The announcement that a 1914 Baltimore News baseball card of Babe Ruth sold for a record-breaking price is intriguing, but so is the back story behind the card.
Collectable, the fractional shares platform, announced the sale of the Ruth card to a private collector on Wednesday. Collectable, which has valued the first card depicting the Bambino at “north of $6 million,” announced in a news release that it will be offering shares of the card to the public at $3 per share.
Ezra Levine, the CEO of Collectable, called it a “seismic moment for the sports collectibles industry.”
The cards were distributed locally as inserts in issues of the Baltimore News during the 1914 season.
The terms of the agreement and the identity of the buyer were not revealed. However, the Maryland Daily Record reported that the previous owner, Geraldine Frey Davis, has a loan agreement with the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore that requires the card stays at the museum, which is housed in a rowhouse near Camden Yards, through at least March 2023.
The card had never been graded until last month when it received a 3 (very good) from SGC. It is now one of two 1914 Ruth cards graded SGC 3; the other card last sold in 2008 through Robert Edward Auctions for $517,000. The last one offered at auction was a PSA 1 that sold for $450,300 in 2013.
According to the Daily Record, the card’s original owner was Archibald Arnold Davis, who was a newspaper boy for the Baltimore News during the 1910s. Davis died at the age of 90 on Sept. 30, 1988; according to a 1998 article by The Baltimore Sun, the card was part of Archibald Davis’ 394-card collection that was in the possession of his son, Richard Wilson Davis.
The younger Davis had owned the collection since 1952. He told The Sun that he used to play with the cards as a child. Richard Davis added that his two sons used to pitch the old Orioles cards against a wall.
While he knew he had some vintage cards, Davis confessed to The Sun that “I didn’t know what I was sitting on.”
In July 1998, Richard Davis, a Baltimore native and retired commercial printer, loaned the Babe Ruth Museum his collection, which included T206 tobacco cards of Ty Cobb and John “Home Run” Baker, The Sun reported. The collection, which was in an old shoebox, had 15 Baltimore News cards featuring players from Baltimore’s International League and Federal League squads.
Ruth was one of the 15 cards.
Richard Davis had read a newspaper story in 1996 about a Ruth card on display at the Babe Ruth Museum. Certain that he had seen the card before, he went to his basement and pulled one out of the shoebox.
“I quickly ran that up and put it in a safe deposit box,” Davis told The Sun.
The value of Richard Davis’ Baltimore News cards was estimated at $75,000 in 1998, “and that’s very conservative,” Baltimore banker and collector Bill Kulick, who conducted the appraisal, told the newspaper at the time.
That was then. The cards’ value, particularly the Ruth, has skyrocketed since.
Richard Davis died on Feb. 14, 2001, at the age of 76. Since then, his widow, Geraldine Davis, now in her 90s, has owned the card. Her son, Glenn Davis of Bethany Beach, Delaware, has had power of attorney over his mother’s affairs.
The legal squabbles over the card and collection began in March 2020. That is when attorneys for Richard Davis’ younger sister, Virginia Davis Mankiewicz, now 89, sued Glenn Davis and the Babe Ruth Museum.
In the lawsuit, Mankiewicz claimed that she had ownership over the cards because her father’s will stipulated that his estate “should be divided evenly” between her and her brother, the Daily Record reported. However, Archibald Davis’ will did not specifically reference the baseball cards, according to the newspaper.
After working its way through the Maryland courts, Judge John S. Nugent of the Baltimore City Circuit Court granted Glenn Davis’ motion for a summary judgment on Dec. 1, 2020, according to Maryland online court records.
Nugent ruled that Mankiewicz’s claims were “time-barred,” the Daily Record reported. She learned that her brother was claiming ownership of the Ruth card after reading a 1998 article in The Baltimore Sun but waited more than two decades before filing suit, the judge said. The statute of limitations in Maryland is three years.
Mankiewicz’s attorneys filed an appeal, but it was dismissed by the Court of Special Appeals on April 12, of this year, according to Maryland online court records. That cleared the way for the sale to go through and for Collectable to offer the fractional sales of the card.
According to Glenn Davis’ attorney, the lawsuit actually benefited his client. Richard Burch of Mudd, Harrison & Burch, a law firm in Towson, Maryland, told the Daily Record that the collection’s buyer originally made an offer of $1.5 million for the Ruth card in early 2020. The buyer offered a larger sum for the cards after the court case was settled, the newspaper reported.
“I don’t think I’ve ever told a client that being sued was a godsend in the form of millions of dollars,” Burch told the Daily Record. “I think that what happened is that the buyer wanted this card collection so badly that he effectively decided he was going to pay whatever it took to get this collection.”
Levine said honoring the agreement for the Ruth card to remain at the Babe Ruth Museum was the right thing to do. It also gives shareholders a chance to view the card in person. The card was back on display Wednesday.
“The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum celebrates and preserves the legacy of baseball’s greatest star, George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth,” Shawn Herne, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum, said in a news release. “This incredibly generous offer to exhibit Ruth’s 1914 Orioles’ rookie card enables the museum to offer visitors the unique opportunity to experience — up close and personal — the Mona Lisa of baseball cards, and to further appreciate Ruth’s continuing impact on the game, and on our society, as an American cultural icon.”
Herne’s views were echoed by Michael Gibbons, the museum’s historian and director emeritus.
“I think the (new) owner, if everything is kosher, would be looking for a longer-term display opportunity here,” Gibbons told the Daily Record. “I think he gets it like we get it: This is a good place for the Babe Ruth rookie card to be seen, because this is his museum.”