Mickey Mantle and the 1956 Topps White and Gray Backs

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the 1939 Play Ball baseball set with an extra emphasis on the three Ted Williams Rookie Cards. I thought I would do something similar in my analysis of the 1956 Topps White and Gray back cards by focusing on the Mickey Mantle cards (the last Mantle card to use artwork instead of photographs).

1956 Topps #135 Mickey Mantle Gray Back – Front
1956 Topps #135 Mickey Mantle Gray Back – Reverse

First, some 1956 Topps baseball basics. 1956 marked the beginning of the Topps monopoly as they had just purchased Bowman. So, while 1954 and 1955 Topps didn’t have Mickey Mantle cards since he was signed exclusively with Bowman, he was back in the Topps lineup in 1956 (along with many other players). 

The 1956 Topps set has 340 numbered cards and two unnumbered checklists marking the first year that checklists (and team cards) appeared in a set. The set came out in four series; series one are cards 1-100, series two is 101-180, series three is 181-260, and series four are cards 261-340. Also, the cards measure 3-3/4’’x 2-5/8″ and were the last oversized cards.

While the fronts of the cards have the same design format, what’s most interesting to me about the 1956 Topps baseball set are the printing variations due to the card stock Topps used; cards 1-180 have either white or gray backs, while the last 160 cards all have gray backs. And more specifically, cards 1-100 have more white backs, while the second series, 101-180, has more gray back examples. 

1956 Topps #33 Roberto Clemente – Gray Back
1956 Topps #33 Roberto Clemente – White Back

Some collectors don’t think the back color impacts prices much, but the white-backed series two cards definitely carry a premium, and some 1956 collectors have argued the series one gray backs have a 10% premium over white backs. Unfortunately, PSA only started differentiating the back around October 2008, so the pop report on the gray vs. white backs isn’t super accurate in guiding our analysis.

1956 Topps #130 Willie Mays – Gray Back
1956 Topps #130 Willie Mays – White Back

I read a write-up from a collector with three fully graded 1956 Topps sets. He said that for cards 1-100, the white backs are much more common (4 or 5:1) but have a negligible premium since there are still so many gray backs (Topps always seemed to print more first series cards across all their sets as baseball cards were hot when they first hit the market in the spring). However, for cards 101-180, he said the gray backs are significantly more common (12 to 15:1), so the white backs carry a hefty premium, especially at higher grades (PSA 7+) since the white-backed cards seem to be more brittle, too. Another collector added that the white backs have at least a 50% premium and that putting together an all-white back run in decent condition would be almost impossible today.

You may already have gathered that Mikey Mantle’s card (#135) happens to fall in the second series. And while I mentioned PSA’s population report won’t ever be completely accurate, with the high prices that Mantle cards command, it behooves a collector with a white back card to get the card re-slabbed with the correct designation.

You can see in the following table that PSA has graded over 9000 1956 Topps Mickey Mantle cards with about a 10.5:1 ratio of gray vs. white-backed cards. Also, the average gray back grade looks to be between four and five, while the average white back grade appears to be closer to three.

PSA’s 1956 Topps Mickey Population Table

It’s tough to make a clean comparison of prices in high grades since so few exist and so few move publicly around the market. But the white backs do seem to sell for 40-50% more than the gray backs, on average, when you find examples from similar periods; here’s a summary for PSA 5-10 sales.

1956 Topps #135 Mickey Mantle Gray Back Sales

  • PSA 10: $360k in May 2017
  • PSA 9: $137k in Oct 2021, $150k in Oct 2021, and $175k in August 2021
  • PSA 8: $18.6k in May 2022, $15.5k in May 2022, and $15k in May 2022
  • PSA 7: $6.9k in July 2022, $7.5k in May 2022, and $6k in May 2022
  • PSA 6: $3.5k in July 2022, $3.6k in June 2022, and $3.6k in May 2022
  • PSA 5: $3.1k in August 2022, $2.5k in August 2022, and $2k in July 2022
1956 Topps #135 Mickey Mantle Gray Back – Front
1956 Topps #135 Mickey Mantle Gray Back – Reverse

1956 Topps #135 Mickey Mantle White Back Sales

  • PSA 10: Only 1 Exists
  • PSA 9: None Exist
  • PSA 8: $20.2k in Sept 2017
  • PSA 7: $19.8k in Apr 2022 and $3.4k in Aug 2018
  • PSA 6: $5.2k in Mar 2022, $3.5k in Oct 2020, and $3.7k in Aug 2020
  • PSA 5: $3.3k in Oct 2021, $2.4k in Aug 2021, and $4k in Aug 2021
1956 Topps #135 Mickey Mantle White Back – Front
1956 Topps #135 Mickey Mantle White Back – Reverse

If you’re a 1956 Topps baseball collector looking to complete a master set, I wish you the best of luck, particularly getting those second series white-backed cards; happy collecting!

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