1952 Topps Willie Mays: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide

1952 Topps #261 Willie Mays Baseball Card

When it comes to my favorite vintage baseball cards, the 1952 Topps Willie Mays is high on that list for two reasons:

  1. The set itself is regarded as the most important post-war set in the hobby
  2. Willie Mays is arguably the greatest baseball player of all-time

Baseball cards don’t get much better than this one…

And, in this guide, we’ll look at what makes it so unique, how much it’s worth, and how to best go about buying and selling one.

Let’s jump right in!

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Ross Uitts

Ross Uitts - Owner

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Quick Facts

Some things to consider before we get into more detail:

  • the card measures 2-5/8" by 3-3/4"
  • it is card #261 out of 407 cards
  • it was part of the Series 5 "semi-high numbers" print run (cards #251 - 310), making it relatively easier to find than the Series 6 "high numbers" (cards #311 - 407)
  • it was one of the double-prints in Series 5
  • though not considered his rookie card (that would be his 1951 Bowman card), this was the first Topps card to feature Willie Mays, making it incredibly desirable

Front Design

Few Willie Mays cards are as beautiful as this one.

The front of the card features vivid artwork of a young Willie Mays based on a photo taken of him (shown below) after his 1951 Rookie of the Year campaign.

Mays' name and facsimile signature rest at the bottom of the card inside the iconic '52 Topps nameplate bordered by yellow stars.

The Giants team name sits perched atop the nameplate's upper-left corner rounding out the front design features.

1952 Topps #261 Willie Mays Baseball Card
Image of Willie Mays Used on His 1952 Topps Card

Back Design

The card's reverse uses a horizontal layout and is jam-packed with all kinds of interesting facts and statistics.

Mays' personal information is listed across the top of the card, while an excellent write-up covering his career progression and achievements takes up the center space.

A few things I note when I read through it:

  • Mays was already showing flashes of his incredible hitting ability through the Minors based on those eye-popping batting averages with Trenton and Minneapolis
  • it was only fitting that his first career hit was a home run and even more impressive was that it came off of none other than Warren Spahn (it would have been nice to see Topps mention that)
  • the brief blurb of Mays being "a naturally gifted fielder" makes me smile because little did collectors know then that they'd see just how great he was with the glove when he made "The Catch" in 1954
  • the nod to Mays' service during the Korean War makes you wonder how even more incredible his career stats could have been if he had not missed most of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season

Finally, along the bottom, Topps included both his Major League and Minor League statistics with their company information is listed below.

1952 Topps #261 Willie Mays Baseball Card Reverse Side With Statistics and Personal Information

Condition Issues

Centering is one of the key challenges that you'll come across with 1952 Topps baseball cards straight from the printing press.

Quality control standards back then were not as rigid as they are today.

And, because most of them were collected and well-loved by kids many years ago, you'll often find them with worn corners, creasing, or surface damage.

That's only natural for cards printed several decades ago.

However, although rare, there are still high-grade examples in circulation throughout the hobby today.

But, it's important to be able to note the subtle differences that separate the high-grade cards from the more common low to mid-grade cards.

To give you an idea of differences in condition, notice the excellent centering, sharp corners, and beautiful surfaces of the PSA 8 card below versus the PSA 4:

PSA 4 VG-EX Condition

1952 Topps Willie Mays Baseball Card Graded PSA 4 VG-EX Condition

PSA 8 NM-MT Condition

1952 Topps Willie Mays Graded PSA 8 NM-Mint Condition

While the PSA 8 example boasts fantastic centering, sharp corners, and little to no surface issues, the PSA 4 shows fuzzy corners, worn edges, poor centering, and even has a tilt to it.

Zooming in, the fuzzy upper-left corner and off-centered nature of the PSA 4 card become even more noticeable:

PSA 4 VG-EX Condition

1952 Topps Willie Mays Baseball Card Graded PSA 4 VG-EX Condition Close-Up To Show Condition and Defects

PSA 8 NM-MT Condition

1952 Topps Willie Mays Baseball Card Graded PSA 8 NM-MT Condition Close-Up To Show Condition and Defects

If there are any tears, pinholes, markings, wrinkles, or creases, then the card will almost always grade out as a PSA 1.

Most 1952 Topps Mays cards that I come across that have not already been professionally-graded are usually in the PSA 1 to PSA 4 range.

Grading

To understand the magnitude of those condition differences, it's also important to understand the common grading scales that third-party graders use.

Grading typically takes place on a 1 - 10 scale with 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest--the higher the grade the higher the value.

In order to be graded in mint condition, the card has to be nearly perfect:

  • centering has to be pretty much 50/50
  • the corners have to be sharp with no signs of wear or rounding
  • the surfaces can not have any blemishes, divots, cuts, creases or wrinkles
  • the edges cannot be damaged or have any chipping

As I mentioned earlier, most 1952 Topps Mays that I see ungraded are in the 1 - 4 range.

Even as a 1 in poor condition, this card has value since it's Mays' first Topps issue and the set itself is a hobby icon.

But, the serious money comes into play once you start seeing conditions in the mid to higher grades.

If you have one of these cards and you'd like me to take a look at it, please reach out to me using the contact form above.

1952 Topps Willie Mays Value

So what is this card worth?

The value of a 1952 Topps Willie Mays card will depend on its condition and can range between $500 to $16,000 or more.

The following table shows estimated values in conditions ranging from PSA 1 (Poor) all the way to PSA 9 (Mint):

Card

PSA 1

PSA 3

PSA 5

PSA 7

PSA 9

1952 Topps #261 Willie Mays Baseball Card

$500

$2,250

$4,000

$10,000

$300,000

As you can see, condition is everything in this hobby when it comes to a card's value.

Willie Mays' Legacy

Where do you start when it comes to Willie Mays?

Arguably the greatest player in baseball history, Mays was an incredible five-tool talent who dominated Major League Baseball over his extraordinary 22-year career.

Some of his achievements include:

  • 24x All-Star
  • 2x MVP
  • World Series Champion (1954)
  • 1951 NL Rookie of the Year
  • 12x Gold Glove
  • 4x NL Home Run Leader
  • 4x NL Stolen Base Leader
  • 660 Home Runs
  • 1,903 RBI

And, remember, he did all of this even though he missed significant time because of his military service early in his career.

Like the man himself, the '52 Topps Willie Mays is nothing short of a hobby icon.

Ross Uitts
 

Ross is the founder of Old Sports Cards and has been collecting sports cards for over 30 years. He also loves to write about the hobby and has written for Beckett, Topps, SABR and of course, this website. Need help buying or selling cards or have a general question about the hobby? Contact him at [email protected]

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