Highest Selling Ruth Card of All-Time

1914 Ruth RC Sells for Record Amount

Date: Dec 5, 2023
Author: Greg Bates, Senior Writer
Topics: 1914 Baltimore News Rookie Card, Babe Ruth, Baltimore, Baltimore Orioles, Baseball, Greg Bates, honus wagner, Industry News, MLB, Orioles, Rookie Cards
Length: 1324 Words
Reading Time: ~7 Minutes

Ever since his playing days, Babe Ruth has been larger than life.

Now, The Bambino has one of the highest-selling cards of all time to match his iconic status. Late Sunday night, Ruth’s extremely rare 1914 Baltimore News rookie card sold for $7.2 million through Robert Edward Auctions (REA).

“I think it’s a tremendous number,” REA President Brian Dwyer told Fanatics Collectibles. “The third position all time, highest selling Ruth item ever. We’re pleased; we’re excited. The overall auction had record engagement. We’re waking up this morning feeling pretty good about how it all worked out.”

The Ruth card — the third-highest price ever realized for a trading card — is graded an SGC 3. That’s the second-highest grade behind a PSA 4.

Babe Ruth Rookie Card
Babe Ruth Rookie Card

Photo courtesy of Robert Edward Auctions

There are only 10 known examples of this Ruth card. When the card came out 109 years ago, it was released in red and blue variations — with this one being a red.

With such a low population, it stands to reason that the card is in high demand. And it doesn’t come up at auction very often.

The aforementioned PSA 4 sold for $243,600 in 2005. A PSA 1 went for $450,300 in 2013.

“We were in a position where we had been more than 10 years removed from the last time one of these sold,” Dwyer said. “That price that was realized 10 years ago was a data point, but it was not anywhere near what we knew the card was worth today. I think everybody was flying a little blind. We had some comparisons that we could make with respect to T206 Wagner pricing over the last several years. But all in all, it’s a good result.”

Prior to the start of the auction, Dwyer and his staff thought the Ruth card could break the $10 million barrier. However, it was hard to speculate.

“We thought it was a wide range,” Dwyer said. “The way that we had been positioning it was upwards of $10 million or more, because we thought it was significant enough to challenge the record. We thought there’d been enough pent-up demand, because it had been more than a decade that there’d be a lot of interested bidders.”

The card garnered 15 different bids and hit $7.2 million with the buyer’s premium right before the auction went to extended bidding. The price stayed put during the three-hour window of extended bidding.

The uncertainty of where the final hammer price would be kept collectors on their heels.

“We were kind of like everybody else, and that’s why we play the game,” Dwyer said. “We knew it was going to be a big number at $7.2. Everybody would like more money, no matter what you’re selling. If it’s a $100 card, you’d always like a little bit more. But it’s a tremendous result.”

REA is not releasing the name or location of the buyer. Dwyer said a private collector purchased the card.

Dwyer believes the buyer wanted the card because a Ruth rookie might never come up for auction again since it’s so rare.

“I think it was ultimately significance and opportunity,” Dwyer said. “I think those two elements combined to make it the right decision. Again, I go back to the fact that 2013 was the last time you could have bought one of these at auction. So when the opportunity comes around, you have to strike.”

Photo courtesy of Robert Edward Auctions

Another SGC masterpiece

The highest-selling sports card of all time is a Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps in an SGC 9.5. It sold for $12.6 million through Heritage Auctions in late August 2022. A T206 Honus Wagner graded SGC 2 went for $7.25 million in a private sale through Goldin in early August 2022. After the Ruth card, coming in fourth place on the list, is another Wagner SGC 3 that sold for $6.6 million in 2021 by REA.

Between those four cards, they have sold for a combined $33.65 million.

Sportscard Guaranty Corporation (SGC) now has the distinct honor of being the company that has graded the four top-selling cards in the history of the hobby.

“SGC has been building trust with the card-collecting community for over 25 years. We are proud to have been the grader of the top four highest-selling trading cards of all time,” SGC President Peter Steinberg said. “As our brand has grown exponentially in recent years, it is incredible to see the trust that the collecting community has in SGC grow even stronger as well.”

SGC graded the Ruth card in May 2021, at one of the peak moments for the industry during the pandemic.

Steinberg knows how special and important the Ruth card is to the hobby.

“At the time of the card’s release, no one could have imagined that the 19-year-old pitcher pictured on the front of it would go on to be one of the most notable figures in American history,” Steinberg said. “This card predates all of Babe Ruth’s contributions to the game of baseball and embodies the best of what the card-collecting hobby can offer. It is history, it is art, and it tells a story in and of itself.”

Stacked with provenance

The provenance behind the Ruth rookie card is astonishing.

Baltimore News released cards of players on the Baltimore Orioles‘ 1914 roster. The front of the card features the player, and the back has the team’s season schedule.

A fresh-faced 19-year-old named Babe Ruth was on that squad.

Baltimore News paperboy Archibald Davis, just 16 at the time, was a collector of his hometown team. The card was passed down for generations through his family for over a century without having any significant idea of the item’s value. The card was displayed at the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum in Baltimore from 1998 to 2021. Two years ago, the card was sold privately.

Babe Ruth Rookie Card

Photo courtesy of Robert Edward Auctions

“The provenance of how the card came to survive was incredible, but then when you just think about it in the context of Ruth’s life and Ruth’s career,” Dwyer said. “He’s 19 years old in this card. He is fresh out of Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, where he had been for a dozen years, basically as a ward of the state. This is the dawn, the genesis; this is the origin of Babe Ruth, who needs no introduction. It’s just the magnitude of the card, the story, the provenance. It really all just combines on this card, in our opinion.”

Dwyer said the story attached to this specific card plays a significant role in the final price tag. It’s an added “cool factor,” Dwyer noted.

The card is now the highest-selling Ruth item of all time. That’s remarkable considering The Babe’s place in American culture and baseball’s history.

This sale could mean big things for Ruth memorabilia in the future.

“I think he’s always been at the forefront of market pricing and market awareness,” Dwyer said. “I think that, certainly, a price like this could have some trickle-down effect on other collectibles related to him. Babe Ruth didn’t sneak by anybody; nobody is just becoming aware of him or his significance as a result of this sale. I think it just reinforces how important and transcendent he is.”

With another multimillion-dollar sale since COVID-19 jumpstarted the industry, it shows that the hobby is in a tremendous place, noted Dwyer.

“There was a ton of coverage, mainstream and hobby, about this card, and I think anytime you can shine a light on the industry that we all love, and it’s a positive light, it’s very special,” Dwyer said. “For us, we’re encouraged by the result of the auction. But we’re also encouraged by the hundreds of new bidders that we signed up and people who were exploring the hobby for the first time. Maybe 2024 will bring something else significant to the forefront of the auction world; we don’t know. But for now, we’ll bask in this sale.”

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