The rare Babe Ruth card is back in Baltimore after a record sale

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BALTIMORE — Officials at the Babe Ruth Museum didn’t quite realize what they had until it temporarily disappeared.

The first baseball card featuring Ruth, which had been on display at the museum while on loan from a local family over the previous two decades, was sold in May 2021 to a private collector for a record 5.2 plus millions of dollars. The card’s new owner then funded the construction of a hyper-secure enclosure and loaned the artifact to the museum, where it is the centerpiece of a new exhibit that could be a boon to post-pandemic attendance. -coronavirus.

“Visitors from out of town, they’re going to come here anyway, because this is where Babe Ruth was born,” said Mike Gibbons, historian and director emeritus of the museum, which drew about half fewer visitors last year than it did in 2019. “Our hope is that the increased publicity around the card, along with its advertised value, will draw people from the Baltimore-Washington area here to see it. “

The approximately 2.5 by 3.5 inch piece of red-tinted card stock depicts Ruth as a 19-year-old pitcher with the 1914 Baltimore Orioles of the International League. It was part of a promotional set – the back features the Orioles schedule – inserted into copies of the defunct Baltimore News-Post during the Bambino’s only season with the team, and is thought to be the one of 10 that exist.

“It’s the only card that’s even more of a holy grail than the Honus Wagner,” said the card buyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his privacy, during a telephone interview, referring to the legendary American Tobacco Company T206 of 1909-1911. Wagner card which has long been considered one of the most valuable in the hobby. “The problem is that there are only 10 in the world. The biggest problem is that out of the 10, you quickly find out who they belong to and realize they’re never going anywhere. It is much more difficult to find one that is available for sale than to be able to afford it.

Before the last record sale, it had been seven years since a 1914 Ruth card hit the market and sold at auction for $450,300.

The Ruth map on display at the museum, which occupies four townhouses a short walk from Camden Yards, originally belonged to Archibald Davis, who had a child’s job selling newspapers to tram passengers. Davis collected 14 more Orioles cards from the set, including one from manager Jack Dunn, who signed Ruth out of St. Mary’s Industrial School. Davis gave his collection of Baltimore News-Post cards to his son, Richard, when he was about 10 years old.

Looking for his next sports card score

In 1998, after reading a blued version of the 1914 Ruth map that sold at auction for $32,000, Richard Davis took his late father’s maps to museum curator Greg Schwalenberg. Davis loaned the collection to the museum, and upon his death in 2001, his son, Glenn, renewed the loan agreement.

“We were less concerned about the value of the Ruth map because we used the artifacts in the exhibits to tell a story,” said Schwalenberg, who left the museum in 2014. “For the museum, not everything has of price.”

Eight years later, Forbes published an article about the most expensive baseball cards in the world. In it, Brian Fleischer of Beckett Media said the 1914 Baltimore News-Post Ruth map was worth $500,000 in good condition, compared to $300,000 for a 1909 Wagner map in comparable condition, primarily due to its higher great rarity. Hobby experts estimate that there are about 60 Wagner cards.

In light of the article, Gibbons and his colleagues decided to create an exhibit featuring the Ruth map. With the Davis family’s blessing – and the assurance that they had no immediate intention of selling their increasingly valuable collectible – the museum displayed the 1914 Ruth and Dunn maps alongside the first Ruth’s marriage certificate and official score book from her first professional game.

The exhibit remained mostly unchanged until 2020, when it was removed from the exhibit after Davis contacted Gibbons to say he had decided to sell the card.

The would-be buyer, who primarily collects antique maps and already owned a T206 Wagner, had struck a deal to acquire the Ruth map from Glenn Davis in early 2020. The coronavirus pandemic and a lawsuit brought by Richard Davis’ sister, Virginia Davis Mankiewicz, who claims ownership of her father’s collection, suspends the transaction. On December 1, 2020, a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ruled that Mankiewicz waited 22 years to file suit after learning of his brother’s property claim, which fell outside Maryland’s statute of limitations. Mankiewicz appealed, but that was rejected in April 2021, and the sale was finalized the following month.

Shawn Herne, the museum’s executive director, said his jaw dropped when he learned the Ruth card had sold for more than the record $5.2 million than the Mickey Mantle and LeBron James rookie cards. had recovered in the previous five months. The meteoric growth of the sports memorabilia industry during the pandemic has produced many record sales. Its steady upward trajectory for two decades prior made it more difficult for the museum to acquire objects for display.

“Now everyone thinks they’re sitting on something that they think is going to get their grandkids going to college,” Herne said, adding that in 2004 the museum received nearly 400 artifacts donated. “I would say our donations have probably dropped to around 10 a year. It’s a whole different world now. »

After traveling to Baltimore to retrieve the 1914 Ruth map and have it professionally graded and locked up, the buyer told Gibbons he wanted it on display, along with the other 14 Orioles maps in the collection. of Davis, to the museum indefinitely.

“Richard Davis was an amazing card keeper and really cared about the card being in a place where people could enjoy it,” he said. “Why would I want to take that off?”

The card now sits in a secure display case designed by the same company that created a case to house the original copy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s the main attraction of an exhibit called “The Making of a Legend,” which includes roof boards from Fenway Park, an original field seat from Yankee Stadium, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously awarded to Ruth in 2018.

The card owner plans to visit the museum this summer.

“No one really understood the value of this thing, and now it’s the centerpiece of the museum,” he said. “The map could be in my safe, but that really doesn’t do anyone any good. The only problem is that sometimes someone comes to visit us and asks if they can take a picture with the card. They have to settle for a photo with Honus Wagner.

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