By T.S. O’Connell
Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen, 70, almost certainly the most visible icon of the baseball card and sports memorabilia business, died on Jan. 26 at a hospital near his home in Ramsey, N.J., after battling leukemia for several years.
He was a loquacious, brash pioneer in the arcane world of baseball cards, a man who came along just as the hobby/business was expanding at a dizzying pace in the early 1980s, and his role in expanding that once quaint hobby beyond its original boundaries can hardly be overstated.
Waving a fistful off $100 bills, he quickly came to dominate card collector conventions, typically bringing at least $100,000 to shows where his prime table location helped secure much of the walk-in material that collectors would bring in to sell to dealers. His capacity for self-promotion was as legendary as his buying skills, and in the closing decades of the 20th century he would be featured in countless newspaper and magazine features, along with radio and television appearances throughout his home base of Metro New York City and even to the likes of Good Morning America and other network shows.
He parlayed his preeminent position on the show circuit with a relentless advertising campaign, most notably within the pages of Sports Collectors Digest, where he would trumpet his various finds and purchases along with his upcoming show schedule. Such was his remarkable fame and reputation that simply adding his name to a dealer roster could provide an attendance boost, to say nothing of the attendant publicity that he would engender. He planted his image on a host of charmingly cheesy products, from ersatz 1952 Topps cards to Baby Beanies and bobble head dolls, all with his sales pitch neatly alongside to trumpet his adventures.
It is that unmatched profile that helped him land many of the biggest “finds” in the history of the hobby, some of which added to his legendary status with seemingly mythical stories that quickly became lore and legend. But there was nothing mythical about them, not even the scale: a visit to Quincy, Mass., in 1986 produced a stack of mint 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle cards, a venture that gobbled up all of his $100,000 stash and then some. With an estimated 50 or so Mantles in that mind-boggling find, the near-6,000 cards he brought back to New Jersey that day would sell for literally many millions of dollars 30 years later. A year later a trip to Paris, Tenn., would yield hundreds of unopened boxes of 1954 and 1955 Topps and Bowman cards, and just like that the story of “Mr. Mint” was starting to unfold and the legend was beginning to grow.
His reign lasted nearly three decades, jostled ultimately by wide-ranging changes in the now-maturing business, with the arrival of third-party graded and slabbed cards helping to move much of the sales to the internet, and the growth of giant auction houses similarly helping to change the environment of the buy/sell relationship.
His legacy in the hobby is assured, with several books under his authorship recounting the tales of his remarkable finds and buys as he crisscrossed the country. That legacy will remain for generations and beyond as new collectors turn to archival material to learn about a hobby that truly is still in its infancy. There are only a handful of individuals whose impact will stand the test of time, and “Mr. Mint” may well be atop that list.