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Lot # 4 (of 1673)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1933 R306 Butter Cream Confectionery Babe Ruth - Newly Discovered!

Starting Bid - $10,000.00 , Sold For - $111,625.00

While it is difficult for any Babe Ruth card to compare to a 1914 Baltimore News rookie card in terms of intrigue and rarity, this card is a worthy contender: the 1933 R306 Butter Cream Confectionery card of Babe Ruth. In the very small universe of iconic baseball cards, perhaps no card has received less attention than this elusive legend, and for a very interesting reason: because it is so rare! This is a card that virtually no one has ever even seen. It is so rare that even the image of this card has never appeared in a guide or ever appeared in an auction catalog. We don't know any collector that has one or has ever claimed to have one. We've never seen an example of this card in person before, and all of the serious active collectors that we have asked have also never seen an example. When researching the card, we found that even the collectors who were aware of its existence, including even the most diehard Ruth and R306 collectors, were uncertain exactly what pose of Ruth was featured on the card.

The R306 Babe Ruth was unknown and unchecklisted until 1989. Prior to its discovery, the R306 Butter Cream set was thought to be complete at 29 cards. No one knows why Ruth is so rare, but its great rarity is reminiscent of the 1933 R328 US Caramel #16 Fred "Lindy" Lindstrom: Both are from traditional "R" card series, both are incredibly rare, and both were completely unknown in the collecting world until the 1980s. In addition, both cards are also from sets issued in the early 1930s involving contests. The R328 Lindstrom, however, has been promoted with great fanfare and offered for sale on several occasions over the years, and the reason for its great rarity is well known: it was intentionally short-printed so that the company would not have to give out too many expensive prizes in exchange for a complete set as offered on the back of each card. It is very likely that there is an identical explanation regarding the extreme rarity of the R306 Ruth.

On the back of each R306 card is a contest entry form. Kids were supposed to guess the final batting average of the player featured on the obverse, and to also fill in their name and address, and send the card in by mail to the Butter Cream Confectionery Company in Union City, New Jersey. The exact rules of the contest and the prizes involved are not detailed on the cards. Information on the contest rules and offered prize or prizes were obviously somehow provided, either on the wrapper, in the form of additional promotional literature that is now long lost, or on promotional store displays. There are two styles of R306 back designs (each card was produced with both styles). One style provides the name and address of the Butter Cream Confectionery Company and the other does not. Our guess is that either a special prize was offered if one could send in all thirty cards in the set including the rare (intentionally short-printed) Babe Ruth card, or perhaps a special prize was offered for just the Babe Ruth card. The unfortunate kids with the cards without the company's address would have had a hard time sending in either!

The R306 Ruth offered in this auction is one of only two confirmed examples. It is graded VG-EX 4 by PSA. Incredibly, a third example was long ago known to exist but has not survived. The existence of the R306 Babe Ruth first came to light in 1989. In one of the most incredible vintage card-related events to ever occur, at the 1989 Chicago National convention the gentleman who owned the poor condition example and another person with a photograph of a different second example both came to the Krause Publications table at the same time, independently, each reporting the existence of the card. The report of the event was published in the August 1989 issue of The Trader Speaks. The text of the article appears in the longer complete catalog description at: http://www.robertedwardauctions.com/auction/2008_preview/6.html and a copy of the original article including the illustration has been provided online.

The second R306 Ruth which was unveiled in the form of a photograph on that day in 1989 is presumably out there somewhere, though we have no idea of its current whereabouts. Incredibly, the first (lower grade) R306 Ruth unveiled in 1989 no longer exists. That card was auctioned in the early 1990s by legendary collector/dealer/auctioneer Lew Lipset (author of The Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards). Barry Halper was particularly interested. The condition of the card was very weak and the minimum bid was high. No one placed the opening bid, so Halper chose to not bid also, but he continued to express very strong interest immediately after the auction. A deal was struck between the two collecting legends. Barry also won an item of larger dimensions in the auction. Unfortunately, when Barry received the package, he unpacked the larger item and by accident completely forgot about the R306 Ruth, perhaps thinking it would be sent separately. He did not realize his error until it was too late and all the packing materials — along with R306 Babe Ruth — had been thrown out. The card was lost forever. It no longer exists. Always the perfect gentleman, Barry of course paid for the card, and no doubt hoped that Lew would somehow be able to help him locate another. But neither Lew Lipset nor anyone else was ever able to replace the R306 Ruth, which remained one of the very few Babe Ruth cards (perhaps the only one) that Barry Halper never was able to add to his collection.

The offered R306 Ruth was saved by a family member of our consignor who had personally collected Butter Creams as a youngster in 1933. It is very difficult to place a value on such an important and legendary rarity which is essentially unique (one other example known to exist, whereabouts unknown). There are no other sales to refer to on this card. The closest point of reference may be the R328 US Caramel "Lindy" Lindstrom, which when first discovered was famously marketed as "The Million Dollar Card," and which has several sales at public auction (all many years ago) in the $75,000 to $100,000 range. But while the R306 Butter Cream Ruth and the R328 Lindstrom may have much in common, they are, of course, very different cards of very different players from very different sets. The consignor selling the card has no preconceived notions of its value, but does, however, have confidence in the auction process and is happy and willing to let the card go for whatever the market says the card is worth. In this case, that may be the only reasonable approach. Whatever the final auction result, it is exciting for REA to properly document the fascinating history of the R306 Babe Ruth card in this auction, and in the process to be a part of the history of one of card collecting's most interesting and legendary rarities. Reserve $10,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $111,625.00


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