When it comes to sports cards and memorabilia, Babe Ruth is the undisputed king of collectibles. Whether it’s the recent headline-making $5.6 million Yankees jersey, which now holds the record for most valuable piece of memorabilia ever sold, or his 1916 Sporting News rookie card, which routinely hammers into the six figures when up for auction, Ruth items capture the attention of collectors and command big bucks from their bank accounts. Two items up for sale later this month may do much of the same as collectors compete to own two unique pieces missing from every Babe Ruth collection.
In its upcoming catalog, Robert Edward Auctions will offer in their two Ruth Goudey cards that are one-of-a-kind and shed light onto the production process of one of the hobby’s most popular sets. Offered as individual lots will be the patent card submitted to the United States Copyright Office for card #181 as well as the blue-and-white color-process proof card for cards #53 and #149, which share the same image. Both cards have been in a private collection for several years until being consigned to REA’s Summer Auction, set to open next week.
Advanced collectors may be familiar with the concept of the patent card as examples have surfaced throughout the years since they were originally introduced into the hobby in 1969 as part of a significant Goudey find that included many of Goudey’s original files. The patent cards were used in Goudey’s recording and copyrighting of their works, with one copy retained by the company and the other held by the government. (The copyright office’s files relating to Goudey have since been destroyed.)
Naturally, any example relating to one of the four Ruth cards is considered to be the cream of the crop.
Ruth’s famous portrait is set against a green background, at first looking exactly like any number of the countless #181 Goudeys offered for sale.
Flip the card over and its significance is immediately apparent, with a stamped date visible at top and a registration number visible at the bottom.
The patent card is accompanied by the registration card submitted by the Goudey Gum Company to the United States Copyright Office (both certified by PSA) listing all the specifics about the card, from the name of the company, the company’s city of headquarters, the name and team of the player on the respective card, the author and/or illustrator of the card, the card number, three dates (date of publication, date copies received, and date affidavit received) and the card’s unique registration number (which was stamped onto the card after the successful filing).
Public sales data is scarce for patent cards, but two Ruth cards, including the #181, have been offered for sale at auction within the last decade. Prices realized were $33,460 for the #181 card and $38,837.50 for the #144 card. The market has turned upwards for Ruth items since then and it’s likely the card will surpass those earlier prices.
Alongside the patent card will be a unique color-process proof card that illustrates the earliest stages of creation for two of the four iconic Goudey Ruth cards. The offered card captures the blue-and-white print stage, one of several needed to produce a final-issue card. Depicting Ruth in a classic swinging pose, the image was used for both cards #53 and #149, which were later distinguishable by their background colors.
Proof cards for modern cards have become a very passionately collected area of the hobby, but collectors are not often presented with the opportunity to see, or consider owning, proof cards from earlier and historic sets.
Originally produced in 24-card sheets during the printing process, the offered proof card fortuitously found itself on a salvaged proof sheet spared from the refuse by Goudey workers. Only a handful of sheets from any stage of the printing process have survived in the nearly nine decades since production. Carefully cut from a sheet, the proof card displays beautifully with a blank back. Authenticated by SGC, it is the only Goudey proof card featuring Babe Ruth known to exist.
“Any time we can offer a significant Babe Ruth piece, we’re thrilled, but the opportunity to offer both of these unique cards relating to such an important set is truly special,” said REA President Brian Dwyer. It would not surprise him if the two cards ended up reunited in the next collection when the auction ends. “I would want to keep them together, and I have no doubt that Ruth collectors will fight hard to own these two cards.” While Dwyer does not know what the cards will ultimately sell for, he is quick to offer a comparison. “All you have to do is look and see what Goudey Ruths command in high-grade despite the fact that there are dozens of them available, and it’s easy to justify any cost for these one-of-a-kind items.”
Both of the cards will be on display at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago at booths 445, 544, and 546 along with other highlights from the auction, which opens July 26 and closes August 18.
For more information, visit www.RobertEdwardAuctions.com.