1935-36 Muratti: Nope, Still not a Babe Ruth Card
The 1935-36 Muratti set is not only a rare issue here in the U.S., but it’s also often misunderstood. Many have incorrectly cited this set as a 216-card issue. It is also called a 1935 set. Both pieces of information, though, are not true.
In reality, the Muratti set spanned two years – 1935 and 1936. In addition, what most don’t know is that there are three separate series’. Series I (or Band I, as called on the cards written in German) included 216 cards. Series II had 288 and Series III, printed in 1936, had 216. Altogether, you get a total of 720 cards.
The set included all sorts of sports, focusing mostly on the Olympic games. A few, such as an American football card, are outliers. Three of the four major sports (basketball, football, and hockey) are all featured here. Ironically, though, it’s often cited for having a very important baseball card – one depicting Babe Ruth.
But while that has fooled a lot of collectors and even third party graders, the card doesn’t actually feature the Babe at all. I recently wrote about the Youth Companion stamp that was once believed to be Ruth (though it’s been since proven to feature Rube Marquard) and this is another incorrectly identified collectible.
The Babe Ruth ‘Myth’
The Ruth card is allegedly No. 26 in the first series. The card actually features a swimmer, Dorothy Poynton, and she’s the subject discussed.
Standing next to her is supposed to be Ruth, perhaps visiting at the Olympic games or during a training session. I mean, he was the Babe. He kind of just did what he wanted. The figure, if you look at the card, actually even resembles Ruth. Personally, I can see where the connection was made.
But, yeah, um, that ain’t him.
So who does the card feature? Actually, a trainer named Ernst Brandsten. We know that because here’s an actual image of Brandsten working with the swimmers wearing the exact same outfit.
But … How? I Mean, How?
There was an old episode of Andy Griffith where Aunt Bea is appalled to learn that the Battle of Mayberry was a fictional battle that never occurred. The reason for the outrage was that many people in the town supposedly had many relatives playing key roles in the battle so it was a source of pride. Her response to the news that it never happened?
‘How did such a crazy rumor get started, anyway?’
So what are the origins for this card being cited as a Ruth issue? Beats me. But stuff like this usually starts because sellers are trying to capitalize on a sale. Even if not done in a nefarious manner, someone, somewhere, just wanted to believe this was Ruth. He/she shared that thought with others and the idea spread. Soon, one card was graded as a legitimate Ruth issue. Then others. Before you know it, it’s out of control.
In my mind, it’s probably similar to what happened with the Youth Companion stamps. Someone made an assumption without looking into it and it was accepted as gospel.
Here’s the Problem
So fine, the card isn’t Ruth. Collectors just learn that it isn’t him and move on. Well, the problem with that philosophy is actually two-fold.
First, the card is a pretty obscure one. Most collectors have probably never even heard of it and my guess is that even a lot of pre-war collectors wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what issue this is. Sure, you might find a few that have seen the picture. But there would be a very small number that could tell you the name of the set and where it was from. Considering that, it’d be pretty easy to pawn this off to an unsuspecting collector (even an experienced one) as a Babe Ruth card as, like I said, it actually looks a little like him. It’s not a widely-collected card so information on it isn’t as readily available as something like a 1933 Goudey would be.
Second, and more importantly, the card has been graded as a Babe Ruth card. A good bit, actually.
To date, for example, PSA has barely graded any cards from this set. But of the ones they’ve done in the set, many were for this card supposedly featuring Ruth. Nearly half of the cards they’ve graded from this set, in fact, have been the Poynton card with the Ruth lookalike. At the time of this writing, PSA has graded about 70 of them.
SGC has graded them, too. But while examples of SGC-graded cards have been seen, their population report doesn’t indicate any were graded. That isn’t true, however – one is actually on eBay right now. Same for Beckett. Here’s one for sale but I was unable to find information on how many were graded in their population report as well.
The problem is that those graded cards are still in circulation and are likely to stay that way. I don’t even know if the companies have ceased calling them Ruth issues, to be honest. There’s a chance that more could still be slabbed that way.
Further, many of the cards that have been graded are high-grade examples. About 1/3 of the PSA cards are PSA 7s or higher. While some collectors will crack slabs of cards on occasion because they like the feel of the cards, etc., that isn’t likely to happen here since almost all of the ones graded are mid-grade to high-grade cards. The cards are printed on pretty thin stock but like many international issues, they were rarely ‘enjoyed’ in the way that cards were collected here by children. As a result, a lot went virtually untouched.
What does that mean? Well, it means that most are often going to be sold at even higher prices. After all, a Babe Ruth PSA 8 is worth a whole lot more than a Ruth PSA 1. The problem is exacerbated because we’re now talking about cards that are often bought and sold for a lot of money. This isn’t a $50 mistake. It’s a mistake that could cost an unwitting buyer four figures in an extreme case.
I don’t even necessarily fault the graders for the mistake here. The reality is that collectors have too many expectations of graders and to expect them to know all and not make mistakes isn’t realistic. With the exception of actual grades, which can be very subjective, they don’t make a ton of mistakes based on how many cards they handle.
But the fact remains that, with the cards out there being called Babe Ruth cards, only the most knowledgeable collectors out there on this will know to take a pass on them. As a result, these cards can sell for hundreds of dollars when they’re really more like a $1-$2 card. Someone is going to be left holding the bag and by the time they realize they’ll have overpaid, it will likely be too late. So what happens? The buck gets passed. The cards will continue to be relisted on eBay and the like, and be passed off as Ruth issues to the next unsuspecting collector.
Until the card becomes more widely known, it isn’t going to end. Here’s to hoping this will prevent at least one person from plunking down a few hundred dollars on a card with little value.