If you've followed some of my past writings, you might know that I often opine on the investment side of the sports card business.
And even pure collectors need to keep an eye on market activity!
Since one might be foolhardy to not at least take advantage of some of the immense market gains (or at least think about it).
Last January, I suggested that the vintage sports card market might indeed be in a bubble. And in March, I said we definitely might be there.
While, the card market definitely deflated in 2022, the most damage was done in the modern card market and newer vintage cards (think Jordan rookie card) with more overall supply.
As per the PWCC 100, which measures 100 of the most valuable vintage cards, the high end vintage sports card market has shown literally zero sign of a slowdown.
One of the hobby's premier vintage cards is the legendary 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card.
Now, I could have selected many other vintage cards for comparison here, but the 52 Topps Mantle has good auction sales data and has been a highly desired (and faked) card for a very long time.
The 52 Topps Mantle continues to break auction records. And as shown above, an SGC 9.5 graded Mantle, part of an Alan Rosen (Mr Mint) find, is up for sale at a current Heritage Auction.
The SGC 9.5 Mantle is expected to sell for more than $10 Million, well above the $50,000 paid for the card back in 1991, good for a 200x return.
Thus, it is quite clear, that the demand for highly prized vintage cards remains robust. And Mickey Mantle's Baseball Cards as a whole have shown no signs of a slowdown.
1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Yankees Rookie Card #311 RC HOF - SGC Authentic Altered
Buy It Now for only: $17,712.75
Buy It Now
1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle (Topps ROOKIE) BVG 5.5 Baseball Card
Buy It Now for only: $112,000.00
Buy It Now
1952 Topps Baseball All-PSA Almost Complete Set w/o Mantle 5 - EX
Buy It Now for only: $239,220.00
Buy It Now
1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311 New York Yankees SGC 2
Buy It Now for only: $58,000.00
Buy It Now
This is all in the face of diminishing returns in the stock market, high energy prices, highly stubborn inflation combined with an aggressive federal reserve intent on bringing down inflation.
In examining the pricing data of the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in comparison to the S&P 500, we find that, although stocks have been a great bet, vintage cards have been even better.
And even more crucial to this analysis is that we don't even need the best graded Mantle cards to outperform stocks.
Here's an example of a PSA 3 (Very Good condition) 52 Topps Mantle (data courtesy of Card Ladder)
A PSA 3 Mantle purchased back in 2004 for around $4,500 would be today worth around $66K, a nearly 15x return.
An investment of $4,500 into the stock market (as measured by the S&P 500 in 2004, with dividends reinvested, would today be worth around $24,000, good for about a 5.5x return.
Thus, the returns on a PSA 3 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle have roughly tripled stock market returns over 18 years.
The returns are fairly similar across different graded 52 Topps Mantles.
So, how, you might ask, have vintage cards remained so reslient?
First, there is certainly more of an investment mindset in the hobby, along with big pocketed investors (even hedge funds) that are gobbling up vintage cards as either a part of a fund or as a diversifier against their core assets (stocks, bonds, etc).
Flip back to that chart of pricing on the PSA 3 Mantle and you'll notice that values were quite stagnant for many years.
Then the hobby started to pick up steam again, and right around pre-covid times, vintage cards were really back in a big way.
Add fuel to the fire in the name of low interest, free money swirling around the economy and cards like the 52 Topps Mantle became a speculative, yet educated way of investing in an alternative asset class.
An alternative asset class undergoing a bit of a renaissance, also fueled by the popularity of card grading, which also helped legitimize the hobby.
Can vintage cards, like the 1952 Topps Mantle increase at the same rate as witnessed over the past decade?
It's a hard question to answer, because part of me thinks that there is always the possiblity of a more severe correction in vintage cards.
While old cards have been somewhat immune to economic downturns, it could always be different the next time around.
Like, who is the buyer on the other end laying out $67K to purchase a PSA 3 1952 Topps Mantle?
Most, and probably nearly all, are those with deep pockets looking for a quick flip.
There's plenty of this I see on a daily basis. One seller (I will not name) is so bold enough to list recent auction wins among vintage Facebook groups with pricing at a minimum 20% above his hammer price.
Those guys won't be buying at auction if they can't sell on the other end. To date, it hasnt' been an issue. The flow and the matching of buyers and sellers has been robust. But there is a very high likelihood that the flow slows down in more of a major way than some might think.
Are vintage cards still a good long term investment?
In my opinion 100% yes.
Vintage cards offer a level of diversification that other assets can't bring and provide an alternative investment that is often uncorrelated with traditional investment such as stocks and bonds.
I do think there's a possibility of some softness in those cards in the six figure range, but the hobby legends (like the 52 Topps Mantle) probably will be somewhat immune to any pricing pressures.
For me, I personally like to find the under the radar vintage pre-war cards with low supplies. The Fan Craze cards are the perfect example of this, and one of the most underrated sets in my opinion.
What do you think? Are you a collector or an investor? Do you think the momentum in pricing will remain? Let us know in the comments below!