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Rare 1914 Babe Ruth rookie card fetches $7.2 million at auction

One of only 10 known copies of Babe Ruth’s rookie baseball trading card sold for $7.2 million early Monday.

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The 1914 Baltimore News card of the Bambino was part of Robert Edward Auctions Fall Catalog Auction, and fetched the third-highest figure ever paid for a sports card, ESPN reported.

The top price for a sports card -- or any piece of sports memorabilia -- was $12.6 million for a 1952 Topps card of Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle in August 2022 in a sale by Heritage Auctions. In August 2022, a collector paid $7.25 million for a T206 baseball card of Honus Wagner from 1909-11 in a private sale brokered by Goldin Auctions.

The Babe Ruth rookie card that sold Monday fell short of its $10 million projected sale price, according to Sports Collectors Daily. The identity of the buyer has not been released. It was graded 3 out of 10, or very good, by Sportscard Guaranty Corp. (SGC), a collectibles grading service.

The Ruth, Wagner and Mantle cards have all been graded by SGC, ESPN reported.

Robert Edward Auctions President Brian Dwyer said the Ruth rookie card is “very likely to be the only example we’ll see available for purchase for years to come.”

“This auction was a watershed moment for the Baltimore News Babe Ruth card, for REA, and for the hobby. We are thrilled to see Babe Ruth stake his spot in the top three all-time with this record-setting result, and we are proud to have brought this incredibly significant card to auction for what may be the only time for many years to come,” Dwyer said, according to Sports Collectors Daily. “This was a historic offering and a superb price realized against the backdrop of our largest auction ever.”

The card was originally sold to a private collector in Florida in June 2021 for $6 million.

Previously, the card had been in the possession of the same Baltimore area family for more than a century, Sports Collectors Daily reported in June 2021.

A Baltimore paperboy, Archibald Davis, collected the baseball cards included in newspapers during 1914 and kept the Ruth card, the Capital Gazette reported.

According to the Maryland Daily Record, the card’s previous owner, Geraldine Frey Davis, had a loan agreement with the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore that kept the card at the museum through March 2023. The card was first displayed at the Bambino’s birthplace in 1998.

The red-bordered 2 5/8-inch by 3 5/8-inch card features Ruth, who was a 19-year-old rookie and a member of the Baltimore Orioles, a minor league franchise in the International League. According to Sports Collectors Daily, the card was part of a set that featured player images in the front and a team schedule on the reverse.

The cards were distributed locally as inserts in issues of the Baltimore News during the 1914 season.

“It’s miraculous that this card exists,” REA communications director P.J. Kinsella told ESPN. “He was on the Orioles for a few months and, by the end of (1914), he was in Providence. That he’s encapsulated in this set, not knowing what he would become ... it’s rather remarkable that he’s on this card. The time that in which they were able to get him was so minute.”