Autographed Mickey Mantle photo, image via PSA/DNA

No question about it, more than a half-century after his 1951 MLB debut, and years after his death in 1995, Mantle remains one of the most collected and coveted athletes in history. His storied career demanded an immense amount of autographs through the years, and many of his collectibles still command a tremendous value.

What’s less commonly known, though, is that Mantle’s autograph wasn’t always the scribe-quality signature you commonly see today; it started as a simple, child-like scribble, then grew more and more complex as years went by.

Here are the three autograph stages of one of the most widely collected athletes in history, Mickey Mantle.

High School and Minor League Years (Late 1940s)

1947 signed yearbook, image via PSA/DNA
1947 signed yearbook, image via PSA/DNA

Mantle was scouted in high school by the Yankees, and his professional stint with the club began in 1949, when Yankees scout Tom Greenwade signed him to a minor league contract. Mantle’s minor league numbers were prodigious, as evidenced by his 26 home runs, 136 RBI and batted .383 during 1950, the year before his MLB call up.

The pictured autograph was from a time before Mantle’s legend even began, when the slugger played semi-pro summer ball for the Baxter Springs Whiz Kids during his high school days. Back then, his signature was marked by simplistic, cursory pen strokes, much different than the stylized signature it would grow to be.

 A Star in the Making (Early 1950s)

1951 signed postcard, via PSA/DNA
1951 signed postcard, via PSA/DNA

The first portion of Mantle’s debut with the Yankees was surprisingly un-miraculous, and after slumping through the start of the season, he was sent down to the Yankees minor league affiliate, the Kansas City Blues. There, he found his stroke and was called back up to the Big Leagues after 40 games in the minors, where he finished strong, amassing a .265 BA with 13 home runs and 65 RBI.

As Mantle’s star began to rise, his signature became more complex. Just look at the differences between his 1947 signed yearbook and this 1951 signed postcard. Pen strokes become more measured, careful, and aesthetically pleasing. The evolution of his autographs mirrored his career — transitioning from simple beginnings at first, and evolving to one of the most distinctive and stylish signatures in the sport.

The next, and last, of Mantle’s autograph styles was one that he’d eventually settle on and perfect throughout the remainder of his playing days and into his retirement years.

The Mick Emerges (Mid 1950s-onward)

1952 Topps #311, via PSA/DNA
1952 Topps #311, via PSA/DNA

By this time, Mantle was in the pinnacle of his career, a true superstar. In 1956, around the time Mantle settled on the final form of his autograph, he had a career year, batting .353 with 52 home runs and 130 RBI, and winning the prestigious Triple Crown and MVP award. Mantle had cemented himself as a household name and one of the best players the sport has ever seen.

Known as the “Half Moon” style, Mantle settled on and perfected these striking “M” curves throughout his career. Mantle’s autographs would continue to slightly evolve for the remainder of his playing days and retirement, but this “Half Moon” style remained the template from which he elaborated on. This autographed 1952 Topps #311 provides a great look at the contrast between the Mick’s autographs from the early stage of his career to his later years.

Always Make Sure Your Autograph is Certified

No matter the autograph style, the simplistic penmanship of his minor league years to the flamboyant “Half Moon” style of his later days, one thing is certain: countless collectors would love to add a Mantle autograph to their collection. But despite the fact that Mantle signed a prolific number of autographs during his playing days and retirement, it remains difficult to get a hold of one, and forgery remains a significant issue. The timeless popularity and collectibility of the athlete has made that certain, as Mantle is considered among the most heavily forged athletes of all time. Always make sure the autograph is authenticated by a trusted authenticator. Collectors.com even lets you narrow down search results to only PSA/DNA certified items.