While the Topps company had issued two small baseball card sets in 1951 (dubbed Red Back and Blue Back), they were primarily issued to play a game. The 1952 Topps baseball card set was entirely different and more than any other set ushered in the modern baseball card era. The 1952 Topps set remains the most collected set of the 1950s and one of the most collected sets period.
Number of Cards
At 407 cards, the 1952 Topps set was the largest baseball card set to be issued since some of the great tobacco sets of the early 1900s. Sets issued during the wars years (if at all) were only a fraction of this size. Heated competition with Bowman took a toll on Topps during the next few years, and though this set was large it would be the largest set issued until the 1957 Topps baseball set approached this same level.
Size of Cards
The 1952 Topps cards also set a new standard for size. They measure a large 2 5/8 by 3 3/4" very close to the cards of today which are 2 1/2 by 3 1/2". This large size really stands out as the hand colored photographs really pop from the card fronts.
1952 Topps cards featured innovative use of colored team logos on the front to go along with the wonderful hand colored photographs and facsimile autographs. The back boasted another change with statistical design information including one line of season stats as well as career totals. The backs of the first 80 cards in the set can be found in black only or a combination of black and red. In most cases there isn't much difference in price between the two. The majority of the cards are of a vertical design, but there are a small number of horizontal format cards as well.
The cards were issued in 1-cent and 5-cent packs with the ubiquitous bubble gum stick. They also were issued in a cello pack. The set was issued in six separate series with numbers 311 – 407 appearing very late in the year and not well distributed. It was later discovered that large quantities of unsold cards were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean.
The 1952 Topps set features the legendary Mickey Mantle's first appearance on a Topps card and it remains not only the most sought after card in the set, but the entire postwar era. Interestingly, his card was double printed on the sheet, but even so the demand has always far outstripped supply. Today, one in even very poor shape can still command a cool $1000 while top examples have climbed into the $200,000 range. The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle has become a permanent resident of the Top 10 Most Valuable Baseball Card list. But be warned--the Mantle card is a favorite for counterfeiters. Card #1 of Andy Pafko has also soared in price for high-grade examples. The first and last cards in a set typically suffer the most damage and will fetch a premium in excellent to mint condition. A pity to the high-grade collector because the last card is of Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews and is, also, very valuable.
The prices of the 1952 Topps set have risen dramatically as more people seek to collect the set that is credited with starting it all. Many choose to collect the set and leave out the Mantle for financial reasons. However you decide to collect, the 1952 Topps baseball card set is a classic, will appreciate further in value and be one of the most popular 1950s Topps sets to collect.