So, you wanna buy a Babe Ruth?
Many collectors, particularly those of newer cards, look at the idea of owning a Babe Ruth card from his playing days as an unattainable goal. But while there are plenty of pricey ones out there, finding a Ruth card within your budget isn’t the hardest thing to do.
Got about $100? Read on.
One note is that, while there are plenty of Ruth collectibles from his playing days, I wanted to focus on ones that would be considered some sort of card and not something like a photo, pin, etc. All of that said, here’s a look at some of his most affordable cards from the pre-war era.
1929 Churchman/Imperial Sports and Games of Many Lands
If you’re looking for the best overall option, the 1929 Churchman/Imperial Tobacco card might be it.
For starters, it’s appropriately-sized as a standard tobacco card and, unlike some other affordable Ruth collectibles, is unequivocally a ‘baseball card.’ The image features the slugger hacking away at a baseball and it’s just a great scene with the catcher and umpire along with a full crowd. Plus, if you’re a sucker like me for horizontal cards, it’s even better. It has a wonderfully vintage look and is one of my favorite cheap Ruth cards.
The card is an international issue and produced by the Imperial Tobacco Company in the UK. While it’s often called the Churchman card, that was only one of three different backs found on it – the other two are British American Tobacco (generally cited as from 1930) and Edwards, Ringer, and Bigg (believed to be from 1935). I’ve listed the Churchman here since that is the most common one found but they’re all basically the same card with just a different tobacco name on the back.
The lone negative to this card is that, well, Ruth isn’t actually named on it. The sport of baseball is the subject and it’s clear that Ruth is the one pictured. There are several vintage images of Ruth that look very similar to this shot. The good news is that grading companies PSA and SGC both add his name to the label when grading them since it’s considered a Ruth issue by just about everyone.
In mid-grade condition, you can usually find one starting around $150. If you’re fine with a lesser grade, you can get them even cheaper – I’ve seen them go under the radar for as cheap as around $60-$70 in usable low-grade condition.
1932 Bulgaria Sport
Another tobacco issue featuring Ruth is found in the 1932 Bulgaria Sport Photos set. While the word ‘photos’ is in the name of the set, this is another undeniable baseball card that measures about 1 5/8″ x 2 3/8″.
This card features a real black and white picture of Ruth and if having his name on the card is essential for you, this might be your choice as he’s mentioned on the back. Despite the name Bulgaria in the title, that was actually a German cigarette brand and this is a German card.
One big plus for this card is not only that Ruth is on it but he’s also pictured with boxing legend Max Schmeling. Schmeling was a former world champion and you’re really getting two big names for the price of one here.
The lone downside here is probably that Ruth is not in action in the card. But he’s at least in full uniform and easily identifiable.
Similar to the Imperial/Churchman card, this is another pretty cheap one with prices pretty similar starting around $150 for lower end mid-grade. And in low grade, it usually sells for under $100 as well.
1932 Sanella/Astra Margarine
Since this article is supposed to focus on traditional cards, I really debated this one for a while. But in the end, I decided to include it.
The 1932 Sanella/Astra Margarine set is another international issue. This release included cards of different athletes and includes baseball, hockey, and netball (a form of basketball), among various other Olympic sports. It was produced in Germany for margarine brands Sanella and Astra. The two sets are identical with the exception of the Sanella name appearing on the backs of some and the Astra name on others (Astra is much rarer).
Ruth’s iconic swing is on display here and his name is on the back as well. These ‘cards’ are printed on very thin paper and more like miniature photos, to be honest. But measuring 2 3/4″ x 4 1/4″, they actually aren’t too much larger than today’s standard 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ baseball cards.
They’re a popular choice of collectors looking to get their hands on a real Ruth card. They have a nice picture of Ruth on them and also have his name on the back. And while the cards were much harder to find in the 1990s, they’re much more common now with German collectors realizing their value and selling them in marketplaces such as eBay. A flood of these have really come in over the past couple of years and you can sometimes see small lots of them being offered.
In mid-grade shape, these start around $200 – $250 but you can also get them for as little as around $75 in lesser grade. And if you’re into collecting other sports, you can spring for a full set, which can sometimes be found for only about $40-$50 more than the Ruth card. An album was created for these sets, which collectors often stuck their cards into. You can find full sets of those in the $150-$250 range.
1928 Fro-Joy Grip
The Fro-Joy cards have two unique features, really. First, they’re very rare because they were issued only during a one-week period. Collectors buying a Fro-Joy ice cream cone, received a Ruth card and each card was available for only one day. To get a whole set, you had to buy a cone every day for six consecutive days.
Another reason the cards could be so rare is that collectors could send an entire set in for a picture of Ruth and it isn’t known if those cards were destroyed, given back, etc.
The second unique feature of the Fro Joy cards is that they are among the most counterfeited pre-war card of a major star. Grading companies PSA and SGC will actually no longer even grade them and the only major one still doing so is Beckett. If you’re looking to buy one, I highly recommend buying a graded example.
Some Fro-Joy cards can be expensive but the cheapest one you can buy is usually the one featuring only Ruth’s hands. Known as the Ruth ‘grip’ card, it pictures Ruth’s hands holding a baseball bat. Mid-grade cards can be several hundred dollars but low-grade ones can go for as little as $100 or so.
1931 Josetti Film Stars
In addition to baseball, Babe Ruth also did a little bit of acting and once appeared in a movie called, “Speedy.” Cards and other promotional items were released for the movie and Ruth is often seen with co-star Harold Lloyd.
The pair were featured on one card printed in the 1930s for Josetti Tobacco. Josetti is the brand most commonly seen on the back of this card but it can also be found with the names of other tobacco brands, including Jasmatzi and Sulima. The set is the same across all three brands and is a massive set believed to consist of three series with a total of 816 cards of movie stars.
The card features a black and white image of Ruth and Lloyd from the movie. Both are seen in street clothes and the card bears both of their names at the bottom.
In terms of overall appeal, reception for it is a bit mixed. It’s Ruth and from his playing days but doesn’t feature him in uniform. Still, it’s a desirable one just because it can be found for a decent price. But as another international issue, this one is a little harder to find here in the states.
The card usually starts around $150-$200 for mid-grade issues and in lower grade, can sometimes be found for under $100.
1934 Quaker Oats Ask me Trivia Cards
The next Ruth cards are kind of a stretch but still qualify here since they have his name on them. In the 1930s, Ruth teamed up with Quaker Oats to be affiliated with their Ask Me trivia game.
The set was available via a mail-in promotion and featured a total of 26 cards with trivia questions on the fronts and back. Ruth was clearly the star of the promotion as you can find promotion buttons with his face on it and he was featured on eight of the 26 cards in the set – nearly 1/3 of them.
While the cards have his name on the cards as the subject of several of the questions, his image isn’t used. Instead, the set features generic cartoon baseball images. Still, if you’re looking for a Ruth card and aren’t picky, these might work.
The cards are a little on the rare side and not always easily found. They can sell for well under $50 but some sellers ask that much or more for them just because they’re not incredibly easy to spot.
In short, prices are kind of all over the map on them.
1935 Whitman Game
The 1935 Whitman Game card is another oddball of sorts and is desirable mostly only for the presence of Ruth’s name. The card was part of a set of cards that comprised a party game where guests were forced to complete stunts, imitating various people.
Ruth was one of those in the game that was to be imitated as guests were supposed to imitate the slugger striking out with the bases loaded.
The cartoon batter of the player shown clearly isn’t a good model of Ruth. The orange and green colors were the two primary ones in the set and those don’t help the poor depiction, either since Ruth obviously didn’t play in a uniform with those colors as a major leaguer.
One side note for baseball collectors as well is that Ruth isn’t the only big league star here. Also included in the set was a card for fellow Hall of Famer Ty Cobb as guests were to imitate his slide.
To the value of the Ruth cards, these too can be all over the place because the cards aren’t seen all that often. You can sometimes find full sets of the game being sold by non-collectors and, thus, can see them for a low price. But dealers that are aware of them and looking to sell them can ask for $50 or more for them. Finding one under that price, however, is possible with some digging and a little luck.