The 1953 Topps baseball set: A New and Improved Collection

Not long after the New York Yankees secured another seven game World Series championship over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the summer of ’52, Topps architect Sy Berger was hard at work, utilizing feedback gathered from the release of the inaugural Topps set to create an even better product for 1953. The “super-sized” pasteboards were praised by collectors, though the subpar colorization of the black and white images and limited success of the troubled high-number series left plenty of room for improvement. An even bigger problem was brewing in Philadelphia as Topps had the attention of rival Bowman, who would not only increase their card size for the 1953 collection but also file a lawsuit against Topps, alleging player contract violations. It was clear that in 1953, Topps was either going to make their mark or become the next victim to fall by the wayside.

Topps 2.0 – Making a classic even better

In order to improve the appearance of the players, Topps commissioned artist Gerry Dvorak to sketch and paint the likeness of each player. The result was a collection of memorable portraits and action shots, finely detailed with dominating images and warm flesh tones that, to this day, stands among the most admired in the industry. Even the background of each card was carefully crafted, capturing the feel of the stadium crowd and appropriate advertising that lined the fences. Jackie Robinson was moved to the pole position as card #1, with Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Mickey Mantle and Eddie Mathews also moving from the previous year’s high-number series to the ’53 set’s first series. This gave collectors an opportunity to quickly acquire many of the popular stars that they were unable to find the previous year.

As the court battle with Bowman over player contracts raged on, Topps was forced to continually make changes to their print plans, replacing players that they couldn’t get under contract by either “moving up” a player from the next series to the present one or double-printing a player in the existing series. There were also five cards from both the 1st and 2nd series that were moved back, creating “chase cards” that couldn’t be obtained until the next series was released. By the time Topps reached the late-season high number series, there weren’t enough contracted players for a complete run, so many more cards were double-printed, with six (#253, 261, 267, 268, 271 and 275) left out of the series entirely. Seemingly a mix of superstars and “no-name” players, the cards slated for double-printing were likely chosen randomly or left in the hands of the printer to decide. If left up to Topps, they surely would have gone exclusively with big name stars. After all, who’s going to complain about getting too many Mickey Mantle cards? As for the six missing subjects, one can only speculate who they may have been. But it should be noted that Richie Ashburn, Leo Durocher, Gil Hodges, Bob Lemon, Robin Roberts and Duke Snider all appear in the ’52 series and are absent in the ’53 collection.

With the dreadful centering issues plaguing the 1952 Topps high-number series largely corrected, a new wrinkle was introduced that would soon be added to the card collector’s vernacular; chipping. Though the attractive red and black nameplates that ran along two of the edges were met with overwhelming favorability, collectors soon realized that the colors easily flaked, making it a much more difficult task to keep their cards in pristine condition. As a result, only 30 cards from the entire set have graded PSA 10, and less than 1% of all submissions have reached the level of PSA 9. Ironically, Bowman countered with a “color” series revered by many as their best ever, but they fell to Topps once again in terms of sales, and a new king of the baseball card market was crowned!

#4 Ranked PSA Set Registry Collection – 8.41 Set Rating – offered in MHCC October 2015 Auction

Over the last 25 years, several small “finds” of high-grade 1953 Topps cards from Canada produced a modest cache of perfectly centered, chip-free pasteboards that received the blessing of PSA in the form of PSA 8 and higher grades. There’s little doubt that some of those premier examples made it into this complete assemblage. Presented in the October 2015 Mile High Card Company auction is a crowning achievement in card collecting, one of the finest 1953 Topps collections in existence. Nearly impossible to assemble today if started from scratch, this set ranks #4 on the PSA Set Registry with an overall 8.41 set rating. Every card in this collection carries a minimum grade of PSA 8, with #41 Slaughter, 77 Mize, 114 Rizzuto and 63 others graded PSA 8.5, and 54 cards graded PSA 9, including amazing MINT specimens of #27 Campanella, 37 Mathews, 61 Wynn, 66 Minoso, 76 Reese and 86 B. Martin. Included is a stunning PSA 8 example of Mickey Mantle, a card that has been riding the coattails of the 1952 Topps card to record-breaking prices each time one is offered. The most astonishing member of this collection is a breathtaking PSA 9 card of #224 Satchel Paige, one of the single finest specimens known to exist. Offered as a complete set as well as each card individually, with the higher total between the set price versus the sum of the prices of the individual cards determining the method of sale, this set is but one of many collections rating at or near the top of the PSA Set Registry that will be available in the MHCC October 2105 auction.





The rookie card market is on fire!

52t311mantle8-p19nf654ng1dncq7t1grn19031hrtWhether it’s Hank Aaron’s glowing orange ’54 Topps, Michael Jordan’s patriotic ‘86 Fleer or Wayne Gretzky’s often ill-centered 1979-80 OPC card, collectors have always had a fondness for debut appearances. But the market for rookie cards, specifically high-grade Hall of Famers, has never been better, regardless of sport. Over the past year, Mile High Card Company has procured some of the most elusive GEM MINT specimens in the hobby and posted record-shattering results, doubling and tripling the previous highest sale price in many instances. But it’s not just the truly elite examples that have taken off…

1980 Topps Rickey Henderson RC tops $30,000

80t482henderson10159It was literally moments after MHCC’s 2015 Spring Elite Extra Innings Auction ended that message boards began to light up about the sale price of a 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson rookie card. At $30,325, it nearly tripled the record price of the last example to come to auction. But that was in 2012, when Joe Montana’s GEM MINT 1981 Topps rookie card was selling for around $4,500; five have sold in the last four months for an average of over $14,000. Jerry Rice’s GEM MINT RC? A record-setting price of just over $4,000 in 2012 will set you back well over $11,000 today with one recently selling for over $14,000. And it’s not just GEM MINT specimens that are fetching amazing prices. Roberto Clemente’s 1955 Topps rookie card has jumped from $6,000 to over $25,000 in PSA 8. Even a ’73 Topps Mike Schmidt rookie card has doubled in price from $1,500 to $3,000 for a PSA 9 in just the past year. And then there’s the ’52 Topps Mantle, not actually a rookie card but easily his most desirable. A strong PSA 8 would have cost you around $75,000 three years ago but that’s only good enough to get you turned down for a PSA 7 today. MHCC just sold a PSA 8 privately for $325,000 and a 1955 Topps Clemente PSA 9 for $200,000. Where does it end … does it?

So what’s going on here?

Simple economics I suppose; just a matter of supply and demand. With published population reports, along with a perception that grading companies have become far more stringent than in years past, collectors are not only armed with the knowledge of which particular issues are more scarce in various grades but that few, if any, future submissions will achieve such lofty results. It’s been 35 years since Henderson’s rookie card was released and only 13 exist at the grade of PSA 10. The question isn’t when, but if, there’s going to be a 14. And when will one of those 13 be offered for sale again? That collector who paid a “crazy” price today might be raking in six figures a few years from now.

The next explosion in the sports card world!

Ha! If I knew that, I’d be sipping margaritas on a private island instead of typing away at a keyboard. We’ve seen T206s, Goudeys, caramel cards and many other issues rocket to record prices in the past. Sometimes they maintain the momentum and continue to rise, sometimes the popularity is fleeting and the waters recede. I’ve always maintained that high-grade Diamond Stars cards are undervalued (and if that becomes a thing I’m taking full credit for it), but if scarce and even not so scarce high-grade rookie cards are going crazy, I’d be taking a look at some select second-year cards. Many of those have even smaller population numbers than their corresponding RC’s and can be had at a fraction of the price. Michael Jordan’s GEM MINT 1986 Fleer RC (pop. 209) sells for close to $15,000 today, but his tougher ‘87 Fleer second-year card (pop. 116) is under $2,000. Sure, it’s not nearly as popular a card … right now. But that’s what would make it the NEXT big thing. What do you think?



The 1961 Topps Baseball Set – Nothing But Meat and Potatoes!

PSA Registry #2 Ranked Set in MHCC March Auction

61t300mantle9783It was just 3 weeks into the start of a new year and America was inaugurating John F. Kennedy as its 35th President. World War II was long behind us but a new threat emerged from its aftermath, one that would leave our nation on edge for decades and change the culture of our society. In a time marked by unrest and uncertainty, the Topps Company released a 1961 baseball set that brought order to chaos.

Gone were the wild color schemes of the 1958 and 1959 sets as well as the horizontal format of the 1960 collection. The 1961 Topps baseball set eliminated all of the gimmicky bells and whistles, offering a straightforward, no-nonsense format with brilliant color photos and rectangular name and team plates at the bottom. In addition to the usual lineup of superstars, Topps expanded their arsenal of star power with league leader cards, a “Baseball Thrills” subset that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, a Most Valuable Player series and the high-numbered All-Star cards. While many collectors believe the 1961 set to be too conservative, sedate or just plain dull, it’s ample selection of Hall of Fame rookie cards (Ron Santo, Juan Marichal, and Billy Williams) and popularity of the Mantle and Maris cards due to “The Chase” has made the 1961 Topps baseball set a true classic!

It’s tougher than you think!

61t563cerv9973 61t484aaronmvp10871Many collectors are under the impression that the 1961 Topps set is the “easy” one to assemble in high-grade versus other sets of the decade. That might be true when compared to the troublesome 1962 and 1963 sets and their pesky colored edges, but statistics show that just over 6% of all 1961 Topps submissions have earned a grade of PSA 9 and only 0.24% (561 cards total) can claim GEM MINT PSA 10 status, making the 1961 Topps set tougher in elite grade than every Topps set from 1964 through 1969. Much of that is due to the higher number series (#523-589), among the toughest to complete of all Topps sets, which boasts many single pop PSA 9s and “one of one” PSA 10s.


1961 Topps Complete Set #2 On PSA Set Registry with Incredible 9.02 GPA

Presented for bidding, as a complete set as well as individual lots with the final sale going to whichever total (the set versus the sum of the individual lots) is higher, is truly a marvel in set assembly, ranked #2 on the PSA Set Registry with an astonishing overall GPA of 9.023. Of the 561 recorded PSA 10s, 24 are offered here, including the one and only PSA 10 specimens of #186 Valo, 255 Power, 405 Gehrig Benched, 438 Flood, 491 Phillies Team and 581 Frank Robinson All-Star. Other important PSA 10s are #260 Drysdale, 443 Snider and 484 Aaron MVP. Card #2 Maris, 150 Mays, 300 Mantle, 475 Mantle MVP, 559 Gentile, 563 Cerv, 578 Mantle All-Star and 579 Mays All-Star are all graded PSA 9 with just 15 cards in the entire collection graded lower. For a complete breakdown of cards and grades in this set, please visit our website for a link to the PSA Set Registry.
The auction opened for bidding on Monday, March 2nd and will conclude on Thursday, March 19th. All auction items are now available at our website, MHCC is actively accepting consignments for our June auction, please call us at (303) 840-2784 to discuss any items you wish to consign or visit us in Philadelphia (March 6th – 8th) or Chicago (March 20th- 22nd) to drop off any consignment items and pick up a catalog for the current auction.

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Astonishing 1916 M101-4 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie card to be sold in Mile High Card Company March 2015 Auction

As we stand at the cusp of a new baseball season, Mile High Card Company is set to commence with the Spring Auction, which begins on March 2nd and concludes on March 19th. The auction preview will be available Friday, February 27th. Keeping in line with MHCC’s sterling reputation for offering the best in sports cards and memorabilia known to exist, this auction promises to feature many unique, rare and historically significant items. Headlining the auction, one of many items that would serve as the cornerstone to any world-class collection, is an SGC 60 EX 5 graded 1916 M101-4 Sporting News card of Babe Ruth.

m101-4 Babe Ruth Rookie cardThe most important rookie card ever produced!

While the legendary T206 Honus Wagner card and a handful of other illustrious pasteboards may eclipse the Ruth rookie card in both rarity and value, the premier appearance of “The Bambino,” pictured as a lanky Red Sox pitcher, provides an ironic contrast to the rotund slugger who posted unprecedented offensive numbers while wearing the pinstripes of New York just a few years later. Unlike baseball cards that were produced exclusively by tobacco, gum, or candy companies, the Sporting News collection was the creation of Chicago-based printer Felix Mendelsohn, who contracted with several companies to distribute cards with blank backs so his clients could add their own advertising and create a “collectible business card.” Thus, the Ruth rookie card is thought to exist with no less than 16 different reverses though the Sporting News example is the most widely coveted by collectors.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth … pitching ace!

After posting a 22-9 record with a 2.39 ERA for the minor league Baltimore Orioles in 1914, Ruth’s contract was purchased by the Boston Red Sox. From 1915-1917, Ruth was one of the best pitchers in the game with a combined 65-33 record and an astonishing 2.01 ERA, leading the American League at 1.75 in 1916. But Ruth’s prowess as a hitter was becoming more evident, and with his desire for more playing time, the Red Sox began transitioning Ruth to the outfield in 1918, cutting his starts on the mound in half and giving him more opportunities at the plate. Ruth proved that he could be dominant at both by posting a 13-7 record with a 2.22 ERA while also batting .300 and leading the American League in home runs in just 317 at-bats. In 1919, Ruth’s time on the mound was scaled back even more but he still posted a 9-5 record, though his ERA rose sharply to 2.97. More importantly, his 432 at-bats yielded 29 homers, 113 RBI and 103 run scored, all league-leaders.

Traded to Chica … uh, New York.

“The Babe” almost wasn’t a Yankee! When Red Sox owner Harry Frazee made it public that he was willing to part with his greatest asset, the Chicago White Sox offered star outfielder Joe Jackson and $60,000 cash for Ruth’s services. Wary of the ongoing investigation into the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal and the potential consequences to “Shoeless Joe,” Frazee was delighted when the New York Yankees entered the bidding with a cash offer of $100,000 and Babe Ruth was sent to New York. Manager Miller Huggins immediately put an end to George Herman Ruth’s pitching career and made him a full-time outfielder. Had the White Sox been successful, instead of Ruth becoming the savior to restore baseball’s integrity, he would’ve worn the cap of the team that destroyed it and likely become just another name among the greats and taking the sport of baseball on a very different path.


m101-4 babe ruth rookieOffered is one of the most stunning, mid-grade M101-4 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie cards in existence!

The featured item would be at home in a world-class museum or on exhibit at Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame just as easily as it will be in the collection of the highest bidder. Though graded SGC 60 EX 5, an extraordinary accomplishment on its own, this prolific pasteboard is likely the most impressive specimen for the grade and has a stronger overall appearance then several graded even higher that have recently become available. Any collector that has been in the market for a mid to upper-grade Ruth rookie card is well aware of the two biggest pitfalls plaguing the issue; centering and print lines. The M101-4 Ruth is almost always poorly centered, but the featured specimen offers superior framing for the issue, slightly positioned toward the left side but well within parameters for a higher grade and far more accurate than the large majority of examples in the EX grade. Even more significant is the absence of the two horizontal print lines that appear on virtually every M101-4 Ruth, clearly scarring the surface from the center to the right edge near the top of Ruth’s image and in the middle, by Ruth’s waist. Many prospective buyers think these imperfections to be unavoidable at this grade level, but we’re happy to report that this card proves that to be false. The image quality of the young, lanky legend is superb, enhanced by an unadulterated layer of reflective gloss, while each corner shows consistent, mild wear with light enamel loss that is visible under magnification but looks less pronounced to the naked eye. The Sporting News ad on the reverse is surprisingly strong and well-preserved, ably positioned on an off-white canvas that is clean save for the light mark under the “C. C. Spinks & Son” name, a negligible blemish considering its placement on the card and a likely reason the SGC grade isn’t higher … which, of course, would greatly increase the price. We advise you to research prices realized for this card in similar grade, then look at those cards and compare it to what you’ll be getting here. We did, and there was no comparison; this one is superior … hands down!

[bctt tweet=”One of the most stunning, mid-grade M101-4 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie cards in existence!” via=”no”]

The 1933 Goudey Set: The Greatest Baseball Card Series Ever Produced!

33 goudey 144 ruth auctionIt was less than four years after the infamous Black Tuesday stock market crash and the United States was deep in the throes of a Great Depression that brought 24.9% unemployment and a collapse of the American economy. Families were torn apart and scattered to better confront an uncertain future, while struggling businesses looked for any way to survive. Baseball was the common bond that gave hope to a nation in despair, led by its immortal goodwill ambassador, Mr. George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Capitalizing on a campaign made famous by the tobacco industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, bubble gum and candy companies revived the practice of offering collector cards with a purchase of their product. Several companies made the leap into the baseball card market, but the Goudey Gum Company’s 240-card collection hails as the greatest baseball card series ever produced!

Baseball cards are back!

Boston, Massachusetts became ground-zero for the new renaissance in the baseball card industry as DeLong, George C. Miller, Goudey, U. S. Caramel, and National Chicle, located a few miles down the road in Cambridge, each offered the opportunity to build a collection through the purchase of their product. While each of these collections has earned a loyal following that continues to this day, the Goudey series hails as the king of all collections due to a simple but unique philosophy: offer colorful pasteboards with fantastic artwork and easy to read biographies on thick, sturdy cardboard. Oh … and pack in a whole bunch of Babe Ruth cards!

There’s a certain poetic element to Babe Ruth leading a Boston-based company back from extinction given his unceremonious departure by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee for the tawdry sum of $100,000. However, the Goudey collection offers much more than just “The Sultan of Swat.” Of the 240 cards in the set, 63 feature a Hall of Famer with multiple appearances by Gehrig, Hornsby, Ott, Hubbell, Foxx, and many others in addition to a quartet of Babe Ruth cards, each with its own distinct character.

“I Only Need One More Card!”

33 goudey 106 lajoie auctionFor an inaugural collection, the 1933 Goudey set initially appeared to have no “drama” other than a change to card #6 Jimmy Dykes, who was originally listed as 26 years old and later corrected to 36 years old. That is until collectors began to sense a common theme; they were all one card away from completing the set… and it was always the same card! While U.S. Caramel and George C. Miller had implemented a similar technique of short-printing one card so severely that only a few lucky patrons could complete the set, Goudey took the concept a step further by totally omitting card #106 completely, keeping customers buying their product in a futile search for the non-existent pasteboard. But it didn’t take long for Goudey’s subterfuge to be discovered and the missing card #106 was printed in the final run of the following year, explaining why it bears the design of Goudey’s 1934 product. It is unknown why Napoleon Lajoie, a star that had been retired for over 15 years, was made the subject of the missing pasteboard, but with the card produced in limited quantity and available only by mail to collectors that formally complained in writing, the “1933” Goudey #106 Lajoie ranks with the T206 Honus Wagner and the T206 Ty Cobb with “Ty Cobb” reverse as the most coveted rarities in sports card history.

1933 Goudey Break-Up: Mile High Card Company March 2015 Auction

The #9 PSA Set Registry ranked 1933 Goudey Set is being offered as individual lots and groups in our March 2015 action, with all four Babe Ruth cards (#53 PSA 7, #144 PSA 8, #149 PSA 7 and #181 PSA 8) along with the iconic #106 Lajoie (PSA 6) leading the way. Lou Gehrig’s difficult card #92 as well as examples of Dean, Hornsby, Hubbell, Grove, Dickey, Traynor, Simmons, Ott and many others are available at the grade of PSA 8. If NM/MT is more than you need, you’ll have the opportunity to bid on a huge selection of cards graded PSA 6 and PSA 7 as well, along with enticing mid-grade groups. The auction opens for bidding on March 2nd and concludes on March 19th.

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The 1933 George C. Miller Set: An Ultra-Scarce Diamond in the Rough

Mile High Card Company (MHCC) to offer the #2 Current and All-Time Finest PSA Registry Set in exclusive August Auction

1933 George C. Miller Set #2 All-Time Finest on PSA Set Registry

In the years following World War I and into the Great Depression, the business practice of offering baseball cards as an added incentive for choosing a product over a competitor virtually died out with struggling companies looking for any way to cut costs. But in the early 1930s, public optimism over FDR’s “New Deal” and the popularity of Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees led to a revival of the baseball card market. Several gum and candy companies, primarily from the Boston area, attempted to capitalize by producing baseball card sets and offering cards with a purchase, resurrecting the tradition that so dominated the late 19th and early 20th Century. While Goudey, National Chicle (Diamond Stars), DeLong and U. S. Caramel are considered the premier collections of their time, the most enigmatic and elusive of all is the mysterious George C. Miller collection, designated R300 in the American Card Catalog. Mile High Card Company is proud to offer one of the finest complete George C. Miller sets in existence, which will be featured in our exclusive August auction.

33gcmgehringerBecause of extremely limited distribution, little is known about the 32-card set other than it features artistic renderings of actual photographs with a presentation similar to Diamond Stars cards and can easily be mistaken by collectors unfamiliar with the Miller collection. The portraits on the George C. Miller cards have a less refined appearance compared to Diamond Stars cards and are identifiable by the backdrop, a striped blue and red sky pattern, and no player names on the front. The reverse is unique, offering the players’ vital information, 1932 and career statistics, a checklist of the entire set, and details to redeem the set for a prize. Two players are represented from each of the 16 major league teams, with Jimmy Foxx, Dizzy Dean and Lefty Grove leading a group of stars and Hall of Famers. It is unknown as to why the Yankees are represented by Red Ruffing and Bill Dickey instead of Ruth and Gehrig; perhaps the two Yankee legends’ request for compensation was too high. Two different reverses were produced: Type I has larger, brighter print with the names of Foxx and Klein spelled incorrectly, revised to the correct spelling on the Type II reverse. As with other companies that offered a prize for the redemption of a complete set, one “chase-card” was extremely short-printed to increase sales from patrons determined to assemble a complete set. Just like Goudey’s 1933 Napoleon Lajoie and U. S. Caramel’s Charles Lindstrom and William McKinley cards, the George C. Miller card of Paul “Ivy” Andrews ranks as one of the most formidable acquisitions in card collecting. So difficult to obtain, PSA doesn’t even consider it part of the set, viewing it as a “bonus card” on the PSA Set Registry. The cards were offered in wax wrappers touting “National Ball Game Toffee” and “American Ball Game Toffee”, the themed wrappers giving collectors a better opportunity to acquire the players of their choice and more accurately target the goal of assembling a complete set. Less than 5 wrappers of each are known to exist and an American League specimen recently sold at auction for over $5,000.

33gcmfoxxSeveral facts contribute to the extreme rarity of the George C. Miller collection. The Miller Candy Co. was much smaller than other companies that issued sets and the cards were only available in the Greater Boston area. Also, the cards were marketed for children, not known for their ability to take great care of … well, much of anything, and a complete set was redeemable for a ball, glove, or ticket to a big league game. The cards that were sent in had the bottom edge cut off or had holes punched in them and were returned to the sender along with their prize, assuring that the cards could not be sent again. Quite often, the children would then discard the damaged pasteboards having already reached their goal of acquiring the prize. Even if a forward-thinking collector managed to sidestep those pitfalls, staining from the toffee candy was a common occurrence and lessened the chance of retaining high-grade specimens right from the start. As a result, less than 3% of all George C. Miller cards submitted to PSA have graded above PSA 6.

33gcmdeanSo just how rare are George C. Miller cards? The answer is … very! Even as early as the 1950s, George C. Miller cards were rarely encountered and considered as scarce as many obscure issues from the late 1800s. The DeLong set, also from 1933, is considered difficult, yet the 649 George C. Miller submissions to PSA is just 26% of the total number of DeLongs that PSA has graded. Each of the four Babe Ruth cards in the 1933 Goudey set has a higher submission rate than the entire George C. Miller set. In fact, the most highly submitted card from the set (Charlie Gehringer – 29) pales in comparison to the number of 1933 Goudey Napoleon Lajoie cards that PSA has evaluated (81), an example that routinely sells for tens of thousands of dollars.

The set, to be featured in August, is a complete 32-card collection and includes the extraordinarily rare Paul “Ivy” Andrews card. At a set rating of 5.532, this collection ranks as the #2 Current and All-Time Finest set. The top ranked collection, with a set rating of 6.2, sold for just over $246,000 at auction a few years back, an indicator as to the extreme rarity and exalted status of the offered collection. Hall of Famers Earl Averill (PSA 4.5, one of 3 with none higher) and Frank Frisch (PSA 5, one of 3 with none higher) are at the top of the PSA grading scale for all specimens extant. MHCC has had the opportunity to offer pricier sets in the past, but this George C. Miller collection may very well be the most impressive assemblage we’ve ever offered for its extreme difficulty to complete.

Babe Ruth – Super Villain?

In the late 1990s, there was a pretty cool TV show called “Sliders” in which a group of scientists discovered a way to travel to parallel universes. Each time they would “slide” to an alternate Earth, they’d arrive at the same date and time but in a completely unknown environment as history had unfolded differently. Perhaps the “Earth” they landed on was dominated by the British, who had won the Revolutionary War, or visited a disease-riddled planet combating a worldwide plague, with antibiotics never having been invented. The moral of the show is that some decisions, no matter how benign they may seem at the time, can have repercussions that seriously change the course of history as we know it. We’ve all played this hypothetical “What If?” game at one time or another. For example, what if Babe Ruth, America’s greatest baseball hero, was remembered as just another great player, or even worse, a villain? This seemingly wild scenario is not as far-fetched as you might imagine, because it almost happened … more than once!

The “Banned-bino!”

A theatrical agent, producer and director, Harry Frazee took a credit line in 1916 from owner Joseph Lannin to purchase the Red Sox for $500,000. By 1919, needing financing for his theatrical production “No, No, Nanette” as well as funds to pay off the note from Lannin, Frazee was forced to part with his most valuable asset, Babe Ruth. Offering an all-cash deal of $100,000, Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees.

ruthblacksoxHowever, Frazee had another option; the Chicago White Sox offered star outfielder Joe Jackson and $60,000 cash for Ruth’s services; rejected in favor of the larger cash deal. Had the White Sox offer been successful, Joe Jackson would have patrolled the outfield in Boston and Babe Ruth would have played in Chicago. Well, for a short while anyway. With rumors of a conspiracy to fix the 1919 World Series continuing through the 1920 season, a grand jury was convened to investigate. While cleared of all legal charges, Jackson’s reign in the Boston outfield would have abruptly ended when Commissioner Landis issued a lifetime ban of Jackson and the other alleged co-conspirators. Ruth would have found himself toiling in relative obscurity, leader of an organization gutted by scandal that would finish no higher than 5th in the American League for the remainder of Ruth’s career. Instead of being the saving grace to restore baseball’s integrity, he would wear the cap of the team that destroyed it. There would be no “house that Ruth built” and no New York Yankees dynasty. “The Babe” likely would have been just another name among the greats, and the sport of baseball would have followed a very different path.

Married to the Mob

This scenario also takes place in Chicago, 1931. Prohibition was in full swing and the Windy City had descended into virtual lawlessness, with organized crime syndicates running gambling halls and overseeing the illegal distribution of alcohol to every restaurant and night club in the city. Law enforcement willingly, or sometimes unwillingly, accepting a fee to “look the other way” and crime bosses paid off politicians to grant “special favors.” Of the many crime families that ruled Chicago, none matched the nearly unlimited power of reputed crime boss Alphonse Capone. An avid baseball fan, Capone was often seen in the front row at White Sox and Cubs games. Meanwhile, 36-year old Babe Ruth was winding down an unprecedented career in New York. While past his prime, Ruth was still the premier offensive juggernaut in baseball, having already secured six American League pennants and three World Series titles for the New York Yankees.

Tired of watching the Chicago Cubs, a perennial powerhouse in years past, having gone Capone was indicted just months later and the plan of buying the Cubs never materialized. But if Capone was able to stay ahead of the Untouchables for another year or two, he may have realized his dream of being a “silent owner” and Babe Ruth would have ended his career in Chicago. But at that point, it likely would have been exposed that Hartnett was a front man for the Capone family, that Ruth and Hartnett conspired with Capone to secretly acquire the Cubs and the team would have been seized by the federal government as restitution for a conviction on charges of tax evasion.decades without a World Series title, Capone devised a plan where we would coerce Cubs owner Bill Wrigley into selling him the team and then buy Babe Ruth from the Yankees for $500,000, installing “The Bambino” as player/manager. According to Capone, he had already had discussions with Ruth on the idea and the Babe was on board, seeing the opportunity to realize his dream of becoming a manager that would never come about with the Yankees under owner Jack Ruppert. With the always vigilant Commissioner Landis calling the shots, there was no chance that such an unsavory character as “Scarface” would be approved to purchase the Cubs, so Capone set up an “under the table” deal in which Cubs star catcher Gabby Hartnett would be the legal owner on paper but Capone would provide the financing and pull the strings behind the scenes. According to Deirdre Marie Capone in her book,”Uncle Al Capone, The Untold Story From Inside His Family,’ when asked by his brother how he would persuade Wrigley to sell the Cubs, Al responded, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Commissioner Landis, never one to show tolerance for illicit behavior, may have permanently banned Hartnett and Ruth for their role in the conspiracy, leaving “the Bambino” in the same company as Pete Rose and Joe Jackson; baseball immortals on the outside of Cooperstown, looking in!

The ’52 Topps Set: An Old Tradition is New Again

From the very start of baseball images printed on cardboard in the mid 19th Century to today, collectors have chosen their favorites for various reasons. But if you were to survey the millions of enthusiasts across this great nation, you’d likely find that one set stands at the zenith of the baseball card collecting universe: the 1952 Topps collection.

With all due respect to the legendary 1909-1911 T206 and 1933 Goudey collections, each of which could also take years, or decades, or even a lifetime to complete, the ’52 Topps set holds a singular distinction to advanced collectors, many of which have lived long enough to see the diamond heroes contained within. While 1909-1933 saw the transition of baseball card distribution go from tobacco to bubble gum, it wasn’t until 1952 that the baseball card market became a driving force in American culture.

The Beginning of a Renaissance

Offering cards to sell bubble gum was not a new idea for Topps. In 1950, Topps attempted to increase sales by marketing their product in tandem with Hopalong Cassidy trading cards. Less than two years later, on a typical autumn eve in 1951, 28-year old World War II veteran Sy Berger sat down with Woody Gelman at the kitchen table of his Brooklyn apartment and devised a plan to challenge the Bowman Gum Company, the lone giant in the baseball card market since 1948, by designing what would become the standard-bearer for an entire industry. Rejecting the traditions and conventional wisdom set forth by Bowman, Berger’s 1952 Topps set would provide a dramatic alternative. By offering super-sized 2-5/8″ by 3-3/4″ pasteboards which included the player’s name, colorized photo, facsimile autograph, and color team logo on the front with the player’s height, weight, batting and throwing orientation, birthplace, birthday, career stats, and a short biography on the back, Berger and Gelman introduced innovations to the generations-old concept of baseball trading cards that are still employed today.

The New Kid on the Diamond

1952 Topps #1 Andy Pafko Black Back PSA 8 NM/MT

Entering a new phase of the company’s evolution, Topps’ marketing strategy was to emphasize that their product offered greater size compared to the competition, packaging and selling the cards in a bright green and red wrapper as “five giant size picture cards” with a stick of bubble gum. Sprawling displays that touted the new Topps trading cards infiltrated nearly every Woolworths and “five & dime shop” in the nation, with seemingly endless stacks of wax packs, boxes, and even cases available for purchase. With Brooklyn Dodger Andy Pafko as the premier card of the inaugural set, the 80-card first series wasn’t without its growing pains. Existing in both black-back and red-back variations, it’s apparent that the red-back cards consistently offer superior picture quality, leading to speculation that Topps was not happy with their first attempt and resolved to make improvements by increasing the quality while changing the reverse color to red as a sort of “clean slate” approach. The Johnny Sain and Joe Page “wrong back” errors (#48 and #49) exist only in black-back form as they were corrected before the switch to red;  only the correct version exists on the red-back variety. All cards after the first series are in red-back form only. High grade specimens of the black-back cards are almost always scarcer then their corresponding red-backs, suggesting that the switch from black to red happened fairly early in the process and considerably fewer black-backs made it into circulation.

High-numbers: The Set Builder’s “White Whale”

1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle PSA 7 NMInitial sales were encouraging enough for Topps to begin planning a 1953 edition and the company felt confident that withholding baseball icons Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Eddie Mathews until the final series would offset any drop in demand due to the upcoming football season. But that series (#311-407) was delayed and barely made it out of production by September. To make matters worse, many stores that successfully sold the product all season chose not to order the final series so late in the year and collectors were either unable to locate the cards or were simply unaware that the cards even existed. Not even an appearance by the “Commerce Comet” could turn the tide and sales plummeted. With cases of unsold product stranded in the Topps warehouse for years, Sy Berger decided in 1960 to load up a tugboat with approximately 300 to 500 cases of 1952 final series product and dispose of it New York Harbor, sending them to a watery grave somewhere off the coast of northern New Jersey. For this obvious reason, the famous Mickey Mantle card #311 and all other final series issues are unusually scarce, especially in presentable condition.

1952 Topps Master Set #3 Current Finest on PSA Set Registry – The Finest Master Set Ever Offered

1952 Topps #312 Jackie Robinson PSA 8 NM/MTAs a Master Set, ranked #3 on the PSA Set Registry, the collection includes all 407 cards in the series with the 80 additional 1st series cards in “black-back” form, the celebrated Joe Page and Johnny Sain “wrong bio” reverses (#48 and 49) and the newly discovered and scarce Frank Campos “black star” variation (#307 graded PSA 5), bringing the total collection to 490 cards. The cornerstones of the set are naturally the Mickey Mantle card #311, a fresh and vibrant PSA 7 with an above-grade perimeter and incredible image quality to offset the typical centering variance, a phenomenal PSA 7.5 specimen of Eddie Mathews’ rookie card #407 and a breathtaking PSA 8 black-back version of Andy Pafko’s card #1, one of just 5 in existence with a lone specimen graded higher, along with a PSA 6 of the red back variety. Nine cards are graded PSA 9, headlined by card #2 James Runnels black-back (one of 2 with just one graded higher) and including #38 Westlake (pop 4, none higher), 71 Upton (pop 2, none higher), 108 Konstanty (pop 5, none higher), 207 Harris (pop 10, none higher), 210 Fowler (pop 7, none higher), 245 Robertson (pop 5, none higher), 292 Baker (pop 8, none higher), and 322 Jackson (pop 7, none higher). 1952 Topps #261 Willie Mays PSA 8 NM/MTOther extremely high-grade low pops include PSA 8.5 cards of #12 Basgall (pop 1, two higher), 131 Martin (pop 3 none higher), 246 Kell (pop 3, two higher) and 398 Rice (Pop 1, one higher) with incredibly sought-after PSA 8 rarities of #9 Hogue red-back, 11 Rizzuto black-back, 20 Loes red-back, 48 Page correct bio black-back, 49 Sain correct bio red-back, 162 Crandall, 165 Kazak, 175 B. Martin, 180 Maxwell, 261 Mays, 312 J. Robinson, 316 Williams, 320 Rutherford, 326 Shuba, 341 Jeffcoat, 373 Turner, 388 Chipman, and 403 Miller. Over 83% of the entire collection (9 PSA 9, 15 PSA 8.5, and 384 PSA 8) is graded PSA 8 or above. A link to the complete card by card breakdown of this set, including individual grades and populations, will be available through our website or by visiting the PSA Set Registry. This collection is being offered as a complete set as well as each card offered individually, with the final sale going to whichever total (the set versus the sum of the individual lots) is higher. This gives prospective bidders the opportunity to examine each and every card in the collection through the use of our high quality scans. We’ve been honored to offer some of the world’s finest 1952 Topps sets over the past few years, but this collection takes it to a whole new level of excellence!

Hello Hobby Enthusiasts

Welcome to the Mile High Card Company blog, the first of what will be a weekly installment though we will cut in with updates on occasion as warranted. We’ve been thinking about doing regular updates like this for a while and finally went ahead and got it started. The sports card and memorabilia industry is perpetually evolving, and as a major auction house, we’re privy to a wide cross-section of ever-changing trends and interests. With this in mind, we’d like to take this opportunity to utilize our position within the hobby and provide our consignors and collectors with information to help keep you informed. We’ll discuss the production of upcoming auctions in real time by spotlighting exciting new items soon to be featured as well as pointing out various aspects of the auction process, including rules and strategies for success from both the consignor and bidder standpoint. We’ll delve into different cards, sets, collectibles and aspects of collecting, talk about what’s hot and why, and address many of the concerns and issues collectors have within the hobby.

To get things started, we’re happy to report that we’ve just finished the writing and proofreading for our Spring Auction, which opens for bidding on March 24th and closes April 10th. Brian is in the process of getting the layout for the catalog completed so that you’ll receive it before the auction commences. Two particular items that will provide plenty of spirited bidding are a 1952 Topps baseball master set that presently ranks #3 on the PSA Set Registry and the #1 ranked 1965 Topps football set. Each collection will be offered two ways: as a complete set and as individual cards, with the sale going to the higher total (the set as a whole vs. the aggregate total of the individual cards). The ’52 master set, besides the incredible specimens of Mantle (PSA 7), Pafko (PSA 8 black back), and Mathews (PSA 7.5), offers a wide array of difficult low-pop, low number black-backs and high-number series cards that are sure to shake up the PSA Set Registry rankings if sold individually.

The ’65 Topps football set might even be more impressive in that there are only six cards in existence that are capable of improving this set. The only six cards from the entire set ever graded PSA 10, out of over 21,000 submissions, are included, as is an incredible PSA 9 specimen of Joe Namath’s iconic rookie card.

Brian and Greg Rice will be taking consignments in Philadelphia this weekend, March 7-9, at the Valley Forge Casino Resort, King of Prussia. If you plan on attending, stop by the booth and let Brian know you saw this. Also, if you like really good BBQ, you’re gonna want to stop by Bridgeport Rib House, about 4 miles away from the show. It’s not much to look at from the outside (or even the inside for that matter) but man, do they know how to cook up some amazing barbeque! Trust me, if you’ve never been there, you’ll be blown away!

Well that’s it for now, but we’ll be getting back to you soon. Don’t forget to subscribe to us, we’re gonna be bringing you some really interesting stuff from the sports collectibles scene. Join us on Facebook and Twitter as well!