Heritage is gearing up for its big summer auction and one of the headliners is a truly special card. Included in the company’s July 18-19 Summer Sports Card Catalog Auction is an incredibly rare Babe Ruth 1933 Butter Cream card.
About the 1933 Butter Cream Set
While it is a later pre-war issue, the 1933 Butter Cream cards are extremely rare in any condition. Categorized as R306 in Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog, you rarely see them pop up for sale in any shape.
The cards, if you are unfamiliar with them, have a distinctive look. They not only used black and white images, which went against the grain from most of the other colorful sets of the same time period, but the shape of them was also a bit odd. Measuring approximately 1 1/4″ wide x 3 5/8″ tall, these have more of a bookmark appearance than they do a traditional trading card. At first glance, some collectors may be inclined to think they were merely trimmed photographs when viewed only from the front.
The backs are equally interesting. Those included some brief vitals but their primary function was to offer a contest. A player’s batting average was included on the back and a collector had to guess that player’s average through either September 1 or October 1 (two different backs were printed), telling us they would have been printed before then. The collector then printed his/her name and address before sending the card to the Butter Cream Confectionery Corporation in New Jersey — presumably to be entered for a prize. If the cards were not returned to collectors, that would have contributed to their scarcity.
A total of 30 cards are in the rare set. The Ruth, graded PSA 5, is the headline here but the issue includes many notable players, including Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Al Simmons, and Hack Wilson, among others. Among the notable snubs was Lou Gehrig but the set is somewhat of a star-studded one. More than half of the players being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Babe Ruth Card A True Rarity
To date, only a few of the Ruth cards are known. Ruth, in fact, was not even discovered as a checklisted card until the late 1980s, according to Heritage’s account.
All of the cards in the set are tough to come by and Ruth is certainly no exception. To date, only five have been graded in PSA’s population report. That is on par with most other cards in the set. Similarly, SGC and Beckett have not graded many of these cards, either.
However, given that star cards are typically the ones that are graded more, that seems to place the rarity of the Ruth card on another level compared to the others in the set. No one else in the set boasts Ruth’s star power and even many of the more notable Hall of Famers have a few more cards graded than the Bambino.
Finally, the grade of the card is notable, too. As a PSA 5, it is one of only two known examples in that grade and no higher-graded Ruth card exists. Finding any high-graded Butter Cream card, in fact, is a bit of a challenge. Of the 184 graded by PSA to date, only 32 cards have earned higher grades without qualifiers.
A Six-Figure Card
So how much will the card go for? Heritage has placed a whopping estimate of $200,000+ on it.
Does that sound like a lot for a Babe Ruth card printed near the end of his career? You bet. After all, even the iconic 1933 Goudey cards wouldn’t come anywhere close to that figure. As a point of comparison, PSA 5s of Ruth’s Goudey cards are more in the $10,000 wheel house.
That said, the rarity of the 1933 Butter Cream issue doesn’t make that number entirely laughable. For some context, a low-grade PSA 1 card (with an admittedly strong front but with significant back damage) sold for more than $22,000 nearly a decade ago.
But what about similar conditioned cards? Well, the Butter Cream is kind of in a league of its own there due to the rarity. But a PSA 4 sold at auction for $111,625. That’s a far cry from the $200,000 estimate for this Ruth card. However, that auction was way back in 2008. Most Ruth cards have risen in value (some, dramatically) since then.