Type I Mantle Photo Sets All-Time Record

Big-Time Auction for Photo Used for Mantle Cards

Date: Apr 8, 2024
Author: Greg Bates, Senior Writer
Topics: Greg Bates, How To Collect, Mickey Mantle, Type I Photo
Length: 1300 Words
Reading Time: ~7 Minutes

When Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans in 2005, it destroyed anything in its path.

One important piece of Americana miraculously remained unscathed during the catastrophic event.

Among a group of 32 photographs mainly featuring New York Yankee players from the 1951 season was an action shot of an up-and-coming, 19-year-old outfielder from Oklahoma.

The Mantle Type I went big at auction.

The image—taken at spring training in Arizona by team photographer Bob Olen—shows the young player in his batting stance while staring off into the horizon. Although relatively unknown on the star-studded team, Mickey Mantle would soon become a household name.

This Mantle photo became iconic as it was used for his 1951 Bowman rookie card as well as his 1953 Topps and 1952 Berk Ross cards.

51 Bowman

53 Topps

52 Berk Ross

This rare Type I photo, which survived Hurricane Katrina, is just one of four examples known to exist. This amazing piece found a new home, selling at Heritage Auctions for $843,750 on April 7.

“These photos were in four feet of water, basically floating in the top drawer of a cedar chest in a Ziploc bag,” said Jeff Tomblin, a consignor for the owner who sold the Mantle image. “Once everything settled, a week to a week and a half after Katrina hit, the owner and his family went in and removed them, and they were in the condition you see it in. The Mantle is in pristine condition relative to what it’s been through for the age that it is.”

The sale set a record for a Type I sports photograph. It topped the classic image of Ty Cobb sliding into third base during a game in 1910. Taken by renowned photographer Charles Conlon, the image sold for $390,000 through Robert Edward Auctions in December 2020.

Ty Cobb Type I photo that previously held the auction record.

Photos are classified into four types. Type I images are the most desirable and most expensive examples. A Type I is a first-generation photograph developed from the original negative during the period (within approximately two years of when the image was taken).

Heritage Auctions Executive Vice President of Sports Joe Orlando recognizes the beauty of this card in The Hobby’s landscape.

“Certain images immediately generate a visceral reaction, and this is one of them,” said Orlando, who served as PSA president and Collectors Universe CEO for nearly two decades. “Like the classic Carl Horner portrait of Ty Cobb used in T206 and other card issues, or the unmistakeable Charles M. Conlon batting image used for three of the 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth cards and more, this Type I photo of Mickey Mantle has that kind of aura.”

Amazing Provenance for Mantle Type I

Yankees pitcher Jack Kramer was given the group of Yankees photos in 1951, his last season in the majors. He held onto these images — which it is thought were supposed to be distributed to promotional vendors — until late into his life. The recent seller of the photos, including the Mantle, received them directly from Kramer; the seller doesn’t want to be identified at this time.

Henry Reynolds, also a consignor for the seller, said it was the perfect time for his client to part with these special pieces of America’s pastime.  

(L to R) Henry Reynolds, consignor for the seller; Heritage Auctions’ Jeremy Allen; and Jeff Tomblin, consignor for the seller.

“It’s just a perfect storm,” Reynolds said. “It’s opportunity, timing, and, I think, also a bit of luck. The person only brought it to our attention very recently. With the Type I photo market really taking off, it was kind of a no-brainer.”

The original manila envelope, where the Mantle and the other images were stored, was also included in the sale. Along with the Yankees address stamped on the front envelope are the words, “Pictures of 1952 [sic] New York Yanks all individuals.”

Only Three Other Known Mantle Type I Photos Exist

Besides the photo that just sold, only three other Type I images of that Mantle are known to exist.

Renowned collectors own two: Marshall Fogel — who also owns the most regarded 1952 Topps PSA 10 Mickey Mantle — and Nat Turner — the CEO at Collectors — the parent company of PSA. The owner of the final Mantle Type I is unknown.

In a private transaction, Turner purchased his Type I copy 2 ½ years ago.

“Original Type I photos used for sports cards are super special, in my opinion,” Turner said. “They’re even more special when it’s a rookie card. In this photo’s case, it’s not only the ’51 Bowman image but also the ’53 Topps image, which is super cool.”

Fogel and PSA lead photo authenticator Henry Yee created the photo type classification system nearly 20 years ago.

Fogel bought his photo from a close friend around 12 years ago. His image differs slightly from the one used for the ’51 Bowman card and the ’53 Topps oil-painted card.  

“The bat’s a little bit tilted differently by a millimeter,” Fogel said. “It’s the same pose. The camera must have clicked more than once. Mine is exactly alike, but it’s not exactly alike. If you looked at it, you wouldn’t know.”

According to Reynolds, the last time one of these Mantle Type I photos sold was in 2015 for $70,000 at auction. In April 2022, that owner turned down a $500,000 offer.

With that owner not parting with his treasure, and Fogel and Turner not selling either, this fourth example has become a prized possession.

“It’s not an item that’s going to come up again,” Reynolds said.

When the image made its way to Heritage Auctions in Dallas, it started to create some serious buzz.

“Just like it is in other categories, the term ‘iconic’ tends to get overused, but it applies here without a doubt,” Orlando said. “The image itself is so recognizable, and it symbolizes the beginning of one of the most celebrated careers in all sports. Since there aren’t many known examples, the buzz around this auction has been tremendous. It is an opportunity that is hard to pass up.”

This Mantle Type I is One of the Best

This photo can certainly be regarded as one of the top five images ever used for baseball cards.

The Honus Wagner portrait used for his 1909-11 T206 and Mantle’s image used for the 1952 Topps are arguably in the top two positions. After that, Babe Ruth’s 1915 Sporting News, Ty Cobb’s 1914 Cracker Jack, and Lou Gehrig’s 1933 Goudey images could also be on the Mount Rushmore of Type I baseball photos.

“There is no doubt that the image used for Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps card is in a league of its own,” Orlando said. “It is as much pop culture art as it is a trading card. That said, the one distinct advantage of the 1951 Bowman image is that it relates to his rookie card, and there is only one rookie card for Mickey Mantle. Vintage photo collectors place particular importance on rookie season images of the player and rookie card images. The price premiums associated with those kinds of vintage photos in all sports have been noticeable.  

Vintage photography is hot in the collectible space right now. The record-setting sale of the Mantle Type I could further escalate the popularity and have an immense impact on The Hobby. “The private sales aren’t reported that well, so hopefully it sets a record for a public sale of a Type I image,” said Turner, who noted that PSA will eventually have publicly available population reports for Type I graded photos. “I think it further cements Type I photos used on cards as a true kind of subcategory of Type I photography collecting. It’s an extension of cards.”

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