There is perhaps no name more closely associated with the game of baseball than Babe Ruth. He has enraptured generations of baseball fans and casual observers alike, regardless of whether they had the privilege of witnessing him play. When discussions turn to the greatest of all time or when tales of towering home runs are spun, Ruth's name springs effortlessly to mind. His impact on the sport transcends mere statistics. It's embedded in the very fabric of baseball's history. His larger-than-life persona, coupled with an unrivaled ability to deliver in clutch moments, earned him a place in the pantheon of sports legends. The Sultan of Swat, as he was affectionately known, left an indelible mark on the game, forever etching his name in the annals of baseball lore. Even today, when fans gather to celebrate the timeless magic of America's pastime, Babe Ruth's legacy looms large.
For more than a century, fans have clamored for a connection to the Great Bambino. Ruth graciously signed countless baseballs and memorabilia for his adoring fans. He was a generous and benevolent ambassador of the game, frequently bestowing bats upon young fans, dedicated staff, or loyal friends. Ruth's existence was a testament to living on an epic scale; he was acutely aware of the profound influence he wielded, and he sought to perpetuate the boundless joy and excitement that his very presence brought to the world of baseball.
It comes as no surprise that manufacturers and retailers across various industries were quick to feature Babe Ruth in their trading-card sets or to seek out his valuable endorsement. It was in 1914, however, as a baby-faced 19-year-old for his hometown Baltimore Orioles of the International League, that Babe Ruth appeared for the first time on a trading card, his future triumphs, records, accolades, and the iconic legend he would become still on the horizon, yet to be revealed. A set of cards produced by the Baltimore News featured members of the two Baltimore teams - the Orioles and their Federal League neighbor, the Terrapins. Ruth, tall and lanky, glove on hand and dressed in his team's overcoat, looks into the distance, labeled simply as "Ruth - pitcher" below his image. On the fields of Baltimore a star was born, and with the Baltimore News card, Ruth's collectible legacy was cemented with one of the most elusive and valuable baseball cards ever produced.
A mere ten examples, in any condition, are known to exist of this prized Baltimore News Babe Ruth. REA is privileged to present this card, the second-finest confirmed example and the highest graded to appear at public auction in more than fifteen years. Nearly a decade has passed since any example of this incredibly rare and perpetually significant rookie card of Babe Ruth has been made available for sale publicly. Authenticated and encapsulated VG 3 by SGC, a lone peer exists at this level, with one higher. Seven examples grade lesser, including five of which have been evaluated at the most modest level of the grading scale.
The offered example also carries with it the remarkable provenance of remaining in the same Baltimore-area family for more than 100 years and serving as the resident example housed at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum from 1998 until this year. Originally collected by a newspaper boy for the Baltimore News in its year of issue, the card was dutifully kept and preserved alongside fourteen additional examples from this set, each of which is available in this auction, highlighted by team manager, Jack Dunn - the man credited with discovering Babe Ruth.
Everything about Babe Ruth is larger than life, so it's fitting that his rookie card produced by the Baltimore News is a larger style card with a high production value for the time. Issued in both red and blue variations, the red-and-white image of Ruth is framed by a red border on the offered example, which measures approximately 2-5/8 x 3-5/8 inches. The reverse has home and abroad schedules for the Baltimore team during its 1914 campaign. This card is the highest-graded example on the SGC Population Report as well as the second highest-graded example in the hobby, with only a single PSA VG-EX 4 higher.
Though the Baltimore News Ruth rookie card was produced 109 years ago, it did not surface in the collecting community until the 1980s. At that time, the first example ever to sell publicly commanded $6,600 in a purchase made by legendary collector Jim Copeland. A few short years later, in 1991, Copeland conducted a massive auction of his entire sports card collection, which included his copy of the Baltimore News Babe Ruth, where it realized $18,700. Another legendary collector, Barry Halper, secured an example of this rare and important trading card for his collection in the 1990s. In 1999, at the famed Barry Halper Auction conducted by Sotheby's, his card hammered for $79,500. A 2005 REA sale rewrote the pricing for this card when it eclipsed the six-figure mark for the first time, bringing in $243,600. This ushered in a multiyear period in which five examples traded hands at auction. It was also during this time that two new examples were discovered and entered the collecting world. In 2013, a PSA PR 1 example was sold by REA for $450,300, marking the last time a Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card would sell at auction. Between 1991 and 2013, a number of advanced collectors had added this renowned rarity to their collections with no sign of letting the card escape from their grasp.
The collecting landscape of today is entirely different than it was a decade ago. There are a greater number of participants, made easier by the rise in professional grading and authentication as well as more unconfined exchange of data, greater precision in tracing items of significance, and the ubiquity of social media, collecting groups, and stories of the hobby entering the mainstream. In the absence of recent sales data for the Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card, we can only turn to other noteworthy cards to inform the proper line of thinking in terms of value. It is easy to instinctively argue for an eight-figure price tag for the true rookie card of Babe Ruth when one reviews a list of modern trading cards that have transacted for millions of dollars, including manufactured rarities of players such as Patrick Mahomes or Luka Doncic. But, when one logically surveys the sales data of the past decade, there is one obvious comparison that puts the entire exercise into proper perspective and arrives at the same conclusion. It's Ruth's fellow inaugural Hall of Fame classmate, Honus Wagner, who adorns one of the trading-card hobby's most iconic and valuable cards.
The T206 Honus Wagner, steeped in folklore about Wagner's feelings on tobacco and prone to comparisons as the "Mona Lisa" of baseball cards, is a card that has been the face of the hobby since it was listed at $50 as the most valuable baseball card in Jefferson Burdick's American Card Catalog published in 1939. Since then, its rise in value has been meteoric, with every successive sale rewriting the record books. With approximately sixty known examples, the T206 Wagner card sells with a greater frequency than the Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card. Fortuitously, on May 19, 2013, a Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card in PSA PR 1 appeared alongside a T206 Honus Wagner in the same grade as part of REA's Spring Auction. Each boasted a $100,000 starting bid and drew more than two dozen bids. When the dust settled, the Baltimore News Ruth reigned supreme. Understanding its incredible rarity as well as its undeniable significance, bidders drove the price to a record-setting $450,300 compared to $402,900 for the Wagner, also a record for the card in that grade.
Since that night in May 2013, twenty-two examples of the T206 Honus Wagner have traded hands at auction. On March 31, 2022, the same PSA PR 1 Wagner card sold by REA in 2013 again hit the auction block, this time bringing in an incredible $3,136,500. The buy-in price for a numerically graded example of one of the hobby's most storied cards was now solidly into seven figures. At nearly eight times the sale price from nine years earlier, it was obvious that demand for marquee trading cards featuring top tier Hall of Famers was as high as ever and their position as stores of value and bona fide alternative assets was cemented.
When REA conducted the sale of the SGC 3 T206 Honus Wagner card in August 2021, which enjoyed one year atop the record books for the most valuable baseball card ever sold, the price realized of $6,606,696 became another valuable data point in the conversation regarding the Baltimore News Ruth rookie card. Two months earlier, one percent of the offered SGC 3 Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card was offered via fractionalization at an offering valuation of $6 million. The two transactions again inextricably linked the two iconic cards and tied their pricing together in virtual lockstep. In August 2022, an SGC 2 T206 Honus Wagner transacted privately for $7.25 million. Since then, offers made for the SGC 3 T206 Honus Wagner sold in 2021 have hit eight figures. Collectors of the very best understand the rare opportunity presented by these high-grade iconic cards as well as the historical pricing appreciation the cards boast.
There is no overstating the rarity of the Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card. Only ten examples are confirmed to exist of one of the most coveted and significant baseball cards ever produced. Each example is among the cornerstones of hugely valuable collections assembled over decades by advanced collectors. There is no great desire to sell these cards, which means that an even smaller number of examples - perhaps only this one - might even be available for purchase for many years to come. This offering is an opportunity that does not come around often and might not come around again for the foreseeable future. Approximately sixty examples of the T206 Honus Wagner exist. More than 2,756 examples of the iconic 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, which holds the current record for the most valuable baseball card ever sold at $12.6 million, have been authenticated between the three major grading companies.
We believe the Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card is the most significant baseball card ever produced. Its sheer existence is amazing. Ruth's time in Baltimore was short. The Orioles were driven to the brink of financial ruin by competition from the upstart Federal League and its Baltimore franchise, the Terrapins. Jack Dunn - who just months earlier had discovered Ruth at the St. Mary's Industrial School For Boys, taken over Ruth's legal guardianship, and put him on a baseball diamond - was forced to sell Ruth to the Major League Boston Red Sox just to survive and ultimately move his team out of Baltimore. For the Baltimore News to capture Ruth in this short window is miraculous.
From a hobby perspective, there is no doubting Ruth's positioning. He is the most recognizable name in the hobby. He is the most sought after and valuable card in any set in which he appears (we'll excuse Lindy Lindstrom and the 1932 U. S. Caramel set from this discussion). His cards have been cherished and preserved by generations of collectors, and they've set record upon record in every grade when top quality and rare examples are made available.
There is of course no divine ability granted to us to see the future, so we can only make inferences based on the past. We believe the offered card will rewrite the record books not only for the Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card, but for Babe Ruth, trading cards, and potentially the wider hobby itself. We believe that the process of bringing this card to auction will educate an entirely new wave of collectors and investors about this remarkable card. We believe that setting a price for this card will be the catalyst for more exciting and monumental sales of top-tier cards. We believe that astute collectors and investors will recognize this opportunity as perhaps once in a lifetime and will seize the moment to add this iconic card to their holdings. Finally, we believe that the Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card is the singular most important trading card ever produced.As the famous line from The Sandlot goes, "Babe Ruth was less than a god, but more than a man." We're excited to document and honor this card's significance and write a new chapter of its story, ensuring that its impact continues to resonate for generations to come, much like the man it portrays. Opening Bid $2,500,000.
Come see this incredibly rare card at the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum where it will be on public display Wednesday, November 15 from 2-4 PM ET alongside a blue example of the card. This is an exceptionally rare opportunity that allows visitors to view two of the ten known examples of this card (one in blue and one in red) in person.
Following the public viewing on November 15, REA will be co-hosting a closed reception at the Museum from 5-8 PM ET to a select number of guests. Additionally, REA will be hosting a second exclusive event for prospective bidders at a private location in New York City on Wednesday, November 29 from 5-8 PM ET.
If you’re interested in attending either event, please email [email protected] to reserve your spot as space is limited.
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