

The March 1979 issue of The Trader Speaks had some interesting ads: an "Ex-Mt w/ staple mark on face" '52 Mantle had a minimum bid of $300 in an auction offered by V.S. Trocino, who looks to have lived quite near Woody Gelman's neighborhood. An unrelated ad in the same issue had 67 highs at $3.50 for ten. April's edition of Lipset's column brought news of an Ex-Mt auction hammer (in February) of $680 on a 1952 Mantle, noted to be a record price. Lipset also penned what I think is the first reference to the now infamous 1952 3rd series gray backs and while those are not our quarry here, it's interesting to note he sources them to Canada, which may or may not have been the case, most likely the latter.

Jumping to May, $1.50 would get you 1957 scarce series commons from The Sports Collectors Store and Tony Galovich, a name familiar to many of us "mature" collectors, was offering $550 for a 52 Mantle in Ex-Mt as the race to four figures and beyond for the hobby's eventual second most iconic card was going full blast.

As for the hobby's most iconic card, George Lyons reported in the same issue of TTS that four collectors had uncovered the five card "proof" strip that contains the T206 Wagner (and seems to have been in the great shortstop's possession when he died). I will note, that while it is irrelevant to my interest in the pricing of Topps cards through the years, this strip is not necessarily a proof but also is not necessarily from a production sheet. (UPDATE 8/25/20-I am advised it is indeed a proof).

Just for fun, here is the strip (note that it seems each card's actual edge can be seen, although lines could have been added by the lithographer to simulate same):

Also very noticeably in this issue (of 80 pages no less), buy and sell ads for wrappers were popping up and reading in hindsight you just get the feeling things were exponentially exploding.  I was only a year and a half or so from re-entering the fray at the time this issue came out but from mid-1977 on the excitement must have been through the (stadium) roof.

The June TTS brought a Lipset ad (5.2 pages no less!) with 66 different 66 highs for....$65 (Lew, that's a whiff!), so essentially $1 apiece.  And in August, amidst an impressive offering of Topps test issues and packs, Card Collectors Co. trotted out a TTS ad with 1966 highs among others. Check it out:

The 66's seem like they came from vending and what's up with that 1965 high number pricing?  So 20 cents each for the 66's, with too much of a range to determine the 67's mint price. The September TTS had some mid-series 57's at $1.25 each, as an upward trend revealed itself. In October Lew Lipset stated that he was "totally convinced" that the scarcity of the 1967 Brook Robinson and all the high numbers that year was a "complete sham" after an $80 minimum bid for one wasn't reached at a Southern California Convention. That same convention saw the 52 Mantle go for $600 in VG-Ex. Then in November Lew reported that common 1952 highs were at $55 apiece!

Want more Lew?  In the December TTS he reported the 1967 Brooks Robinson card was half as available as other high numbers but continued opining the pricing structure of the series was still a sham-go figure! Meanwhile, 1966 highs were almost non-existent in ads and auctions.

The first (dare I say landmark) Sport-Americana Price Guide came out in 1979, authored and compiled by Denny Eckes and Dr. James Beckett. Now referred to as the "Beckett Guide" it was anything but originally as the contributions of Eckes, who owned a large card shop called Den's Collectors Den in Laurel, Maryland which frequently advertised in the major hobby publications, were vital.  Their pricing of the various series and cards we are analyzing here gave us this:

1952 Highs: Mint $34, VG-EX $27. Other commons, depending on series, were between $1.05 and $1.50 in Mint with the Semi-Highs in that grade clocking in at $4.
1952 Mantle: Mint $500, VG-EX $375.
1957 Mids: Mint $1, VG-EX 70 cents. Other commons, depending on series were between 26 and 30 cents in Mint.
1966 Highs:Mint 42 cents and 30 cents in VG-EX vs. 11 cents in Mint for all other commons.
1966 Perry: Mint $3.50, VG-EX $2.50. This was consistent with other Hall of Famers in the high series.
1967 Highs: Mint 46 cents and 33 cents in VG-EX vs. 10 cents in Mint for all other commons.
1967 B. Robinson: Mint $50, VG-EX $40 The most expensive card in the entire set by a factor of 10 (the Seaver Rookie, another denizen of the nosebleed section, was $5 in Mint, Mantle, in a lower series, was $4.50 in that grade).
1972 Highs: Mint 20 cents and 15 cents in VG-EX vs. 8 cents in Mint for all other commons.

Note the spread between VG-EX and Mint was not all that much at this point.

And then, in the January 1980 issue of The Trader Speaks, Dan Dischley started a "Superstar Price Guide" with the idea it would be a recurring feature to keep up with pricing, initially through 1959's issues, since the major guides came out yearly at best. Other publications had sporadically tried to run pricing results but he was a man ahead of his times- we also get to see the 1952 Topps Mantle priced at a very gaudy $2,000 in Ex-Mt!  The 1951 Mantle and Mays cards, together with the '49 Bowman Paige and then 1952 Topps cards of Mathews, Mays Campanella and Jackie Robinson in the $300's, were the next closest superstars to the Mick. The run-up was on!

February was even hotter: $2,250 TTS guide price for the '52 Topps Mick and his high number counterpart Mathews hit $400, as did the Mantle rookie in 1951 Bowman. 1952 Topps highs in general were coming out of the woodwork, no doubt to to the robust valuations being assigned to them. Lew Lipset threw in the towel on his monthly column in light of the TTS price guide this month as well; the hobby was no longer solely in the hands of those who had guided it in the 70's.  "POR" (Price On Request) started appearing in some ads around this time on the hottest of cards.  The 52 Mantle was case #1 in this regard but the '67 Brooks Robinson also got the treatment.

Not everybody was on the POR bandwagon though-Card Collectors Co.. had a 52 Mantle in Mint (yeah, right) condition for a whopping $3,000! They also pulled their Brooks Robinson cards from an individually priced sale of 67 highs, where commons were going for 50 cents each (this steady pricing was seen elsewhere as well).  Meanwhile Hall's Nostalgia had a mint (there's that identifier again) '67 Robinson for $160 and wanted a $2,300 minimum bid for a 1952 Topps Mantle they were auctioning in "solid ex".

March TTS had 1960's Superstar Pricing with Brooks Robinson's 1967 card leading the decade at $125 (again, Ex-Mt).  No mention of the allegedly short-printed 1966 Gaylord Perry card was made though, a signal I've been looking for amidst all the noise. Meanwhile, April brought Superstar Pricing of $2,750 for Mr. Mantle-yikes! It also introduced Common and Rare/Scarce Series pricing: 1952 highs at $65 and 1957 mid's at $1.75. And in a big twist, Card Collectors Co. ran a buy ad, ranging from pre-war to 1973, although mostly they wanted Topps sets from 1957 on; guess all those blowout sales really emptied out the old garage (and probably the Topps warehouse since I think that's where all the full cases got drop shipped from)!  Sample buy prices for 1952 Topps to give you an idea of series breakdowns:

#1-250: $1.25 (fourth series end point is correct!)
#251-310: $4.50
#311-407: 35.00 (he was selling them a month later for $65)
#311 Mantle (Mt): $2,400

The Mantle price was $200 more than the offers for the three "holy grail" 1951 Major League All Star cards of Konstanty, Roberts & Stanky in Ex-Mt.  They are the possibly rarest Topps cards of the era (the "Small" 1955 Hocus Focus highs may be just as tough) so this was a sure sign Mantle's '52 card was galloping away from the pack. In addition TTS weighed in at 100 pages this month, their biggest issue ever and it was stuffed to the rafters with auctions and sales.  The frequency of articles was way down to accommodate all the dealer ads as baseball season got underway.

May started out just as hot, as the 1967 Brooks Robinson was priced at $150 in the Dischley Superstar Matrix and 1966 and '67 highs were priced at $1.25 and $1.50 respectively. Articles started appearing in a much tinier font in this issue than had been used previously. The Trader Speaks had just about maxed out its page count! 1957 scarce series commons made an appearance in ad from Joe Bratony at $2.75 apiece in NM-Mt (an early adopter of this ridiculous grade it seems); another ad toward the back from Mark Angert and Al Entin had 66 highs at 20 for $30, in what looks like average NM condition. Also, plastic sheet pricing wars were breaking out, indicating just how many collectors needed ways to store their cards.

TTS in June had the 1966 Gaylord Perry as a POR along with the 67 B. Robinson in an ad from Bluechip Sportcard. Perry was still very much an active major-leaguer so it doesn't seem like HOF run-up pricing. Generally, 1966 common highs were starting to show up in ads and auctions, bringing about $1.50 vs $1 for the 67's, so maybe the 66's were getting a little more love. A spare $3,250 would get you a NM 1952 Topps Mantle from Jim Cumpton.  I dunno Jim, got a picture? An ad for the first National Sports Collectors Convention reared its head as well.

The Trader Speaks in July brought a massive seven page ad from the Sports Collectors Store and some hints can be found on 1966 and '67 pricing.  A 1966 #598 Perry (anywhere from VG-Mint but "generally" mint) was listed for $15 and the highs were $2 a throw.  1967 brought our old "POR" friend out for #600 B. Robinson and $1.75 a pop for highs. Neither year's high pricing was showing any signs of SP awareness though. 1952 Mantle pricing elsewhere in the issue seemed to be holding steady at $3,250 in Ex-Mt and it's worth noting an absolute riot of 50's and 60's Topps cards being offered throughout the issue in multi-page ads. Also of note, what may have been the first ad from the eventual "King of Commons" Bill Henderson; we'll soon see if he was on top of SP pricing.

As the summer wore on, the Mick gained in stature with $2,500 Superstar pricing in the August TTS (another 100 page issue), although the lower graded Mantles in this issue seemed to be falling behind when accounting for price spreads between grades. The pricing on 1952 high numbers dropped to $60 while 57's remained steady at $1.75 for the scarce series cards. Reverse auctions also popped up in a few ads, indicating maybe some saturation was occurring in the hobby.

Then, the unthinkable happened when the October TTS Superstar Pricing grid (50's and 60's alternated monthly) had the 1952 Mantle nosediving to $1,750! I suspect this was due to a find of several partial 1952 high number sheets that walked into the Baltimore convention in June. 

(excerpts copyright The Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide, Number 3, Dr. James Beckett and Dennis W. 
Eckes, 1981, Co-published by Den's Collectors Den, Laurel MD and Edgewater Book Company, Lakewood, OH)

While not fully showing the 100 card array, it was apparently possible to piece enough together to determine cards 311 (Mantle, 312 (Jackie Robinson) and 313 (Bobby Thomson) had been double printed.  I doubt any attention was paid to the idea (then unknown) that a full sheet of 1952's would consist of 200 cards, with each 100 card half (or "slit" in the lithographer's parlance) being what we think of as a traditional uncut sheet then and now. However given the observable differences of these three examples and no others in the series, it seems like the DP designations were correctly assigned 40 years ago.

Elsewhere in that issue Card Collectors Co. offered a complete, mint 4th series from 1957 for $400 as the TTS guide had them up slightly at $2.00 each but downward pricing continued in The Trader Speaks November issue, where the "Grid" had the 1967 Brooks Robinson's reduced to $100:

Those $1.50 prices were the same two months prior as well, when the '66 highs had caught up with the 67's.  And the 1972 nosebleed's (along with the prior two year's) were steady at 25 cents per card, unchanged from their debut pricing in April. In December however, the 1952 Topps Mantle descended even further to a mere $1,450 and '52 highs had shrunk down to $48 in the guide. The landmark 1952 set had overheated! Indeed a VG Mick in one ad was offered at $850 and Bill Henderson had common '52 highs at $5 each, EX or better condition. Dan Dischley himself was offering 1952 high number commons at $40 in mint condition, in a huge conflict of interest! 1957's 4th series continued to increase though, now at $2.25 per card per TTS.

As for the second Sport-Americana Guide, it yielded the following in 1980:

1952 Highs: Mint $55, VG-EX $44. Other commons, depending on series, were between $2 and $2.50 in Mint with the Semi-Highs in that grade clocking in at $8.25.
1952 Mantle: Mint $2,500, VG-EX $1,800.
1957 Mids: Mint $1.80, VG-EX $1.35 cents. Other commons, depending on series were between 30 and 35 cents in Mint.
1966 Highs:Mint $1.80 and 80 cents in VG-EX vs. 12 cents in Mint for all other commons.
1966 Perry: Mint $10.00, VG-EX $8.00. This was consistent with McCovey in the high series as the other HOF subject, Robin Roberts, had dropped to $6.
1967 Highs: Mint $1.50 and $1.25 cents in VG-EX However, the first appearance of Double Print pricing that I've seen started here, with a notation commons (40 or so identified) only sold at 50 cents apiece in Mint. All other commons were priced at 12 cents in Mint.
1967 B. Robinson: Mint $120, VG-EX $100. The most expensive card in the entire set still but the Seaver Rookie had impressively bounced up to $45 in Mint.
1972 Highs: Mint 22 cents and 16 cents in VG-EX vs. 9 cents in Mint for all other commons, save the Semi-Highs which were 14 cents each in that grade.

This will conclude part two of this series as more and more, pricing was determined by statistical analysis and not "feel" as page counts started to dwindle in The Trader Speaks as 1981 dawned; indeed the dimensions of the magazine itself would shrink radically come July of that year as Sports Collectors Digest and some other "tabloid" publications really came to the fore, not to mention the slick, newstand-worthy Baseball Cards magazine.  Part three will be much more focused on how the monthly and annual price guides started recording and driving prices in the hobby, which very much reflected a rapidly shifting substrate.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Series Opener

I've been intensely looking through a bunch of old hobby price guides, catalogs -- especially those from Woody Gelman's Card Collectors Company --  and my almost complete run (January 1969, where are you?!) of The Trader Speaks and several hundred other vintage hobby 'zines, roughly focusing on the valuation of 1952 Baseball high numbers. The 1952 High Number Executive Summary, noting further research to the following linked posts has occurred in many instances, is as follows:

1) Highs were probably printed in about half the quantity of the semi-highs,
2) Alleged dumping at sea by Topps of excess 1952 high number inventory is almost certainly a carefully constructed fiction,
3) Some were exported to Venezuela and Canada and it was subject to a loosely regionalized rollout in the U.S. when originally distributed, which extended into early 1953,
4) Reports of them being in 1953 packs is very likely incorrect, and
5) The final series was not planned at the beginning of production.

So given all this, I decided it would be interesting to track the evolution of high number (and scarce series) pricing of some Topps cards over the decades and after some reflection, hit upon exploring the following to lay out the development of scarce series pricing from the 1950's through 1990:
  • 1952 Highs (and eventually by inference, semi-highs)
  • 1957 Mid Series (#265-352)
  • 1966 High Number Common Short Prints
  • 1967 High Number Common Short Prints
  • 1972 Highs
The 52's are a no-brainer while the 1957 mid-series scarcity has always intrigued me as it hints at an unexplained production issue. However, when I looked at the fifth series of '57 cards, spanning #353-407, I began to wonder if the scarce 4th series was intended to be the last one that year. Check out this player distribution in series 5:
  • 26 Rookie Cards
  • 27 current Major Leaguers, the best of whom was probably Earl Torgeson or Walker Cooper (who was 42 years old in 1957!). It's almost 90% scrubs and journeymen in this group and if you take away Torgeson and Cooper and add up the remaining players' career WAR, it's likely negative or close to it.
  • 2 admittedly fabulous Multi-Player cards (Dodgers Sluggers and Yankees Power Hitters) that, while iconic, seem like they got thrown in to add some star power.
Also, there were no team cards in the last series, having all been exhausted by the end of series 4. It looks like Topps produced the fifth series in May as players traded in April (Faye Throneberry, Bob Lennon and Dean Stone) appear with their new teams. There were no May trades among the group of non-RC's (and I didn't check the RC's) but two June trades left Warren Hacker and Chuck Tanner with their old teams on their Topps cards. So after issuing 340 cards across four series in 1956, did Topps intend to end at 352 in 1957? The way the unnumbered checklists were issued (Series 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, 4/5) would support either a pre-planned or hastily assembled series 5.  I digress, but note the 1958 high numbers were also a slap dash affair and it's highly probable that year's set was intended to be 440 cards before it was extended, so Topps must have seen extremely good initial and sustained sales in those years to continue on with a final series. That makes three 1950's Topps sets with their high numbers decided upon quite late in the season if I'm correct.

The 1966 and 67 high number short prints have their own stories, and the 1972's are the last true highs issued by Topps (this also applies to Football in 1972 but that is a different thing entirely) and also are now thought to be the toughest of their 70's highs. In addition, these sets have cards with white borders on all four sides, eliminating any condition related premiums. The look-see at the 1966 and later issues (and even the 57's) will mostly be in later posts in this arc, covering the late-70's through mid-80's and after I dissect the mid 70's structures. There will be some ancillary pricing commentary as well along the way. as my review has yielded some obscure and fascinating tidbits. But first, lets get to the king of all postwar sets, although I warn you there will be many side trips along the way.

It's possible to go back to the 1953 American Card Catalog and start our quest there. The 1952 high numbers were still being distributed when this edition (the third) came out and obviously a publication that debuted in February 1953 would not be able to say much, if anything, about them, but it assigned the catalog reference of R725 to the 1952 Topps Baseball set (eventually changed to R414-6) and listed a price of two cents per card.  Topps had a big ad in the back of the 1953 ACC, the only one to use photographs in fact, with 1952 Baseball as the centerpiece:

Smart move by Topps and I believe 1953 was the year they started fully embracing the collector's market with the Woody Gelman adjacent Trading Card Guild. Furthermore, I suspect the founding of Sam Rosen's aftermarket concern in 1955, which was inexorably connected to the Guild, was the result of so many collectors writing to Topps for missing singles they felt they had to do something to fill the void.  As the late, great Jay Lynch once wrote to me, albeit in another context, "Woody was hip to the jive." Indeed, as Rosen was his Stepfather!

By October 1956, Sam Rosen's List #12 (presented here courtesy of Friend o'the Archive David Kathman) had assigned a hefty premium to the 1952 high numbers. Kathman advises this structure was in already place for a Rosen ad in a 1953 issue of the Card Collectors Bulletin ("The Bulletin"), so Sam was the quite trendsetter it seems:

Yup, two cents for the lows, five cents for the highs, or 2.5x, but no full sets could be bought.  Luckily for the original owner of this list, he had already competed his quest!  I also like the "11" Major League All Stars being offered (good luck on the Stanky, Roberts & Konstanty fella!).  1956 Baseball was still current and available by series.

Interestingly, the non-sports page gives us similar premium pricing for the 1953-54 World On Wheels cards, which were probably just past or in their final throes of returns to Topps. Those highs are indeed tough, especially the last ten "high-highs", whose method of distribution seems to have been unorthodox and is still unclear, but no distinction is yet made:

In 1958 there was a more structured approach to selling 1952 Baseball in the Rosen list but not even a glimmer of 1957 fourth series premium pricing was evident:

(Courtesy David Kathman)

I'm not showing it but Rosen was paying three cents apiece for the '52 highs at the time (July 1958) this list came out. Unfortunately, Sam had only months left to live and died on New Years Eve.

March 1959 brought the first Card Collector's Company (CCC) catalog (#10, which didn't follow the numbering of its predecessor company--Sam Rosen--for some reason) and the pricing for 1952 Topps ended with #1-310 at five cents a throw (ten cents for the low number black backs).  I guess Sam was on to something!

1957 Topps were 3 cents for any card in the set. You could order the latter set for $10, which was a significant discount but no '52 sets were to be had. Note the high number World On Wheels cards were now a dime vs three cents for commons, or 3.33 x! I think Woody was either out of or holding back his '52 highs at this point though, my thoughts are quite biased toward the latter scenario for reasons we shall soon see:

The December 1, 1959 issue of "The Card Collector," Gelman's small hobby publication of the time, published a 1952 Topps checklist prefaced with this gem of a paragraph:

1960 brought a new ACC (the last to be updated in book form) and while it evened out the first series red/black pricing at a dime apiece (all cards up to #310 were priced at 10 cents) the high numbers were now commanding 30 cents apiece, or three times the price of the lower numbers. 1957 Topps were all priced at five cents each.

The 1960 CCC catalog of March 1 vintage listed ten cents a card for 1952 #1-310 and 35 cents for the highs as the premium grew slightly. 1957's were a nickel across the board and neither was offered as a full set. Presumably, this was the first sale of 1952 high numbers by CCC after the "Berger barge blub"! Remember, there are no coincidences when it comes to Topps.

A major competitor to CCC, Gordon Taylor, was also issuing regular lists at this time and his April 1, 1960 number had the following pricing:

(Courtesy David Kathman)

That's a 4x premium on the '52 highs.  Other pages of his list indicate he wanted $1 for scarce cards in 1951 Ringside (#48 - the immortal Rocky Castellini) and 1950 Freedom's War (#203 - Arctic Soldier) but it's not clear to me if they were considered tough due to #48 being the last card in the first series of Ringside and #203 the last card in Freedom's War, or if he just goofed and meant Ringside #49 (Bob Murphy, recognized today as a difficult card, especially in high grade) and Freedom's War #201 (Dwight Eisenhower). It's noteworthy that the 1959 high numbers, still a-molderin' on grocery and variety store shelves I am sure, were commanding a premium as well.

In his November 1960 issue of Card Comments, Taylor made a passing comment that 1952's  #311-407 were getting "scarcer by the day" and he offered a full set in EX at $65 (discounted from the "regular" price of $79.  Meanwhile, the next month he offered a short set #1-310 at $28 in Mint Condition. I'm not sure what the spread between EX and Mint was 60 years ago or how to factor his previous month's "discount" but I think this meant his 40 cent pricing increase per 1952 high number still held.

I will point out here Woody Gelman was involved with the 1953 American Card Catalog as Associate Editor of Advertising and Publication, along with Jefferson Burdick (Managing Editor, of course) and two others: Charles Bray, who did the pricing work and was known for his indifference toward "modern" cards, and Gene DeNardo, who revised copy. While the 1960 edition made no mention of the associate editorial staff's individual responsibilities, later information from Chris Benjamin revealed Woody was the (definitely) non-publicized publisher of record. In fact, his son Richard was responsible for reprinting the ACC in the late 80's, which is the version I mostly use to this day.

Here's the 1960 ACC title page, courtesy once again of David Kathman:

As an aside, the first reprinting of the 1960 ACC occurred in 1967 and it genuinely irked the collectors of the time, who were expecting the usual, updated guide. As it turned out, nothing had been changed for its normal seven year full republication cycle, despite official updates promulgated every few months in the Card Collector's Bulletin by Buck Barker, who had joined the ACC editorial staff for the 1960 edition and was a widely known veteran collector. Barker started the Bulletin "Catalog Additions" with a date of November 21, 1960, and along with Bray permanently replaced Burdick as the keepers of the "knowledge" in The Bulletin." A good chunk of 1967 hobby enmity was directed at Woody Gelman as a consequence, so his involvement as the publisher of the reprint edition was seemingly known to the collectors of the time. Do note Woody's contact address is the one used for Card Collectors Company!

Burdick was in the midst of mounting his collections for the Metropolitan Museum of Art when the 1960 ACC was compiled and almost all of his exertions were focused thereon of course. Catalog Updates, once an annual occurrence in loose three hole punch form were relegated to The Bulletin. These collected Bulletin ACC updates were published in a pamphlet by Chris Benjamin in 1990 and he noted the 1967 ACC had, "for reasons never explained" failed to include information from any of the eight Catalog Additions published through 1966. Sixteen in total were compiled through 1972, some in multiple parts and I have to assume the sheer number of sets being issued annually at that point  precluded further updates from being meaningful.

An attempt was made to incorporate the year of issue in the catalog numbering scheme as the Sixties wore on but it never really took hold and many advanced collectors don't even know about Barker's work or Benjamin's compilation of same:

Barker, as might be surmised from his titling, mostly compiled additions (and corrections) to the ACC and didn't follow up on pricing once a new or newly discovered issue was memorialized in print. He did note in the first Catalog Addition that Woody Gelman was still sending information to him. Most of each addition looked just as static as the cursory ACC listings, but Barker often put more interesting and illustrative "Commentoes" or "Barker Barks" sections at the end of each. However they only addressed updates for old sets in terms of information (mostly checklist additions) and remained true to form by not keeping up with current pricing. So a big fat zero in my quest there!

Back to the Card Collectors Co. then-their March 1961 catalog was next issued after the ACC came out and 1952 low number pricing remained the same at ten cents while the highs were now going for a half dollar each. 1957 Topps pricing was the same as the year prior at a nickel but the complete set was offered at $18, again reflecting a nice discount.

The March 1962 CCC catalog is where things start getting interesting in respect of the 1952 cards.  #1-99 are priced at fifteen cents apiece (which makes no sense as series one quite obviously ended at #80 and series two at #130) while cards up to #250 thereafter were still a dime.  We see the semi high's get some love at fifteen cents apiece and the highs were now a whopping $1 apiece, a 10x premium!  It's amazing how Woody was able to stock these, no? Full sets of the 1952's were unavailable but the 1957 pricing was the same as the year prior all around, including the full set.

I have a catalog from a Canadian dealer named Leonard Paone dated March 1, 1962 (the start of the baseball season sure was popular for catalogs, with good reason) and the pricing structure for the various series' prior to the highs is the opposite of Woody's:

#1-99: ten cents (black backs from #1-80 were fifteen cents each though; I still do not get this tranche)
#100-250: none for sale (!), presumably an inadvertent omission or typo
#251-310: fifteen cents each
#311-407: fifty cents each

No 1952 full sets were available from Mr. Paone either, while the 57's are starting to show a bare recognition of the mid series being scarce but again, the tranches are bizarre:

#1-252: four cents each (ironically, at one later point the 1952's were thought to have their third series conclude at #252 and both are, of course 407 cards in total length)
#253-364: six cents each
#365-407: four cents each
Full set: $15

The 1963 and 1964 CCC catalogs have the same pricing 1962 had; there is no recognition of a scarce series in 1957. I'm not sure why but this was a bit of a stagnant time in the hobby, with a number of publications struggling to stay in print on a regular basis. Gordon Taylor ended up shutting down his companion Card Comments newsletter and sold out his inventory (it eventually ended up with Bruce Yeko). Woody's The Card Collector publication was also struggling and flared out for good in '64 after a couple of erratic issues came out following a "suspension" of publication the year prior. I wonder if the Space Race was diverting attention, or maybe the actual non-collector, un-crazed portion of the country had moved on?

Meanwhile, an ad in the September-October 1964 issue of The New Sports Gazette from Barry Newman noted low stock on the scarce 57's but the pricing was the same as any other card in the set at 4 cents apiece.  The same ad noted no 1952 high numbers were in stock either.  A little supply and demand disconnect there I'd say.

Here is a spread from Marshall Oreck's 1965 catalog that speaks for itself:

(Courtesy David Kathman)

That $1 price point for the '52 highs was also noted by John England in his regular column "From The Cigar Box" in the September 1965 issue of The Sports Trader ("TST"), where he wrote:

"These cards, only thirteen years old, already bring up to $1.00 each. Can you imagine what they might bring in another twenty years! Are these cards really as rare as people say?  In 1952 when I started collecting, when these cards were still on the open market, I never received one of them in my package. Later, in 1953, they were resold in celophane (sic) packages (15 for 10 cents) but again the rare cards were never among the ones you bought. As far as I now the last series was never issued in Arkansas. All of these cards that I obtained were bought or traded for through the mail with collectors on the East coast. It is again unique to find a rare series in the same year that they were issued, but as I remember back, even then these cards brought very good prices.  Oh to have a thousand of them now!"

Despite Mr. England's waxings, as noted above things stagnated for a bit in the hobby during the mid-60's. This was still very much a time when many serious collectors were pursuing cards issued prior to the Second World War while newer collectors, no doubt rekindling youthful memories of buying cards after the war ended, were accumulating and trading Topps and Bowman cards.

The January 1966 issue of The Sports Trader contained advertising from Matt Lorence offering 1957 Topps cards at 4 cents each, no series singled out, unlike some others in his ad.  So no real bump on the 1957 mids there.

I am missing the 1965 and 1966 CCC catalogs presently but based upon the 1967 version (a January release) the pause in pricing was in very much in evidence, although Woody, in addition to the imminent ACC reissue, may have been preoccupied with the pending Topps production plant move from Brooklyn to Duryea, PA. The only difference from when the 1962 catalog was issued is that full series of the 1952 highs could be bought for $90, with individual cards from it still at a dollar a pop and no change to the previous series pricing is observed.  A cynic might mention Topps had cleared out all their Brooklyn warehouses in 1965-66 as part of the move to Duryea (a lot of this old inventory, once picked over by Gelman, is what I suspect was actually dumped by Sy Berger). No 1957 price changes or availability differences occurred.

Interestingly, Bill Haber, three years prior to being hired by Topps, wrote in the August 1967 issue of The Ballcard Collector he had ordered a group of cards from Card Collectors Company that makes me wonder if the regular help was absent one day:

"On their printed form they have a space for alternate choices, so I threw in '1952 Topps' and '#407" as I had done similarly for the past nine years. This was in November of 1965 and at the time I needed this one card to complete this much sought after set. Well, when the order arrived and I opened it up to see the beautiful picture of Eddie Mathews I couldn't believe my eyes!"

Price List #20 dated January 15, 1968 from CCC (OK, catalog) is where things start to get interesting again. The 1952 highs were still $1 each essentially but an awareness of series availability, supply and demand was coming into focus:

#1-99: 20 cents apiece (still following this weird pricing tranche)
#100-250: 12 cents each
#251-310: 15 cents apiece as semi-high separation appears to begin
#311-407: $1 each, with a full series still selling for $90
"Rare" cards: Spahn, Feller, Berra and Mays were 95 cents each.

As for 1957 Topps, we get the first mention of something happening with the mid's: 20 cents each for series four cards, vs. seven cents for all others. The cards from the #265-352 were described as "extremely scarce" and I suspect this was a last minute change to the fourth series pricing as the extrapolated price of a full set, available for a modest $2 increase from the year before at $20, was less than half the value of the individually priced cards, a terrific bargain.  Again, one wonders what the clearing out of the Topps warehouses in Brooklyn had wrought.  As an aside, a near complete set of World on Wheels, lacking the ten "high, high" numbers was available for $6.

It's worth noting 1953's "rare" cards went for $1.25 and for the CCC first time singled out Mantle in this group; scattered pricing of the 1956 and subsequent Mick's was also presented. My initial thought is that his anticipated imminent retirement was being noticed and this is the start of the very long running "Mantle-mania" that persists to this day and then some in the hobby.

However, the October 1968 issue of The Sports Trader had an ad from Ed Dey showing not all dealers had caught up to the pricing trends in 1952.  Here's the skinny:

#1-80 Red Backs: 12 cents
#1-80 Black Backs: 14 cents
#81-310: 10 cents

No highs and 57's were an even 4 cents each. A later issue of TST (August 1969) had a brief survey request from John England for a count of scarce cards. The 1952 highs made the cut, along with a baker's dozen of others. Oddly, 1948 Bowman was one of the sets queried. He revealed the results in the following month's issue (3 complete series in the whole world!), to which can be applied a liberal amount of salt. TST had about 1,000 subscribers at the time and a whopping 11 responded to the survey!

I don't have any CCC catalogs (OK, price lists) covering 1969-72. However, The Trader Speaks ("TTS") since its November 1968 debut had virtually no coverage of or ads for 1952 or 1957 Topps until October of 1970, when a fellow named Edmund Pesko auctioned a set that ended at #310. I found a buy ad from Art Smith in the the December 1970 issue of Sports Advertisers Journal offering 75 cents each for the '52 highs then nuttin' until 1972, when a handful of auctions that year were asking for $4 minimum bids on them. Prices were clearly climbing as the 70's progressed. No 1957 mid-series pricing was offered during this time in TTS, nor would there be any in the 1973-74 issues.

There was, however as this Wirt Gammon article form The Ballcard Collector in September 1970 pointing out some rising prices on the 1952 highs: $3!  Note the bonus content from Bill Haber (now employed by Topps) about their limited distribution (vs. a barge event):

Haber reinforced this the following month in the BCC:

That snippet was from the "Rocks In The Head" column by Andy Rochman, who went on to state that the hobby was inaccessible to many newcomers due to lack of  a coherent price guide.  Rochman suggested paying not more than $2.50 for the 1952 high numbers (vs. 25 cents for low numbers) and 25 cents for the scarce 1957 4th series cards (vs. 15 cents for any others). As for a price guide, the February 1972 issue of BCC contained a survey form looking for pricing "estimates" on various sets.  The 1952 highs were segregated from the rest of the set in this survey as was the 1957 4th series.

This all belies the fact that there was little availability of 1952 Topps cards in the 60's and early 70's hobby press and there was a clear paucity of the high numbers when the cards were offered.  They just were not routinely available at sale or auction at the time, whereas you would see 1953's with regularity.

In November of 1972, the Ballcard Collector published the results of their pricing survey back in February.  I'll let the results speak for themselves:

1973 did bring the first Card Collectors Company ad buy in the January issue of The Trader Speak (the same month their Price Lists used to debut), selling old tobacco cards and the 1971 Topps Greatest Moments set, which was a hot topic for years in the hobby press. 1952 high number minimum bids crept to $5 this year but there were not a lot of offerings.  The first five or so years of TTS really focused more on pre-World War 2 issues and memorabilia (programs, yearbooks and guides were quite popular). The CCC ads within mostly focused on secondary and test issues from Topps (fodder for another post sometime). They debuted in the October 1973 issue (or possibly the November issue, the 'zine came out about every three weeks and the masthead was often imprecise or illegible) of the Ballcard Collector, probably the most worthy competitor to The Trader Speaks in the pre-Sports Collectors Digest era. The next issue had the same ad, which was chock full of rare Topps test issues.

Woody Gelman ("Owner of over 30,000 bubblegum cards") had recently appeared on the "To Tell The Truth" TV show, where he shared his T206 Wagner with the studio audience, panelists and viewers at home and while I can't find it on You Tube, it's show # 1184 from season 4 of the revived series. Gene Rayburn, Peggy Cass, Bill Cullen and Kitty Carlisle were the panelists. The hobby was really accelerating as a National phenomenon!

In my opinion, another factor in the hobby's rise rise to national attention (and the related rise in card values) was "The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola". Joe was very much a media precursor to Michael Strahan, almost uncannily so, and Garagiola devoted at least one segment of his show, which mostly aired before the NBC "Game of the Week" if memory serves, on how Topps made cards.  Irv Lerner, one of the more prominent dealers of the time (and still - he sets up annually at The National), was also part of the same show as he hosted the former catcher and production crew at his Pennsylvania home. Bill Haber made an appearance as well according to contemporary reports. Its unrelated but Bill James was profiled on one of Garagiola's shows, discussing Runs Created, so Joe was out in front of the birth of Sabermetrics.

August 1973 brought the next full price guide results in the Ballcard Collector.  Again, I'll let the numbers do the talking:

The November 1973 issue of Sports Scoop, which had premiered only that February, brought a rousing report by cub reporter Keith Olbermann on a New York City convention held in mid-September that noted 1952 high numbers had jumped to $10 each from $7 earlier in the year. And jumping back to BCC, Dick Miller had the 1957 mids at 30 cents each, vs. 15 cents for the other series' cards.

The fledgling and imminently mighty Sports Collectors Digest (SCD) ran a cursory price guide in their January 25, 1974 issue that had EX 1952 highs priced at $8.50 each, vs. 45 cents for anything below the high series.  1957's ran 35 cents for the tougher fourth series cards against 12 cents otherwise.

The February 1974 Sports Scoop had mid-series 1957's at 50 cents (vs. 15 cents for other commons in the easier series) with the condition advertised as "very good to mint", so a nice premium but all over the map condition-wise. I don't have a ton of Sports Scoop issues but the lack of 1952 Mantles and highs from most ads and auctions mirrored The Trader Speaks and Ballcard Collector experiences.

I think Gelman had a stroke or other serious illness at some point in 1974, which limited CCC ads in The Trader Speaks and elsewhere. Other TTS advertisers were also bereft and 1952 highs were essentially nowhere to be seen in any kind of quantity in the publication until December, when this appeared:

Minimum bids for the highs had jumped to $10, confirming the reports from the September '73 NYC Convention.  Meanwhile minimums for the lows and semi-high series capped out at 50 cents or so per card, extrapolated from the lot listings above. Prices were on the upswing and there was a noticeable increase in collector's conventions in 1974, no doubt fueling same as information started to get around on certain sets and cards. Also on the rise were rip-offs of collectors-the more things change....

SCD ran a chart by Dave Meiners - "The Sports Advocate" - that traced pricing of various sets and series from 1966 through 1973 in their June 15, 1974 issue.  The chart is not scanning well so here is the 1952 Topps summary, lows first, then highs, in what was likely Ex-Mt condition:

1966: 5 cents/75 cents
1968: 8 cents/$1
1970: 10 cents/$2.45
June 1971: 25 cents/$3.23
Dec. 1971: 28 cents/$4.95
June 1972: 35 cents/$6.75
Dec. 1972: 42 cents/$7.37
June 1973: 44 cents/$8
Dec. 1973: 48 cents/$8.75

Interestingly, the highest priced cards in the study of 40 sets and series encompassing the 20th century's most widely issued cards from the tobacco era through 1955 were from the 1951 Topps Major League All Stars, which were listed st $25.75 as of December 1973.  The next closest after that was the 1954 Wilson Franks cards at $12.10 and then the 1951 Connie Mack All Stars at $10.00. The '52 highs were a close fourth followed by 1958 Bell Brand at $8.11 then the 1951 Topps Team cards at $6.30.

This type of pricing study was slowly coming into vogue. Ray Medeiros started a series of Price Guide "inserts" in the Ballcard Collector in the Fall of 1974 and the December issue had Topps pricing as of September 15th.  1952 highs were listed at $8.75 and 1957 mid's at fifty cents each.  His innovative inserts allowed room for collectors to note prices going forward and started scratching the surface of superstar pricing, at first with no specific names attached to the premium cards.

It's worth noting here that 1952 Topps Baseball in general seemed to have been sold in quantity by only a small batch of dealers and collectors at this time. Prior to 1975 so many ads and auctions that had consecutive runs of Topps offerings in TTS started off with 1953 Topps in their parades of yearly sets and singles that it was almost jarring to see 52's in one.  But things were indeed changing as more were being offered as the year went on.

The Trader Speaks February 1975 issue saw Larry Fritsch offer some 1952 highs at auction, the first I've seen of these in the inventory of "America's First Full Time Dealer" and for auction no less. Bill Haber, former Topps employee and test set dealer extraordinaire had moved out to Wisconsin to work for Fritsch in the fall of 1974.  As noted above, when it comes to Topps, there are no coincidences.

The March TTS had a number of auctions with '52 highs but no minimums were listed. In contrast, a buy ad for L&R Card Company was offering to buy 52 Mantles at $30. The April 15, 1975 SCD had 52 highs at $10 each in a Jerry Sullivan ad that also had the Mantle offered at $36.

 By May Fritsch had stocked up a little on '52 highs, as this TTS ad attests:

An August 1975 TTS ad from Larry Loeschen, a frequent advertiser, had EX-MT common highs for sale at $10 apiece (and a tape stained Jackie Robinson for $25). This illustrates the larger point that almost no 1952 Topps Mantles were being offered for sale or at auction during 1975.

September brought news Bill Haber had moved back to New York City (specifically Brooklyn) a couple of miles from the Topps executive offices in Sunset Park, making me wonder how many candy stores were located between those two locations for test issue purposes, although the great days of such sets had already ended. 1957 "rare" series cards in VG-EX were being offered for 50 cents each by Jay Barry, who in January of '76 he had them in EX at the same price before reverting three months later to VG-EX cards for the usual half dollar, but another dealer had cards from the fourth series priced at 39 cents, condition not specified. This lack of condition clarity, which was a pretty common thing back then in a hobby that assumed the offered cards were Ex-Mt in such circumstances, was ubiquitous from what I can tell.

The earliest discrete price guide I own, from 1975 and put out by Ladd Publications, had very little to say about the 52's ($10 a pop for highs but no specific price for poor Mickey) or 57's (zero differentiation):

The Ladd guide was not well known then or now but various checklists and (non-pricing) guides issued by Larry Fritsch and even The Trader Speaks were also helping to focus attention on the Mantle and a select few other cards. However it was the publication of Burt Randolph Sugar's Sports Collectors Bible (SCB) at the tail end of 1975 that really seems to have kicked off the modern pricing wave that lasted for over two decades. The Bible only had cursory values -- and the first edition didn't even include checklists for the modern sets -- but it became the template for all that followed.

The inaugural SCB had the following pricing pertinent to my current investigation:

1952 Topps #1-310: 50 cents to $1.50
1952 Topps #311-407 $7-$11 ("limited quantity")
1957 Topps: No differential
1967 Topps #534-609: 50 cents to $1 (limited distribution noted, described as "fairly scarce")

That's it!

The April 1976 TTS gave us a 1952 Topps Mantle auction in an Uncle Ed's Sport & Collector's Corner auction, a rare sighting within the magazine. May brought another Mick, with a $100 minimum bid from John B. Kaiser. Still, even in the mid 70's a lot of ads and auctions with consecutive yearly runs of Topps offerings would continue to start at 1953.

By June 1976 more '52 Topps Mantles and High Numbers were showing up in auctions and in a related note, August 1976's TTS brought the first individual mention of the #1 Pafko card I've run across, in an auction run by the very active Steve Coerper.  September's TTS still had Jay Barry and his half dollar VG 57's and also 52 VG highs at $6 each.

The aforementioned Mr. Coerper had a buy ad in this very same issue, offering to pay $4.75 apiece for EX-MT 52 highs and 30 cents for the 57 mids (8 cents for all other series). Coerper was also paying premiums for highs in 1953 (45 cents) and 1955 (32 cents). The high number pricing structure for 1950's cards was just beginning to permeate the hobby but quite sporadically still at this key point. Some issues of the magazine would have a couple of dealers with 52 highs or a Mantle at auction, followed by others that were completely bereft.

A big blowout Card Collectors Co. ad in the November 1976 TTS ran to almost four pages in the wake of the somewhat infamous fire (on March 30, 1975) that damaged some of their inventory. It seems like everything they had in stock was being sold (all undamaged save for some 1971 Greatest Moments cards), much of it in decently sized lots, but no 52 or 57 tough series cards were advertised.

Also you may have noticed there was nothing brewing on the 1966 or '67 high number short prints through the end of the Bicentennial year.  Zip, zero, zilch, nada. But the hobby was changing in front of everybody's eyes and by 1977 the first published price guide listings from Dr. Jim Beckett were coming out. These were based upon surveys put together by Beckett, which had commenced canvassing set pricing for a large amount of baseball issues, at the end of 1976. John Stirling also issued a guide that year, with updated pricing mailers offered. More on those developments and the impact it had on the pricing of scarce series cards will follow in part two.