By 1981 he was making $1,000 a week dealing mint cards from the '50s and '60s, which had just begun to explode in value. He found a Pennsylvania backer willing to put up 30,40 thousand in cash to buy out big collections at a significant discount. Then Rosen would break up the collections into smaller lots, tack on 20% and sell the lots to dealers. He became the merchant banker of baseball cards. A friend dubbed him Mr. Mint, and it stuck. No one else had his liquidity. No one else had his chutzpah.
By 1982 he was placing ads in Sports Collectors Digest featuring photos of himself with his latest client, who was always holding up fistfuls of the C-notes that Mr. Mint had just paid him for his collection. The ads also featured Mr. Mint's poetry:
Have you found your old shoebox?/ Hidden for all these years?/ The one that held your treasures?/ That brought your eyes to tears?/ Did you ever think of selling these memories from your past?/ If you do, just remember: I always pay in cash.
Those ads, Rosen says, made him. "I was loud. I was a braggart. This is abrasive advertising. This ad says I have money and I have the guts to go to a guy's house with $100,000 in a briefcase and walk out with a briefcase full of baseball cards.
"Some people think I'm a schmuck. Let 'em. I'm no schmuck. I'm a buying machine. I'm negotiating for three major collections today. I did four million in sales last year. Spent three, took in four. At the rate I'm going, I'll do five million this year. I'm a multimillionaire and I flaunt it. Why? To impress people that I am for real."
He is for real. Take the '52 Topps find valued at $400,000, for which Mr. Mint is famous. Truck driver calls from Boston in 1986, says he's just gone into his late father's attic and found a case of mint 1952 Topps cards. Mr. Mint says, "Yeah. Right. And I'm the tooth fairy."
Guy says he's got a couple hundred cards plus two '52 Topps Mickey Mantles. Now he's got Mr. Mint's attention. The Mantles alone are worth $3,000 each. Guy calls back later, says he checked again and he's got six or seven of everything, including the Mantles. "I do some quick figuring and I know we're talking $100,000 worth of cards," Mr. Mint says rapidly. "I tell him I'm on my way."
Mr. Mint puts $100,000 cash in his briefcase, flies to Boston and finds 50 to 60 of every card, numbers 193-407, including 57 of the $3,000 Mantles. Mr. Mint can't believe his eyes. Because the cards have been sealed for 35 years, their borders are blazing white and the Mick's teeth look like a toothpaste ad. "I'd never even seen one '52 Mantle in that condition," Mr. Mint says dramatically. "Here I had 50 of 'em in my hand. I couldn't control my emotions. I had, like, hot flashes. Of course, with that many cards, I couldn't pay him 70% of book. We had to discount more deeply. I paid him $80,000 for the case."
On the way home, he remembers, he was ravaged by self-doubt: "I was torn. I had buyer's remorse, which is the feeling that you did the wrong thing. Did I buy too many? Would I get stuck for the money? What happens if the cards get wet? Or somebody steals 'em all? What if nobody gives a crap? I'm out $80,000. So do I sit on 'em and just sell a few at a time? Or do I blow 'em out?"
He blew 'em out for $310,000, netting $230,000 clear, before taxes. Today, he says, those cards are worth more than a million. If he had held on to them, he could have made at least half a million. He sold the Mantles for $2,500 apiece. He recently bought one of them back for $7,000 and resold it for $9,000—quickly—always keeping his eye on the sure thing: cash. Why?