Sports Collectors

Babe Ruth Rookie Card Traded for 1975 Topps Mini Set Brings $328,800 at Auction

It was Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi.  Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas.  Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio. 

All may have seemed like good ideas at the time for the teams that gave up the guys who wound up in the Hall of Fame, but in the end went down as a lopsided giveaway.  

At some point in the 1980s, when one collector traded away his 1916 Babe Ruth card with the name of a long lost boys clothing shop on the back in exchange for a 1975 Topps Mini set, he probably felt OK about his deal, too. Early Thursday morning, though, it joined the ranks of legendary lopsided swaps when the Ruth card–one of only a small number known to still exist–sold for $328,800 through Clean Sweep Auctions.

At the time, ’75 Mini sets were popular and with a limited geographic distribution, considered fairly rare and valuable. 

Time has changed the narrative.

The Ruth card had become the crown jewel of one man’s collection as one millennium ended and another began. Interest in Ruth’s earliest issues moved upward and they’ve skyrocketed in value over the last few years.  The recently deceased collector had sold off numerous items through Clean Sweep in recent years. Following his death and according to his wishes, his heirs consigned the Ruth card.  Old school to the core, he’d never had it graded.  Now sitting in a PSA 2 holder, it’s one of only seven on the combined population reports of PSA and SGC.

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Ruth was part of a set of 200 cards known to collectors as M101-4, produced in 1916 with businesses getting the chance to put their own advertising on the back and distribute them as promotional items.  Clothing stores in the Midwest were among those that gave them away.  According to newspaper advertising at the time, Michigan-based Herpolsheimer handed out 20 cards at a time for ten weeks in an effort to get families into the store and sell boys clothing.  Gimbel’s Department store in Milwaukee had a similar promotion.

Babe Ruth Rookie Card Traded for 1975 Topps Mini Set Brings $328,800 at Auction

Bidding jumped by over $170,000 on the final day of the auction, ending at $274,000.  The standard buyer’s premium pushed the total to nearly three times the price of the other PSA 2, which sold for $110,612 in 2019, illustrating the rise of rare, high grade Ruth cards in the current market.  In 2012, an SGC 4 had sold for $77,025.  The only PSA 7 sold in 2010 for a modest $82,200.  

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Prices for 1975 Topps Mini sets have gone up a little bit, too, thanks to the Hall of Fame rookie cards of George Brett, Robin Yount, Jim Rice and Gary Carter. 

But you buy one for about $327,000 less than the new going rate for a low grade Bambino rookie.

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