Babe Ruth’s "rookie card" is in the 1914 Baltimore News minor league set. Now, a new discovery of an Orioles’ team card from the same set–one that also features the Babe– has surfaced. It could be worth a small fortune.
A previously unknown 1914 Baltimore Orioles baseball team card featuring a young Babe Ruth has been discovered in the estate of a Rhode Island man.
The card was issued by the Baltimore News while Ruth was playing in the International League, not long after he signed a professional contract. It is slated to be sold next spring along with another card featuring Ruth from the same set, by Robert Edward Auctions, based in Watchung, New Jersey.
“It’s one of the most significant new card discoveries in the history of collecting,” President Rob Lifson said. “It is very rare to find any previously undiscovered baseball card of such interest and extraordinary significance that it could leave even the most advanced and knowledgeable collectors in the field stunned.”
Placing a value on the item is difficult, accordiing to Lifson, because it is the only known example of it’s kind.
The oversized card presents a photographic image of the 1914 Orioles in a traditional team pose. The white lettering in the foreground reads: "Compliments of Emanuel Daniel, Sporting Editor, ‘Baltimore News’." Emanuel Daniels, as suggested by the obverse text, was, indeed, the Sporting Editor of The Baltimore News in 1914. The photographer’s name also appears in small type in the foreground ("Leopold, Photo"). It is very well known that in 1914 The Baltimore News issued a set of individual player cards of the Orioles’ better players. The dimensions are 4.5 x 6.5 inches.
In the newly discovered team photo card, Ruth appears standing in the upper left of the back row. Also included among the players shown are Ernie Shore and Ben Egan, who along with Ruth, on July 10, 1914 were sold to the Boston Red Sox by Baltimore Orioles’ owner Jack Dunn for a reported $25,000. When the Federal League established a major league team in Baltimore in 1914, directly across the street from the minor league Orioles, the competition hurt Orioles’ attendance significantly. Some games drew as few as fifty fans in the stands. To avoid bankruptcy, Dunn was forced to sell his best players to Red Sox owner Joseph Lannin.
To the best of Lifson’s knowledge, even the image itself presented on the newly discovered card has never been seen before. He showed the card to numerous Ruth scholars who have also noted that this is the first time they have ever even seen a traditional team photo of Ruth with Baltimore.
Incredibly, this card was found along with a 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card, only the tenth example ever discovered from the rare regional set. That individual Ruth card, considered Ruth’s “rookie” card is often considered to be the single most important baseball card in the world. This card features Ruth as an unknown minor league rookie straight out of St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.
"When we were first contacted about the 1914 Ruth rookie card, we were naturally very excited. There is no card we’d rather be called on than a Babe Ruth rookie card" said Lifson. "It was almost as an afterthought that the family happened to mention the 1914 Baltimore News team card. We thought it sounded, well, beyond belief, and fully expected this dream card to be something completely different than what was described to us on the phone. When the image of the card arrived by email, our jaws dropped. This was a card collecting miracle. We’re really not sure how much more exciting a newly discovered card could possibly be."
Lifson agreed to sell the cards on consignment for the family and picked them up October 14th. “We wanted to pick a date when the entire family could be there,” he told SportsCollectorsDaily.com. “They’re very excited.”
It isn’t known how the team photo card that includes Ruth was issued. It is generally believed that the individual player cards in the set were distributed by paper boys and given away at newsstands. It is likely that the team card was distributed in a similar manner.
The back of each card features the "At Home" and "Abroad" schedules of the team and therefore, Lifson believes, had a utility that may have encouraged their being saved more than the team cards. It is also possible that the team card was issued in a different manner, or in far lesser numbers (which would be consistent with its much more costly and elaborate quality of manufacture). The back is blank. The dimensions are 4.5 x 6.5 inches. The corners of the card have been clipped and Lifson indicated it will enter the auction as having been graded as “Authentic” by PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator), with no grade assigned because of the clipped corners. It is otherwise in Excellent to Mint condition.
The cards were saved for decades by a Providence, Road Island-area family. The grandfather of the consignors was a collector who held a modest sampling of cards from several eras, ranging from a few 1910 era tobacco cards to 1970s TCMA collector issues, and a little bit of everything in-between. From his conversations with the family, Lifson learned the gentleman was a somewhat casual collector, not part of the organized hobby, simply collecting on his own for his own personal enjoyment. Though these cards were the prizes of his collection, their great significance to the card collecting world was unknown to him. The Babe Ruth rookie card was so rare during his collecting days that it was not yet formally documented, checklisted or even known to exist in the organized hobby.
The owner apparently had some connection to the Baltimore area and was a great fan of Babe Ruth. When the grandfather passed away in 1985, the family put his cards away. The collection did not see the light of day until 2004, when a family member brought the Ruth card into a convention to see what it might be worth. He was offered $8000 in cash by a dealer. Though the offer was very tempting, the family fortunately decided to hold off on selling at that time, and the card went back into storage.
Two years later, when a family member happened to hear about the sale of a similar card sold by Robert Edward Auctions at a much higher price level, the family contacted REA.
This isn’t the first time Lifson has handled the rare 1914 Ruth card. In 2004 his company offered the first-ever PSA-graded example with a minimum bid of $10,000. That card sold for $243,000 in Vg-Ex condition, instantly catapulting the Babe Ruth rookie to being the second most valuable card in the world, trailing only the T206 Honus Wagner. In 2006, Lifson offered a second 1914 Baltimore News Ruth, graded PSA 1 also with a reserve of $10,000. That example sold for $150,800.
The Rhode Island family’s 1914 Babe Ruth rookie card and the 1914 Baltimore News team card will be each have a minimum bid of $10,000.
Though this is the third example to be offered by Robert Edward Auctions in as many years, it would be a great mistake to assume that others will surface in the future with the same degree of frequency. "We have been very lucky when it comes to this card. Of the ten different examples of the Babe Ruth rookie card known to exist, over the years REA has handled the sale of six of them" reports Lifson. "Like the occasional Wagner that is found in an original collection of T206s, there is always the possibility of another Babe Ruth rookie being discovered, but we don’t know when, where, or if such a discovery will occur."
Check out original Babe Ruth cards on eBay here.