(In)famous Shotwell Babe Ruth Card Remains Unauthenticated

Buckle Up — we’ve gone from a pawn shop find to the involvement of a former NFL player

ICYMI, a somewhat odd story broke a few weeks ago about a find of a rare Babe Ruth E121 Shotwell card supposedly bought from a pawn shop for $2. If you missed the original story, I sort of covered it over at Sports Collectors Daily. Essentially, a very rare version of an E121-like Babe Ruth card was said to be discovered on the cheap from a seller that didn’t know any better.

I didn’t expect much to come of the story, other than a likely dose of disappointment. It got a bunch of collectors unfamiliar with these cards all hot and bothered, and that’s somewhat understandable as I’ve seen far worse fakes. An initial glance at the card doesn’t scream ‘crackled appearance, browned-edged T206 Honus Wagner card.’ But, with a few minutes of research and as pointed out here on the Net54 site, the card seems to be a copy of an original Shotwell Ruth card based on some telltale markings.

Even beyond that, a find of this magnitude would seemingly be a one-in-a-million shot, anyway. Even if the card doesn’t necessarily look bad, a lot of folks would just sort of assume it is until proven otherwise. Collector’s intuition, if you will.

But weeks later, the story still continues with the seller claiming that it hasn’t yet been proven a fake and this ABC video indicates that the authentication process is still underway. I don’t recommend clicking on the actual link unless you only want to be confused further. The original buyer of the Ruth card has now involved former NFL player Lorenzo Neal to invest in a separate collection and, well, it’s all just one big confusing mess that’s a distraction from the real ‘story.’

Just skip the link. Trust me on this.

Babe Ruth E121 American CaramelThe tl;dr here is that, despite its purported seven-figure value, the card appears to remain ungraded to this point, despite it first being reported about a month ago.

Wait, a month ago? What gives?

Quite simply, there must be no rush to grade it as it could have easily been graded by now by PSA, SGC, or Beckett. Even with heavy backlogs, those companies can offer very fast turnaround times for high-dollar cards. PSA’s service, for example, would charge $5,000 for a card with a $100,000 or more estimated value but would have the card graded in a day. If you’ve got a legit Wagner T206, you don’t sit on that puppy and weigh your options. You hop on a plane and get it immediately graded and insured.

In other words, if the Ruth card is believed to be real, having it graded by this point should have been a snap. Heck, for a million bucks, which is what the owner believes it’s worth, almost anyone would hop on a plane, pay for the card to be graded, and then get it to an auction house shortly for a big payday. Instead, the card (as of the date of the ABC video, anyway) is still in the owner’s possession with alternatives being weighed and such. Woof.

I’m not going to speculate here because doing anything other than putting two and two together isn’t warranted. The obvious issue here is that grading expensive cards requires owners to fork over big money, so you don’t want to do that unless you’re positive you’ve got a winner on your hands. I’m not much of a grading guy so I’ll concede that maybe a cheaper alternative exists for merely determining its authenticity. But even factoring that in, no one owning this card would be in any real hurry to suffer the embarrassment of it turning out to be a fake after the story gained so much traction. There’s not only the personal embarrassment of that but also the loss of any kind of financial opportunity.

Assuming the card is no good, the far easier thing to do is, sit on it, keep it ungraded, keep the suspense, and hope some kind of deal comes along.

In other words, I’m not expecting any real news on this anytime soon.

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