Babe Ruth is one of the most celebrated sports heroes of all-time. His home run record has been broken, but the “quality” of his record 714 homers is unrivaled. Most vintage baseball collectors want a piece of Babe Ruth in their collection. Sports card investors have also been handily rewarded in recent years if they bought Babe Ruth cards or signed baseballs any time prior to 2020.
There is a growing problem for collecting original Babe Ruth cards that investors and collectors alike have to grasp. Most of the Babe Ruth cards from the era of his playing years have reached prices that are high enough that most buyers are no longer able to afford an original vintage Ruth card. Fortunately, that statement is not entirely true.
Collectors Dashboard has been looking for “value” when it comes to Babe Ruth cards. The collectors now know that they are directly competing against investors in the hobby, and this has driven up the prices of Ruth cards even at the lower-end of the spectrum. It’s what stock market investors would refer to as “value stocks.”
Most of Babe Ruth’s prized 1933 Goudey cards, with 4 samples and a combined count of more than 4,600 graded cards by PSA alone, now fetch more than $10,000 per card.
Again, there are still many samples of Babe Ruth baseball cards that are still quite affordable for collectors who just have to have a vintage Babe Ruth card in their collection. This is not pertaining to those 1970s cards, but we have shown reference to some of the affordable Ruth cards that were issued in the 1960s, 1950s and some from the 1940s.
What defines “value” when it comes to original Babe Ruth? It turns out that some graded Babe Ruth cards can still be purchased for under $1,000 and some can still be purchased for closer to $500. These cards will most certainly not come with a PSA 9, SGC 9 nor BVG 9 grades. The good news is that some of the cards do not have to be train wrecks either.
Let’s get down to the Collectors Dashboard review of a list of affordable Babe Ruth cards that can still be purchased at reasonable prices of under $1,000.00 for a graded card.
Multiple 1920-s Era
The 1920s Strip cards and Hand Cut cards from 1920 to 1923 offer many choices of Babe Ruth. These are perhaps the most affordable of the available Babe Ruth cards from his superstar years. Their “value” is likely going to be very subjective from buyer to buyer over time. Many of these cards come in poor condition. Even the samples with stronger grades do not come with strong eye appeal. The paper quality is frequently not very strong. Perhaps the biggest deterrent for these cards is that the Babe Ruth drawings and images look to be about the same quality as a fourth-grade art school project. While many of these cards could be purchased for $500 or less in recent years, even these cards have risen to $1,000 and higher in the lower grades due to buyers wanting any piece of The Babe from when he was a player.
The 1928 Fro-Joy Babe Ruth series featured six different Ruth cards in black and white photos. This was a rare set that might have become much more valuable in time had these cards not been ruined by countless numbers of reprints over time. The cards measure 2-1/16″ x 4″ with captions on the card fronts and Fro-Joy advertising on the backs. A find of ~200 of these in the late 1970s has made the cards more available, although graders often reject these cards immediately from being able to be graded due to counterfeits and due to them being cut from a larger sheet. Some of these cards have begun selling for more than $1,000 each, but even in early 2021 you could still find graded Ruth samples for under $1,000.
1929 W.A. & A.C. Churchman
One Babe Ruth era card comes with a bit of controversy for collectors and investors alike. The 1929 W.A. & A.C. Churchman Sports and Games card was issued by the Imperial Tobacco Co. of Great Britain and Ireland. This is card #25 (of 25) in the set and it describes the history of baseball’s evolution on the back. It has strong eye appeal and is sized like a T206 that was sold with cigarettes. Where the controversy comes into play is that this card set is about the sports of the world. The card never actually mentions Babe Ruth nor any other player anywhere on the front and back. Still, any collector and baseball fan anywhere in the world would be able to identify that this is a painted image of Babe Ruth hitting a homer in a Yankees uniform.
At lower grades this card can still be purchased for under $1,000. The novelty of the card is likely to keep prices very subjective over time, but here are two auction sales: February 2021 PSA 2.5 sold for $660.00 at auction and in January of 2021 a PSA 5 sample sold for $715.60 at auction. A PSA 8 sample of this “Ruth card” sold for $4,680.00 in April of 2021, but two other sales in auctions were shown to be a PSA 7 for $1,825.00 in April 2021 and a PSA 5 for $1,425.00 in March 2021.
1931 Josetti Tobacco
The 1931 Josetti Tobacco #151 Babe Ruth card features babe with actor and comedian Harold Lloyd. The card is a crisp and clear black and white photo of the two men wearing coats and ties. The back if the card is printed in German with the Josetti factory print showing Berlin. Recent sales have been seen on PWCC, eBay and Heritage in 2020 and 2021 for under $500, and the highest PSA 8 graded sample sold in July of 2019 for just $601 via Mile High Card.
The 1932 Sanella Margarine
The 1932 Sanella Margarine card featuring Babe Ruth is a multi-sport card set and his painted pose shows Ruth having just clobbered a homer at a side angle. This card was also issued in Germany and is printed on thin stock. According to PSA, there are 3 type variations of the Sanella Margarine Ruth cards and there are more than 1,400 total samples that have been graded by PSA alone. Graded samples with PSA 4 designations could be purchased for under $500 in the first half of 2020, and those same PSA 4 cards have sold for $500 to $600 in auctions late in 2020 and early in 2021. Buyers have smartened up to this “value” though – a PSA 2 sold for $935 in PWCC’s March 15, 2021 auction a PSA 4 (also via PWCC) sold for $989.98 in a February 26, 2021 auction.
Moving Into the 1940s, 50s and 60s…
Collectors and investors alike both understand that the real value lies in the Ruth cards from when he was playing baseball. Some post-career cards still offer value and they are easily attainable. The 1948 Leaf Babe Ruth had been affordable at one point, but it is now a sought after card and PWCC had a PSA 7 sample sell at auction in February 2021 for $19,601.00 after 30 bids.
Whether investing or collecting vintage Babe Ruth cards, there are pitfalls in the cards from the years after Ruth was playing or was alive — There are generally far more graded cards than the Ruth cards from pre-1920 to the 1930s. Every collector and investor knows to get a genuine Ruth-era card graded regardless of the condition.
The Babe Ruth cards from the 1960s are very common and there are likely an exponential number of these cards which are ungraded. The reason here is that many collectors and investors alike simply do not value these enough to spend the money to get them graded, and that was true even before the cost of grading went up and before the grading demand crunch of 2021.
Here are some of those Ruth examples from the 1940s and 1950s with some recent auction prices realized by PWCC, eBay and from PSA:
1948 Swell BABE RUTH STORY (Calling the shot!) #15 SGC 7 sold for $113.48 in March 2021.
1948 Swell BABE RUTH STORY #24 SGC 7 sold for $76.98 in March 2021.
1952 Topps Look ‘N See BABE RUTH #15 PSA 7 sold for $830.00 in March 2021.
The 1960s Babe Ruth cards are very affordable and can be found at low prices for lower grades. Here is how some of the mid-grade and high-grade samples have sold recently:
1961 Fleer BABE RUTH #75 PSA 8 NM-MT sold for $435.00 in March 2021.
1961 Golden Press BABE RUTH #3 PSA 9 MINT sold for $458.00 in March 2021
1961 Nu-Card Scoops “BABE RUTH HITS 3 HOMERS IN A SERIES GAME” #455 PSA 9 Sold for $176.50 in March 2021.
1962 Topps BABE RUTH GREATEST SPORTS HERO, GREEN TINT #143 PSA 9 sold for $444.44 in March 2021.
1962 Topps LOU GEHRIG & BABE RUTH #140 PSA 4 sold for $66.00 in March 2021.
Collectors and investors alike recognize the value and appreciation of the original Babe Ruth cards. Here is at least some proof that you still don’t have to break the bank to buy a vintage Babe Ruth card. How long these cards remain bargains may depend on how high the top cards sell for in the years ahead.