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Unique 1933 R340 Sport Kings Premium Babe Ruth (Goudey Files)

  • Sold For: $7,200
  • Year: 1933
  • Auction: 2016 Spring
  • Lot #: 861
  • Auction Category: Prewar Baseball - 1930s and 1940s Cards

Presented is an extremely rare and very likely unique R340 Sport Kings Premium card of Babe Ruth. In fact, this is the only R340 Goudey premium we have ever seen! At first glance, collectors may be quick to dismiss this monumental rarity as nothing more than a R309-1 Goudey Premium, of which there are many and which shares the same image of Ruth in his classic swing-thru pose, as well as the same relative size and a very similar design as the offered unbelievably rare R340. Closer examination, however, quickly reveals the differences that define the R340 set as something very different than the R309-1 set. The offered R340 Sport Kings Premium card measures approximately 5-3/4 x 9-3/16 inches and is framed by a thin green border (compared to the borderless 5-1/2 x 8-13/16 inches dimensions of R309-1 cards). Ruth's name is also printed in a green nameplate as opposed to gold on the R309-1. Investigating the card further leads to the original wax wrappers for the R338 Sport Kings cards, which advertise a premium picture, described as 9 x 5.5 inches with a decorative color borders, in exchange for fifty wrappers. An eight subject checklist, consisting of Dempsey, Ruth, Sarazen, Tilden, Londos, Grange, Weissmuller, and Morenz, is listed underneath the offer. The image areas meets the exact measurements detailed on the wrapper, with the border adding the fractions of inches noted in our measurement.

Jefferson Burdick cataloged these premiums as R340 in his American Card Catalog, with the notation "(6) Goudey extra large" after the catalog entry. Burdick's own collection, which is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, does not contain a single R340 sample. A lone example of Johnny Weissmuller has been confirmed to exist and is pictured in the February 1999 VCBC #18 magazine, which includes the most comprehensive write-up on the Sports Kings set and related items, such as the premiums, that we have ever seen. That article attributes the likely origin of Weissmuller as "The Great Goudey Find of 1969," when Goudey's files were discovered and sold by collector John Fawcett. It also references the possibility that a Ruth example would be discovered one day as Fawcett's advertisements after the find included the following sale item: "B. Ruth & Johnny Weissmuller. Heavy Cardboard Pictures...Given Away For Sport Kings Wrappers...(Ruth Version Is A Little Different Than Above)." He concludes by posting a price of $4 each with the notation "Very Scarce!") following. This, of course, is the very R340 Ruth example from "The Great Goudey Find of 1969" sold by John Fawcett at that time!

The closest we have ever gotten to seeing an R340 in person prior to this example was a related printer's proof. REA's 2005 auction featured an exceptional proof print of Ruth in this style, framed by the green border, as Lot #290. That item, which also originated from the files of the Goudey Gum Company, was printed on thin paper stock and realized $4,060. The offered example of Ruth was acquired many years ago by our consignor, highly respected card scholar Frank K. Ward, from someone who reported to have purchased it from an offering of materials from the files of Goudey. Ward has kept it in his sole possession ever since, researching its origins and believing that he had one of the most exceptional, one-of-a-kind Ruth cards in existence. In addition to being a truly advanced and universally respected card expert, Frank was at one time also a very advanced collector. He sold his collection years ago, but elected to keep this one extreme rarity because he knew it was so incredibly special. We have to agree with him! The existence of this card is amazing! The R340 Goudey Premium of Ruth has been somewhat of a hobby mystery for many decades, its existence virtually unknown except for the small reference in a now historic 1960s advertisement. It has survived beautifully, with an incredibly crisp and flawlessly clear image that really "pops" and has an almost three-dimensional appearance. The image area is free of any creases or wrinkles. There is light wear at the corners, slightly more in the top left and bottom right corners. A small hole, very likely by design for display, is positioned in the center of the top border. (While the Weissmuller example does not have this hole, it is perhaps the "little differen[ce]" that Fawcett referred to in his advertisement.) The reverse is blank and features a fold-out cardboard easel attachment, which allows the card to stand on its own for display. Even the easel design is very slightly different than the R309-1, with a square top as opposed to the standard rounded top. Overall Very Good condition, with a much better overall appearance.

This is a very substantial and high-quality premium of Babe Ruth that has the extra special distinction of being one of only two known examples from the extraordinarily rare R340 Sport Kings Premiums series. It is a privilege for Robert Edward Auctions to document this incredible rarity. While of course there is no consensus on value for such a unique piece, we are confident that the auction process will provide clarity. This is a tremendous Goudey piece, very likely the only one of its kind we will ever see, that would be a significant addition to even the world's most advanced Babe Ruth, Sport Kings, or type-card collection. Reserve $2,500. Estimate (open).

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