Why This May Be the Best Willie Mays Card Ever!

Willie Mays is one of the greatest players to ever play baseball. His 1951 Bowman card is his true rookie, but the 1952 Topps card of Willie Mays is also a must own card for Willie Mays collectors. One card that has also increased handily in value and increased in collectability in recent years is the 1953 Topps card of Willie Mays. There is a unique 1953 Topps Willie Mays coming to auction that should capture the eyes of many high-end card buyers and the price is going to make some eyes pop — this is the Original Artwork for the 1953 Topps #244 Willie Mays card!

The painted image of Mays fielding a ball is already visually stunning with bold colors that the 1953 Topps set is known for. A high-grade example of PSA 8 can easily cost more than $25,000 or $30,000 at this time, but the artwork that is for sale is a one-of-one while there are many more graded examples of the actual card. Collectors Dashboard has compared this to other high-end Willie Mays prices at the end of this report.

The auction is being conducted by Leland’s and there is still a period of 17 days remaining. The bidding started at $50,000 and there have already been 27 bids. The last tally that was seen (again with over two weeks to go) was $177,784.00. The Leland’s description (image below also by Leland’s) outlines the size differential here:

The artwork (3.5×5″) feature’s Mays’ name written twice on the reverse, along with his team affiliation (“N.Y.”) and an editorial notation. Like all other known 1953 Topps artworks, adhesive residue covers the reverse, otherwise the artwork is in Excellent condition overall.

1953 Topps Willie Mays original artwork

So how does this compare to other high-end 1953 Topps Mays sales? The last known highest graded sale was a PSA 9 example that sold for $132,000.00 — in October 2017 via Memory Lane Inc. In short, this one-of-one original artwork has already passed that up and then some!

Leland’s already noted that card #244 is among the more scarce cards due to being a high-number and short print. It also calls the Mays card out as the “most significant 1953 Topps artwork in the hobby” with the notation as “other than Mantle.” And for whatever this is worth the artwork auction is accompanied by an actual 1953 Topps #244 Mays card that is listed as being in Good condition overall.

What is amazing about the 1953 Topps card of Willie Mays is that there just aren’t crazy numbers of the cards in graded condition. Here are some notes covering totals and high-end grades from PSA, SGC, BVG and CSG:

  • PSA’s total population was 2,269 cards of all grades. There are 46 examples with the PSA 8 grade, with 2 additional “+” (8.5) and 12 “Q” graded examples. There is only 1 example at a PSA 9 and only 1 example at the perfect PSA 10.
  • SGC’s graded population was just 676 cards in all grades. Its highest graded counts are just 2 examples at SGC 9 and 2 graded examples at SGC 8.5, followed by only 8 more examples at SGC 8.
  • Beckett’s BVG graded examples were limited to just 216 in total. Its highest grade was 8.0 with only 1 graded example. The next highest graded example was also just 1 card with a BVG 7.0 grade.
  • CSG has only counted 4 total graded examples in its new population report tracking, but its highest graded example was merely a CSG 4 grade.

When you add up the total population reports of all graded examples among PSA, SGC, BVG and CSG that is only 3,165 total graded cards among all of the top grading companies. This is a very small total, and there are barely 50 of these cards that would be considered “investment grade” at the highest scales.

And for additional scarcity measurement without getting too lost in detail, the 1952 Topps Mays has 2,136 graded examples by PSA without any qualifiers. There are another 265 “+” graded examples and 198 “Q” graded examples by PSA, making PSA’s total 1952 Topps graded population a 2,699 cards — some 430 cards more than the 1953 Topps Mays card!

Here is what else the Leland’s description has to say about the original artwork used for the 1953 Topps Willie Mays card:

Willie Mays is one of the key cards from the 1953 Topps set and the corresponding artwork commands even greater significance in the eyes of collectors, especially given its storied history.

Here is the corresponding sales background and provenance of this artwork’s history:

It was originally purchased at the highly publicized Topps Archives auction in 1989 by the Marriott Corporation for $88,000 ($210,000 in today’s economy). Marriott used the artwork for promotional purposes and also created a limited-edition print, which was sold and marketed for charitable purposes. In 1991 Marriott donated the Willie Mays artwork to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (a nonprofit organization that raises funds for children’s hospitals in the United States and Canada), in whose possession it has remained these past thirty-one years. This piece has been consigned directly by the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, with all the proceeds dedicated to helping children receive the best medical care possible.

Leland’s also spells out the exact nature of how unique this one-of-one piece is:

Unlike 1953 Topps cards, the artworks used to produce them are unique. Only one of each exists. Further distinguishing the 1953 Topps artworks is the fact that 1953 was the only year during that decade that Topps relied on paintings rather than photography for its card design. (It has always been assumed that the reason for that decision was related to the company’s ongoing lawsuits with Bowman at the time; 1953 was the first year Bowman used photography rather than paintings to produce its cards.)

This is already one of the highest-priced Willie Mays auctions of any sports memorabilia. There is also still more than two weeks to go. Elsewhere… Here are some other top Willie Mays sales that we have tracked:

  • 1951 Bowman Mays PSA 8 for $338,400.00 as the most expensive Mays item at Goldin Auctions. Goldin also sold a PSA 9 example of the 1952 Topps Mays for $240,000.00 and a PSA 8 example of the same 1952 Topps Mays for $228,000.00.
  • PWCC has sold 3 PSA 8 examples of the 1952 Topps Willie Mays for $240,000.00 each in 2022, and one PSA 9 example of the 1952 Topps for $235,202.00 in 2017.
  • Robert Edward Auctions sold a PSA 8 example of the 1951 Bowman Mays for $264,000.00 in the Fall 2021 auction and sold a PSA 8 example of the 1952 Topps Mays for $258,000.00 in the Fall 2021 auction. Robert Edwards Auctions also sold a 1969 Willie Mays Giants signed game-used home uniform for $108,000 in the 2017 Spring auction.
  • Heritage Auctions sold a PSA 9 example of the 1952 Topps Mays card for $478,000.00 in May 2016 and its second highest sale of a Mays card was a 1952 Bowman PSA 9 that fetched $444,000.00 in February 2022. The next two highest sales of 1952 Topps cards were $382,400.00 and $310,700.00 from Heritage.