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1914 Babe Ruth Rookie Card Fetches $7.2 Million At Auction

babe ruth 1914 rookie card

Back in his heyday, Babe Ruth was well used to breaking records but just this week he managed to break a new one when a 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card sold for $7.2 million, making it the most expensive Ruth item of all time.

The price, recorded at a Robert Edward Auction just after midnight on Monday, factors in the buyer’s premium and becomes the third-highest sum that’s ever been paid for a sports card, just falling short of the $7.25 million that was paid for a T206 Sweet Caporal Honus Wagner card in August of last year.

The card itself shows a 19-year-old Ruth in a Baltimore Orioles uniform and features the team’s schedule on the back of the card. There is also a blue version of the rookie card on display at the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum in downtown Baltimore. 

Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum executive director, Shawn Herne, said the following of the sale:

To think something, you know, a piece of cardboard this big is now moving into the genre that you would expect fine art to be in, $7.2 million, crazy. The local newspaper printed both colors, people started collecting them. The blue ones are more rare than the red ones, but we are talking about only 10 cards known to exist anyway,

Herne believes – rightfully so – that Ruth is an American icon which makes investing in Ruth collectibles a smart move and wise investment. “You think of Marilyn Monroe, you think of Lucille Ball, you think of John Wayne, they have become almost legendary in their status, and Ruth has done that. He went from being a legend now to being almost mythical, larger than life,” he said.

READ: Babe Ruth Baseball bats fetch huge amounts

This is the first time in a decade that a Ruth rookie card has been put up for sale.

The history of the 1914 Babe Ruth rookie card started with a paperboy

Way back in 1914, Archibald Davis, a 16-year-old paperboy at the time, was a fan of the hobby and loved collecting baseball cards of his favorite Orioles, who were back then a mere International Minor League team.

The cards were distributed in the papers that he delivered and his favorite one of them all was the one that featured the 19-year-old pitcher Babe Ruth and that was this very card.

Archibald had 15 cards in all, and these would all be passed down in the Davis family for generations, 107 years in fact during which time the cards were played with by children who were quite naturally unaware of what the future value of these baseball cards would eventually go on to become.

In the end, the family loaned the cards to Baltimore’s Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum in 1998 where they were put on display for the following 23 years until 2021 when they were privately sold off.

President of Robert Edward Auctions, Brian Dwyer who brokered the sale, said at the time: “Overall, the card was pretty well preserved; the fact that it was in the hands of the museum for the last twenty-plus years helped keep it in the condition that it’s in. It’s one of only ten that we know to exist.”.

For context, there are over 1,500 1952 Topps Mickey Mantles and 32 T206 Sweet Caporal Honus Wagner’s that have received a grade with card grader Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) alone.

Ruth needs no introduction

As you might expect, the Topps Mantle and the T206 Wagner have long histories of their own, with alternative copies rewriting the sports card record book over the recent years.

There is thought to be only one known copy in existence with the same grade and another known copy that is graded higher than these. However, these cards do not boast the same lore hence the value raised, which has been boosted even further thanks to this particular card’s exceptional rarity. However, as recently as the late 2000s, it was considered to be the world’s highest-value sports card.

Dwyer continued: “Ruth himself has mythology behind him; people don’t realize he was made a ward of St. Mary’s Industrial School at 7, under the custody and control of the priests of St. Mary’s Industrial School until Jack Dunn, then the owner and manager of the Orioles saw Ruth playing and became his legal guardian. With this card, you have Ruth having been a ward of the state for more than two-thirds of his life, not knowing much about the world and certainly not knowing what he was going to become. That’s what this card symbolizes.”

According to Dwyer, the Ruth rookie card’s existence wasn’t known until the 1980s which is quite remarkable given that, as Dwyer puts it, this a legendary player whose name “needs no introduction”.

“When we sold the record-setting Wagner at $6.6 million [in 2021], and we had people coming up to us even at the National Sports Collectors Convention asking, ‘Who is Honus Wagner and why should we care?'” Dwyer said. “Not a single person asks who Babe Ruth is, what his significance to the game is, to the hobby, or frankly, to American culture. He transcends everything. We think the Ruth is the most significant card and it has not had its moment in the sun yet, so to speak.”

Dwyer went on to say: “The last time one of these transacted in 2013 was $450,000”, adding that  “It’s easier to buy an NFL team in the last decade than it has been to buy one of these cards”.

Over A Decade

Communications Director at Robert Edward Auctions (REA) P.J. Kinsella added the following about the card:

“It could be well over a decade, possibly more, before we see another one of these come up to auction. It’s miraculous that this card exists. He was on the Orioles for a few months and, by the end of [1914], he was in Providence. That he’s encapsulated in this set, not knowing what he would become, it’s rather remarkable that he’s on this card. The time that in which they were able to get him was so minute.”

Remarkably, this is the same season that Jack Dunn would sell Ruth to the Boston Red Sox where he would go on to pitch the Providence Grays to the International League title that summer and the following year would go 18-8 as the ace in the pack for the big league Red Sox, one of only five on Boston’s staff to win more than 15 games.

The Ruth card was graded a 3 by card grader Sportscard Guaranty Corporation (SGC). The card’s $7.2 million price means that this is the third highest amount ever paid for a sports card after Honus Wagner card sold for $7.25 million and a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card that sold for $12.6 million in August 2022. These are the three most expensive sports cards ever and have all been graded by SGC.

Peter Fryers

Peter Fryers

Former bookmaker and journalist Pete has been writing in the online igaming space for the past decade and has recently branched out into the exciting world of sports card collecting which is currently enjoying a boom! He is also a big fan of Darts, Football, Rugby, Golf and Cricket among others, these days he prefers watching, writing and wagering over competing.

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