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‘One of the True Grails’: 1951 Mickey Mantle Photograph That Became His Rookie Card Bats Leadoff

Updated: Mar 18

DALLAS, Texas (March 13, 2024) – Some 35 years ago, Jack Kramer asked a dear friend a favor: Would she make a scrapbook out of his mementos so he could relive fond memories stashed away and nearly forgotten long ago? The friend happily obliged Kramer, who was a solid right-hander in the majors from the late 1930s until the early 1950s – in fact, he won Game 3 of the 1944 World Series as a St. Louis Brown.

 

Kramer’s box contained newspaper clippings, programs, some baseballs – the usual keepsakes. But there was also something extraordinary in that box: the photograph of Mickey Mantle that became his 1951 Bowman rookie baseball card – a photo that’s “one of the true grails of Type 1 collecting,” according to no less an authority than Professional Sports Authenticator.



That photograph bats leadoff in Heritage’s Photo Legends Type 1 Showcase Auction on April 7.


While assembling that scrapbook, Kramer’s friend discovered a plain brown envelope bearing the New York Yankees’ logo, Yankee Stadium’s Bronx address and a handwritten note: “Pictures of 1952 New York Yanks all individuals.” Inside was an original, freshly printed set of 8-by-10 glossy black-and-white photos featuring members of the 1951 Yankees, for whom Kramer played his final season in the big leagues. They were taken by the team’s photographer, Bob Olen. Kramer was there alongside the legendary likes of Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and a 19-year-old kid from Oklahoma named Mantle.


The photo is among the most defining of his career: Mantle wearing No. 6, with a bat perched on his right shoulder as he stares into the distance as though awaiting a pitcher’s delivery. This same image, colorized but otherwise barely altered, was used on Mantle’s first baseball card: the 1951 Bowman, the second-most valuable Mantle behind only the 1952 Topps card that reshaped a hobby. This immortal image was so perfect it was used time and again – for Mantle’s 1952 Berk Ross card and his 1953 Topps offering.

This photo, only the fourth known example of that iconic image, remained in that brown envelope for decades, sealed in a Ziploc bag and stored in a cedar chest. It has never been available at auction until now.


Olen’s 1951 photo of Mantle joins an auction rife with makers of monumental moments depicted in more than 120 familiar, beloved and iconic images developed from the original negative.


That’s how PSA defines Type I photos: “A 1st generation photograph, developed from the original negative, during the period (within approximately two years of when the picture was taken).” They have become among the most coveted collectibles in recent years, as desired as any Ansel Adams landscape of the American West, Dorothea Lang Depression-era portraits or Annie Lebowitz celebrity session, given their role in documenting history in the present tense.


Shortly after PSA authenticated the Mantle photo, they proudly posted it to social media. The offerings in this auction are all PSA-authenticated, and they run the gamut from triumph to tragedy, sports to space, entertainment to editorial. Many were used in newspapers and magazines and meant to be disposable – publicity photos promoting Jane Fonda’s star-making turn as Barbarella or the latest James Bond movie or a new TV show called Star Trek, news photos of President John F. Kennedy in his limo driving through Dallas or lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, portraits of Mantle’s Yankee teammates or a 1978 party pic of KISS’ Gene Simmons with a young Brooke Shields.


But yesterday’s news became today’s stuff of legend, a story and a backstory. That’s why Type 1 photos have become so coveted among collectors, historians and fans – and why Heritage is thrilled to announce it will hold Type 1 photo auctions every six weeks for the foreseeable future.


“These photos are as close as you can get to a you-are-there moment without a time machine,” says Heritage Auctions’ Executive Vice President Joe Maddalena. “In many cases, these are the works of photojournalists who turned into inadvertent artists while capturing the famous in off-guard moments. This auction contains portraits featuring fresh-faced immortals still trying to make a name for themselves. We’re thrilled to debut this category, which will offer countless opportunities in coming months and years for people to own the history-makers while they were making that history.” 

Six photos in this event feature Marilyn Monroe – one, from March 9, 1955’s premiere of East of Eden signed by the former Norma Jean Baker during the year she studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York City. Less than two years ago, Heritage set the world record for a signed Monroe photo when a picture inscribed to Joe DiMaggio realized $375,000. 


This auction includes photos of Monroe with both of her legendary husbands: one with DiMaggio on their honeymoon on Feb. 1, 1954; and another with playwright Arthur Miller at Idlewild Airport on Nov. 21, 1956. And here’s photographer Bill Ray’s intimate backstage glimpse from one of history’s most imitated moments: Monroe, clad in her Jean Louis-designed gown, singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to John F. Kennedy on May 19, 1962, at a Madison Square Garden fundraiser. Ray, who died in 2020, often said photos from this event were the most requested throughout his illustrious career.


Robert Stinnett was a revered sports photographer – he captured college football’s “The Play” from the California Memorial Stadium end zone in 1982. But on June 3, 1956, he was backstage at the Oakland Auditorium, where Elvis Presley was primping before one of his two shows that day. That photo was distributed by the news photo agency owned by Frank J. Gilloon, who, The New York Times noted upon his death in 1978, used to land scoops by hiring motorcycle drivers away from competitors.



Here, too, are Bob Dylan and Patti Smith backstage at the Other End in New York City on June 26, 1975 – the very night these two rock-and-roll poets met for the first time. Smith and her band hadn’t even been signed to a label deal. And she was terrified to find out Dylan was in the audience: “My heart was pounding,” she told William Henry Prince. “I got instantly rebellious. … And then he came backstage, which was really quite gentlemanly of him. He came over to me, and I kept moving around. We were like two pit bulls circling. I was a snot-nose. I had a very high concentration of adrenaline.” Legendary rock photographer Chuck Pulin captured the moment and signed his name to this casual snapshot of history.


J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who transformed the atomic bomb from theory into the destroyer of worlds, is captured here, as well, in a photo from April 4, 1958, as he arrives in Paris for lectures at the Sorbonne, where his brief tenure as an exchange professor garnered international headlines after he’d been stripped of his security clearance. There’s also this indelible image of the Bikini Atoll detonation on July 25, 1946, then deemed Operation Crossroads. (“That was what 1946 was,” The New Yorker noted in 2016, “a crossroads, a year of choices about the character of the postwar, newly nuclear world.”)

The man Oppenheimer thought of “as a living patron saint of physics” – Albert Einstein – is here, too, of course, in a delightful, seldom-seen photo in which Einstein holds a bouquet of poinsettias after being serenaded by San Diego High School girls on New Year’s Eve, 1930. At best, it was a forgotten footnote during Einstein’s remarkable life. Yet it lives forever in an auction whose every offering could fill a book or library’s worth of them.


Heritage Auctions is the largest fine art and collectibles auction house founded in the United States, and the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer. Heritage maintains offices in New York, Dallas, Beverly Hills, Chicago, Palm Beach, London, Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam, Brussels and Hong Kong.

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