This week, a man was reported to have possibly found a rare Babe Ruth E121 Shotwell baseball card. If real, the card would be quite a find.
The story has been appearing on newscasts in Fresno and elsewhere. Part of the reason for that is because Dale Ball of Visalia, Calif. says he purchased the card at Action Sports Cards and Coin in Sparks, NV for the staggering price of only $2. The price was so low because, according to Ball, the dealer could not find any record of it and thought it was fake.
It makes for a good story, but…
Shotwell Snacks Make for Tough Backs
Printed in the early 1920s, the cards are a variation of the E121 American Caramel and W575-1 blank-backed cards. Instead of having the American Caramel back, these cards have an advertising back for the Shotwell Manufacturing Company, which was based in Brooklyn and Chicago. As stated on the backs of those cards, they were snack and candy manufacturers.
The Shotwell name may be familiar to collectors of early football cards. They not only distributed these baseball cards, but they also printed a set of 1926 football cards featuring Red Grange. Compared to ‘regular’ E121 American Caramel cards, the Shotwell baseball cards are extremely rare. While thousands of E121 American Caramel and W575 cards are known, PSA and SGC have graded a total of only four Shotwell cards. One Ruth, a PSA 1.5 is among that group.
How much could the card be worth if authentic? It’s difficult to say in this case because of the scarcity. One person, Ball himself, has already put a price tag on it. “I told him my family’s welfare depends on it. Bidding starts at $2 million,” he said.
That $2 million price tag, even if the card was real, is almost certainly unrealistic. The card would be very rare, but rarity is not the only indicator in a card’s value. If it was, the famous Honus Wagner T206 card would not be the most valuable card in the world. But, regardless, it would be a very valuable card, if authentic.
Those last two words, ‘if authentic’ are the key here.
Fakes Can Be ‘Crafty’
There was already quite a bit of questions as to the card’s authenticity and a Net54 collector recently has pointed out some evidence that may suggest the card was printed from the original.
Simply put, finds like these should always be taken with a large grain of salt. Not only are Shotwell cards rare in general, stumbling upon what is likely the most expensive card in the set would just defy almost any reasonable odds.
The counter to that, I suppose, is that a card featuring Babe Ruth would have been treasured by collectors and, for that reason, would be more likely to survive these many decades. Still, finding a card like this in a pawn shop is almost an unreal story. And finding one in what appears to be immaculate condition makes the odds even greater.
If it’s a fake, it’s not the worst one ever created and E121s with Shotwell backs haven’t been reprinted in quantity. As we know from things such as the Lucky 7 Ty Cobb find, major discoveries do in fact happen. Sometimes, all it takes is a stroke of luck to uncover a valuable gem. Several years ago, an antique store just a few miles from this “find” surrendered an authentic 1869 Peck & Snyder card. Purchased for a few dollars, it sold for more than $75,000.
But until any high-dollar card found in such a manner is graded and authenticated by a reputable company like PSA, SGC, or Beckett, its value is about the price Ball paid for it: two bucks.