The 1954 Topps Mickey Mantle: The Card That Never Was (Kind Of)
So you've put together an impressive Mickey Mantle baseball card catalog, eh? After many years of collecting, you even acquired the highly coveted 1952 Topps #311, his true rookie - the 1951 Bowman #253, and close to every other major Bowman and Topps release afterwards until his retirement in 1969.
It is true that you will still be shy the 1954 Mantle Red Heart dog food card, the 1954 Dan Dee release, and a few other oddball prints out there; but in reality, you are very close to accomplishing a feat that few have experienced.
You have two major problems. You are missing the 1954 and 1955 Topps Mantle cards.
If this is your story, pat yourself on the back because you have a treasury of Mantle cards that would leave the Queen of England green with envy. Topps never produced a 1954 or 1955 Topps Mantle so you have accumulated something quite special.
Why would one of the two biggest players in the baseball card business during that era fail to include the most beloved player in sports' history?
The answer is simple. In the 50's, Topps and Bowman were fierce rivals exchanging jabs and uppercuts in their quest to be named heavyweight champion of the baseball card industry. In an attempt to sway kids to buy their brand of cards over their rival's, they would differentiate themselves by signing players to exclusive contracts in which the player could only be featured on their particular brand of cards. Mickey Mantle had an exclusive contract with Bowman during 1954 and 1955. Hence, the reason why there are no Mantle Topps issues during these two years.
However, there is an interesting caveat to what would be called the 1954 Topps Mantle card. In 1954, a new sports journalism company formed called, Sports Illustrated. On August 23rd 1954, they released their second issue magazine which included 2 uncut sheets of "cards" which featured the New York Yankees. Some of the uncut "cards" were in color and some were in black and white. The style of the sheet's cards are identical to the 1954 Topps release and Mickey Mantle's card is present!
Sports Illustrated #2 Issue (8/23/1954)
Problem solved, right? Buy this issue of Sports Illustrated, cut out the Mantle, get the card graded (hand-cut), and you are now the proud owner of a 1954 "Topps" Mantle.
As you probably expected, there is a significant problem with this creative strategy. The uncut sheet feels like a "normal" page of a magazine instead of the cardboard stock that we are used to. Thin, flimsy, fragile, and most importantly- ungradable by any reputable grading company. To boot, the Mantle is...you guessed it...in black and white. Even if it would grade, it wouldn't be an attractive card. Furthermore, don't forget that Topps can't produce the Mantle legally. Although it looks like a Topps card, it is technically a Sports Illustrated magazine page with a picture of a Mickey Mantle card. Bummer.
In conclusion, buying a concept card or buying the Sports Illustrated #2 edition are the closest you can get to this ghost of a card, unfortunately. There have been numerous interpretations of what the 1954 Topps Mantle would look like including the version shown in the top picture which was designed by artist, Bob Lemke.
Thank you for visiting Cardboard Picasso where you don't have to wait for a baseball card auction to end. We hope you enjoyed this article.
In our next blog post, we will learn more about how these exclusive contracts with players put one company on the brink of a major lawsuit while simultaneously creating one of the most coveted baseball cards of all-time!