The Topps 1952 Mickey Mantle is a well-known object of envy in the world of sports card collecting, selling for nearly $3 million in 2018.
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IN AN ANONYMOUS office complex amid the Meadowland sprawl of northern New Jersey, Rick Probstein tears through a standing vault in search of his most prized treasure.
With wire-rim glasses and incandescent red hair, Probstein oversees his dimly lit five-room unit like Richard Branson on “MTV Cribs.” He’s earned it. EBay’s preeminent sports memorabilia proprietor reportedly racked up $50 million in global sales last year.
It’s a month before the coronavirus will upend civilization, and Probstein is in a collector’s paradise: One room spills over with racks of signed jerseys being prepped for shipping; in another, two dozen employees, sardined at workstations, painstakingly monitor auctions; in Probstein’s office, columns of cards on folding tables test gravity with mini helmets littering his desk. Atop the vault sits a Babe Ruth autographed baseball, acknowledged with a halfhearted nod as Probstein rummages below.
Probstein retrieves from the vault plywood-thick cards, autographed and embedded with game-used jersey swatches — one of them, a LeBron-Jordan dual patch autograph, will soon fetch $35,000 — and two