Sound Too Good to be True? It Probably is.
The story of a Babe Ruth strip card is a good reminder of the old adage
I like to remember this story myself since it keeps me sharp. But today, I’m going to tell it to the fine readership of this site.
I didn’t really get into pre-war collecting in earnest until about five years ago. I’d had some pre-war cards before then but certainly didn’t know what I do today and wasn’t collecting them on a mostly exclusive basis like I am now.
At the start of that collecting venture, I’d been looking for a Babe Ruth card. Based on my budget at the time, it had to be one of Ruth’s cheaper issues. His W512 strip card wasn’t exactly what I had in mind since, well, it’s a pretty ugly picture of the Babe, if we’re being honest. But I found an auction for one that seemed much lower than it should have been.
The card was not graded but looked okay from the scan. And as I knew virtually next to nothing about the set, I was confident it was an okay find. At the time, the card probably sold for about $300 and I managed to win this against a few other bidders in a straight auction for about $125. Despite that, authenticity concerns weren’t really raised because the seller had good feedback and there were other bidders.
Marveling at my good fortune, I was pleased when the card arrived. And to this strip card novice, the card looked fine. That was based less about me actually studying the card because it was the only W512 I’d owned and probably one of the few strip cards I owned. I mean, it didn’t have any of the telltale signs you see on obviously fake cards. That was really it. It, along with several other cards, went to SGC for grading and I got the bad news a few weeks later that it was deemed not authentic. It’s the only card I’d ever swung and missed on in terms of having a card rejected.
My guess is that if I had the same card in front of me today, I’d see that it wasn’t legitimate. Since then, I’ve nearly built an entire W512 and W513 set, missing only Ruth and an aviator, and have handled nearly 200 of those suckers. During that time, I’ve seen other fakes listed on eBay with some more obvious signs that have stood out.
The card was purchased on eBay and, after it was sent for grading and returned to me, was beyond eBay’s 30-day return limit. The other problem was that the seller had since closed his eBay account — something unknown to me until after the fact. But since it was paid for through Paypal, they tracked the original seller down and, after a bit of back and forth, refunded my money upon me sending the card back to him. Based on the seller’s attitude in his exchanges with Paypal, my guess is that it was back up for sale as soon as it was in his hands.
Fakes are often abundantly easy to tell in things like tobacco and caramel cards, because they were printed on higher quality paper. But strip cards were often printed on very low-quality stock — some of which, I imagine, can easy to replicate. Even if it can’t be duplicated, that may not be all that important because some sets even used more than one type of paper.
But even beyond the strip card issue, the bigger story, of course, is that if a deal seems like it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Can you find real diamonds in the rough? Sure. I wrote about this rare five-figure gum card that went undetected on eBay and sold for far less than its value. But the point is that that sort of stuff is really rare.
Always consider the card you’re thinking of buying if you think you’ve got a find. Is it graded? If not and the asking price is way too low, there’s probably a good reason for it. Is the seller perfectly describing the title of a rare card but claiming to know nothing about it? What’s the seller’s feedback? Are there good, clear images of the card in question? Is the seller one that is well known in card circles? All of these are pertinent questions to keep in mind.
Bargains are out there and sometimes it takes a bit of boldness to make a big score. But
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