Baseball

You Can Still Buy Vintage Babe Ruth Cards for Under $1,000

Babe Ruth is one of the most celebrated sports heroes of all-time. George Herman Ruth’s home run record has been broken, but the “quality” of his record 714 homers is unrivaled. Outside of a Honus Wagner card, any vintage baseball collector would tell you they really want a playing era card of Babe Ruth in their collection. The big question is where any original babe Ruth cards from his playing years can be purchased for under $1,000.

To be specific, this would be the Babe Ruth cards from the late 1910s up to the 1930s cards. There were cards made in the late 1940s and on and off with some regularity into the 1970s that some collectors would still consider to be vintage cards. Still, when it comes to the importance of Babe Ruth, there are at least 20 reasons his demand will last decades.

Collectors Dashboard evaluates high-end collectibles as an alternative asset class. The reality is that the same capital that could have been invested into stocks or bonds is being used to buy high-end collectibles. Babe Ruth cards that cost in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars certainly rival stock and bond purchases.

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.  And with investors chasing the same exact assets for profits from Babe Ruth cards, it is no simple task to get a vintage Babe Ruth card under $1,000. Still, don’t fret just yet.

The reality is that Babe Ruth cards have exploded in price over the years. Sports card collectors and investors have been handily rewarded in recent years if they bought Babe Ruth cards or signed baseballs in the years before 2020. Some playing era cards of Babe Ruth can still be purchased under $1,000. Others will be “close to $1,000” enough that a vintage card buyer on a budget may simply stretch a bit above that $1,000 mark or may do a combination of cash and a trade-up with some other card from their collection.

Die-hard vintage baseball collectors who are on a budget owe many thanks to give to the 1933 Goudey set. Without that Babe Ruth cards would simply not be affordable based upon traditional supply and demand economic metrics that apply in an asset class.

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. And as noted earlier, this is not pertaining to 1950s, 1960s and 1970s cards even if we have shown references to some post-playing years.

What defines “value” when it comes to original Babe Ruth? The bad news is that these cards will most certainly not come with a PSA 9, SGC 9 nor BVG 9 grades from the 1920s and 1930s  that have been chased up by investors. The good news is that some of the cards do not have to be train wrecks either.

This is a rundown from Collectors Dashboard to help collectors seek and find affordable Babe Ruth cards that can still be purchased for under $1,000.00 or just over $1,000 for graded cards.

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, and if they are hand-cut strip cards they may only be eligible for “A” grades for being authentic.

A Babe Ruth 1921 W551 SGC “A” sold for $2,075.00 on eBay on 8/22/2021, just to prove that strip cards have risen up with other Ruth cards. There are many reprints that have showed up as well being sold as multiple strip cards, so having a trusted grading encapsulation should be preferred.

Most of the 1920s cards do not come with strong eye appeal even with stronger grades. The Roaring Twenties just hadn’t gone so far as to revere baseball card appearances. The paper quality is frequently not very strong. Perhaps the biggest deterrent for these 1920s cards is that the Babe Ruth drawings and images look to be about the same quality as a fourth-grade art school project.

Many of these cards could be purchased for $500 or less in recent years, but even the ugly cards have risen to where they sell for more than $1,000. Value buyers have purchased these lower grades just because they want a piece of the Babe from when he was a player.

1928 Fro-Joy

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, and 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 mid-to-lower grades this card can still be purchased for under $1,000. The novelty of this card is likely to keep prices very subjective over time. Two auction sales were seen: February 2021 PSA 2.5 sold for $660.00 at auction and in January of 2021 a PSA 5 example sold for $715.60 at auction. And to show the higher grades, a PSA 8 example 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. More recent eBay auction sales have been seen as follows:

  • $510.00 for a GMA 3.5 graded example after 32 bids on 9/10/2021
  • $605.00 for a KSA 5 after 3 bids on 9/7/2021
  • $853.00 crossed out as “Best offer accepted” for a PSA 5 on 9/1/2021
  • $416.00 for a PSA 3 after 22 bids on 7/24/2021

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, so it’s not a Ruth card in uniform nor playing. The back if the card is printed in German with the Josetti factory print showing Berlin.

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. More recently, there have been sales on eBay as follows:

  • $294.98 for a PSA 2 (7/12/2021)
  • $500.00 after 31 bids on 9/26/2021 for a crisp but ungraded example
  • A PSA 5 had been listed at $1,300 but sold as a “Best offer accepted” on 7/6/2021.

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 examples 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. eBay shows more recent sales for this 1932 Sanella card as follows:

  • 9/12/2021 at $396 for a SGC 1.5 grade
  • 9/5/2021 at $650.00 for a SGC 3 grade
  • 9/4/2021 at $1,226.00 for a BVG 6.5 grade
  • 8/8/2021 at $643.00 for a PSA 3 grade

The 1933 Goudey Ghost

Again, Babe Ruth card owners owe many thanks to the 1933 Goudey releases. We have given deep details about why this is, but the population of graded and attractive babe Ruth cards just wouldn’t be close enough to meeting the demand. Even the ugly cards that should be in low-demand would cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

Memory Lane Inc. set a record for a 1933 Goudey this summer with the sale of 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth (#53) fetching $4.2 million at auction. This and another coming auction have the bar set higher and higher for Ruth cards from his playing years.

Miscellaneous Ruth Sales Close to and Under the $1,000 Price Tag

There are many other Babe Ruth cards that are selling for near the $1,000 mark. There are also many of the modern relic cards close to that price tag, but they will be pieces of Ruth’s history rather than an actual card issued from his playing days.

These are listed by prices in descending order, and some notes directly from the listing title were used to show whether or not these were graded or have other asterisks that should be considered. These eBay results were as follows:

  • July 15, 2021 – 1927 W560 Babe Ruth SGC 4 at $1,191.52 after 35 bids.
  • August 28, 2021 – 1933 Babe Ruth GOUDEY PREMIUM R309-1 (LARGE) Ungraded at $1,153.76 after 26 bids.
  • September 15, 2021 – 1935 SCHUTTER JOHNSON #26 Babe Ruth “ungraded with heavy wear and tear” for $1,099.99 (sold as best offer).
  • August 18, 2021 – Babe Ruth SCHAPIRA BROS. & 1926 Candy Club Membership card (ungraded) at $1,025.00 after 55 bids.
  • August 29, 2021 – 1921 W551 Babe Ruth Hand Cut Strip Card (low grade and tears) at $1,005.00 after 17 bids.
  • September 12, 2021 – Babe Ruth 1926 W512 Hand Cut PSA “A-Authentic” at $846.00 after 52 bids.
  • July 11, 2021 – 1932 Bulgaria Sport Babe Ruth #256 SGC 7 at $754.00 after 28 bids.
  • July 4, 2021 – 1926 W512 BABE RUTH #6 SGC 20/1.5 at $746.99 after 37 bids.
  • August 9, 2021 – Babe Ruth 1920 W519 “Handcut Rookie Yankee Card” sold as ungraded but “100% AUTHENTIC” at $751.00 after 50 bids.

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. 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.

In 1948, Swell issued the “Babe Ruth Story” set. It is easy to find these cards for $500 and less, and some even under $100. While some from that set feature Ruth in uniform and playing, it will actually be William Bendix as Babe Ruth from the movie of that period. One card shows William Bendix with the real Babe Ruth signing a baseball.

Swell Bubble Gum also issued its Sport Thrills set in 1948 that featured many players past and present at that time. These cards can be even over $5,000 in higher grades, but eBay and other auction houses have seen many low to mid-grade cards sell for handily under $1,000 — and some for less than $500 over the summer of 2021.

The Babe Ruth cards from the 1960s and 1970s are very common. There is likely to be an exponentially higher number of these cards which are ungraded, with many collectors not wanting to pay the grading fees as the grading fee and shipping may cost more than the card. That was true even before the cost of grading went up and before the grading demand crunch of 2021.

Ruth in the 1950s

There is a 1951 Topps issue of Connie Mack’s All-Stars that features many of baseball greats. These are far from “real vintage Ruth cards” by any discerning collectors and investors, but they can command high prices if graded well. eBay as of this day had some offerings for cards missing the red flip tops and we included one with the red top to show the price disparity:

  • One was for $700.00 by Dean’s Cards and another was $599.99 with an SGC “A” encapsulation.
  • A higher PSA 5 grade with the red top was offered for $5,500 in a Buy it now offering.
  • Dean’s also had a PSA 2 with the top for $2,910 in a Buy It Now offering./

The 1952 Topps Look ‘N See BABE RUTH #15 is a card that some collectors have purchased so they have something close to a real Ruth card. A PSA 7 sold for $830.00 in March 2021, and a PSA 4 sold on eBay for $379.00 on September 30, 2021. Even the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams tribute set has a #2 card of “Ted’s Idol” with the hitting greats holding the same bat. This card can easily be purchased for close to $100.

The 1960s Ruth Cards

The 1960s Babe Ruth cards are very affordable and can be found at low prices for lower grades. Any Babe Ruth buyer that is buying for an investment is likely better to chase one of the lower quality cards from when Ruth was playing than hoping Babe Ruth’s allure ever comes to these cards. Again, some of these will have a phantom card population that is much higher because collectors know not to waste their money paying for grading fees on these cards. 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, and eBay had a PSA 8 sell for $449 as recently as September 24, 2021.
  • 1961 Golden Press BABE RUTH #3 PSA 9 MINT sold for $458.00 in March 2021, but an entire 33-card set including the Ruth card sold for $450 (or best offer, so likely lower) on eBay on June 30, 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. And more recently, this card sold on September 7, 2021 on eBay at $380.00 for a PSA 8 example.
  • The 1962 Dickson Orde & Co. cards feature a Babe Ruth from behind (batting) and even the high grades here have recently sold for under $500 despite having a very population in the higher grades.

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.

 

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