Babe Ruth Upsets Honus Wagner in Classic Baseball Card Slugfest

Rich Mueller@sportscollectorContributor IIIMay 25, 2013

1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth
1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth

The sports memorabilia world is still buzzing over an auction result that can rightly be considered an upset. For the first time ever, a 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card sold for more money than the famed T206 Honus Wagner. 

It happened at Robert Edward Auctions (REA), where one of only about 10 known examples of the Ruth card sold for a record price of $450,300. That was nearly $48,000 more than a 1909 T206 Wagner, which was offered in the same grade and was once the subject of an FBI “card hunt” after it was stolen from a restaurant display in the 1990s.

The red-bordered Ruth card shows a young Babe as a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles not long after he was signed out of St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. It was apparently issued as part of a set created as a promotion for the newspaper. A Ruth rookie graded PSA 2 (Good) sold privately last year for an amount that netted the seller a tidy profit over just five years. The transactions illustrate the explosive growth of the 99-year-old card over the past several years. 

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Babe Ruth rookie card outsells T206 Wagner, propelling $10 million in sales in weekend auction action: http://t.co/I19w37IVzx

The T206 Wagner remains the most recognizable baseball card ever made, but with several dozen known to exist, it isn’t as rare as the Ruth.

The two cards were among several lots that brought record prices in the REA auction, which traditionally attracts some of the most avid and determined baseball memorabilia collectors in the world.

The selling prices all included an 18.5 percent buyer’s premium. There were hundreds of rare individual cards, sets and pieces of memorabilia dating back to the 19th century offered by REA, which specializes in rare baseball memorabilia.

The Wagner card carries quite a story. It was once owned by actor Charlie Sheen and subsequently stolen from a New York City restaurant in the 1990s; it also set a new record for its PSA 1 grade. Most Wagner cards have been profitable investments over the years.

Also selling in the auction was one of only two 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle cards graded PSA 8.5 (NM/MT+) which totaled $272,550. The last 8.5 Mantle had sold at auction for about $118,000 less just three years ago. High grade Mantle cards from what was the first major set ever issued by Topps are in high demand by advanced collectors. PSA graded cards (and those authenticated by competitors SGC and Beckett) utilize a numeric grading scale to rate the condition of cards, which are then encapsulated and labeled.

Joe Jackson baseball cards also continue to attract strong interest. Shoeless Joe’s 1910 Old Mill tobacco card, which pictured the slender outfielder as a New Orleans minor leaguer, is his most sought after. The REA auction included one graded SGC 30 (Good), which sold for $118,500. 

Some memorabilia also required six figure winning bids. A PSA/DNA 8.5-graded ball signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig realized $343,650, a new record price for a signed baseball. Most collectors prefer their autographed baseballs to carry a single signature but Ruth-Gehrig would be an example of the exception to that rule.

A 1963 Sandy Koufax game-worn Dodgers jersey in outstanding condition rocketed to $201,450 in the auction, the most ever paid for a Koufax jersey.

In all, more than 1,800 lots were sold in the auction for a total of $10,177,000.


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