He’s recession proof. For collectors, investors and baseball historians, his name attached to anything associated with his playing or coaching days is golden. Two of his first-ever baseball cards broke records this month. His first real big league card continues to climb in value. The hobby is looking for a potential bargain amid the high dollar avalanche of Babe Ruth cards and memorabilia but it has to be something established, yet unique. Rare to start with and even rarer in high grade form. The 1919-1921 W514 Babe Ruth fits the bill as a vintage baseball card sleeper.
Designed to be sold as part of a multi-player strip, “W” cards or ‘strip cards’ were issued with caramel or candy purchases in the first quarter of the 20th century. Well known by avid collectors of vintage cards, they haven’t been as popular as other issues. The illustrations of the players leave something to be desired. The Babe wears a pinkish cap and red sleeves on this card. Yet buyers can’t be choosers when it comes to scarcity– or the Babe– and in an era when there wasn’t much beauty in baseball cards as a whole, it might be time to look past the aesthetics and consider the other attributes of these little pieces of history.
The exact dates the W514 cards were available, but it’s believed they were issued only during the aforementioned three-year period. It’s one of the few sets that feature both Ruth and Joe Jackson. The Ruth card is one of the first –if not the first–to depict him as a Yankee, adding to its significance.
Also appealing is that on the bottom of the card’s face is the bold label that puts the Babe on an early pedastal: “Home Run King”. It’s a unique designation and illustrates that just a few years into his Yankee career, Ruth’s long ball prowess was worthy of special treatment. In 1919 he won his first solo batting title by hitting 29 homers. The next year, he blasted what was then a headline-making 54, giving credence that the card was likely created in 1920 or ’21. The wording helps give the card a serious character boost–or should.
Collectors and investors have woken up to the fact that the 1914 Baltimore Sun Babe Ruth rookie card was printed in lesser quantities than the T206 Honus Wagner or many of the other ultra-scarce cards of the pre-War era. That’s why investors have recently doubled their money in just a few years and why others haven’t been afraid to invest again.
The W514 Ruth isn’t nearly as scarce. It’s not going to challenge either one of those cards in terms of value. Yet the number of high grade examples that exist is extremely small. Of the 73 different times PSA or SGC has graded one, just three have reached the near mint ‘7’ level. There is only one nm/mt ‘8’ and no 9’s or 10s on the combined reports. Thirty-five of those 73 total examples have been graded ‘A’ for ‘Authentic’…the lowest end of the grading scale. PSA’s Population Report shows just three W514 Ruth cards above a ‘4’. SGC has graded two ex/nm ’60’ and two nm ’84’.
Despite those numbers, the PSA 8 sold for a rather pedestrian $15,000 when it came up for bid in August, according to eBay data. Two ‘Authentic’ examples of the W514 Babe Ruth sold; one for $504 and another for just $383. A PSA 1 brought $399. Room for growth? It may be a bit slow in coming, but the answer would seem obvious.