Babe Ruth Baseball Cards: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide
Babe Ruth baseball cards are arguably the most sought after cards in the entire hobby.
It’s easy to understand why:
He is the game’s most iconic player and the face of America’s past time.
“The Bambino” started his 22 year Major League career in 1914 as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.
But it was from 1920 to 1935 as an outfielder for the New York Yankees where he built his legend into what it is today.
The kind of hitting numbers that the “Sultan of Swat” put up would be nearly unheard of today.
His popularity was off the charts during his playing career and many different companies of all kinds issued cards with him on it. There are dozens and dozens of different Babe Ruth cards out there to collect.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important and rare Ruth cards in the hobby.
1914 Baltimore News #9 Babe Ruth Pre-Rookie Card
Estimated PSA 4 VG-EX Value: $900,000
The 1914 Baltimore News “pre-rookie” card of Ruth can be found with either blue or red borders. That’s if you can find one in the first place. They’re extremely rare with only around 10 known copies in existence. A very young Ruth is shown as a member of the Minor League Baltimore Orioles before owner Jack Dunn sold his contract to the Boston Red Sox. Even in low grade condition, a PSA 4 is expected to bring in roughly $900,000. If anyone were to ever locate a copy in higher grade, the price would be unbelievable.
1916 M101-5 and M101-4 Sporting News #151 Babe Ruth Rookie Cards
Estimated PSA 8 NM-MT Value: $1.35 million
Not surprisingly, the Babe Ruth rookie card is one of the most coveted and therefore most valuable baseball cards in the hobby. But there are actually two different versions: the M101-5 and the M101-4. Oddly, the M101-4 cards are thought to have been printed after the M101-5 cards. M101-5 cards are more difficult to find but there really is no difference in pricing between the two as long as condition is the same. Telling the difference between the two can be quite a challenge since both of them are card #151 in their respective sets and the image of Ruth as a Red Sox pitcher on the front is identical on both cards. Most M101-5 versions have blank backs but then there are quite a few that feature one of many different advertisements on the backs. Your best hope is to find a copy that has an ad back unique to either of the sets. For example, you know you’ve got a M101-4 Ruth rookie is if the Sporting News ad is on the back of the card as no M101-5 Ruths featured that ad. Usually a professional grader will have to get involved to make the final call.
1916-1920 W-UNC Big Head Hand Cut #17
Estimated Value: A PSA 1 copy sold for $6,123 in 2017
It’s one of the strangest Ruth baseball cards out there but it’s very hard to find. Measuring in at 1-3/8” by 2-1/2”, these cards were hand-cut from strips. The cards are blank-backed and are unnumbered so telling when exactly they were printed is impossible. Ruth’s card features a baseball player that could pass for anyone really in pinstripes with oversized head and hands. His name is on the front of the card which is really the only thing that saves it as a Ruth card. It’s not his most visually appealing card but it’s a rare and highly desired card nonetheless.
1917 E135 Collins-McCarthy #147
Estimated PSA 6 EX-MT Value: $65,000
Issued a year after the M101-4/5 Sporting News cards, you’ll notice that Ruth’s 1917 E135 Collins-McCarthy card appears very similar in design. It’s the same concept basically with a different pitching pose. These are extremely rare and you don’t see them come up for auction very often. If you ever get a chance to see one up close you’ll find that the card stock is relatively thin and the surfaces are glossy which expose them to wear and cracking. The Collins-McCarthy Ruth cards are simply exceptional.
1921 E121 American Caramel
Estimated PSA 9 Value: $100,000 – $125,000
American Caramel went with the exact same image as the 1917 Collins-McCarthy card with Ruth in a Red Sox uniform even though he was with the Yankees by 1921. So, it’s a bit odd seeing him in a Boston uniform and listed as a member of the New York Americans (as the Yankees were commonly referred to then) at the bottom. Also interesting to note is that you’ll find his card with three different variations of his first name listed along the bottom: Babe, “Babe” and George. The backs of the card display a bit of info on the American Caramel company and this set. It’s an all-around great Ruth card from the early 1920’s and highly sought after.
1921 Frederick Foto Service #46
Estimated Value: An SGC 1.5 graded copy sold for $34,931 in 2014 and an SGC 2 graded copy sold for $40,000 in 2015
Not much is known about how these small photo cards of the Bambino were distributed by the Frederick Foto studio out of Sacramento, CA. However, it’s thought that the photo they used of Ruth can’t be found anywhere else, a nice tidbit that adds to the mystique of this rare card. The set features many minor leaguers from the Pacific Coast league but also some Major League players as well. It’s one of the earliest cards to denote Ruth as a member of the Yankees even though he’s still shown in a Red Sox uniform.
1921 E220 National Caramel #89
Estimated PSA 5 Value: $14,000
Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the National Caramel company released a card featuring a photographic image of Ruth as a New York Yankee. His is the key to the entire 120 card set that also features legends Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Walter Johnson. There aren’t too many of them in circulation and you’ll usually find them in rough shape. But that’s to be expected for cards from that period that were meant to be collected and handled by children of the day.
1921 E253 Oxford Confectionary
Estimated PSA 6 Value: $14,000
The 1921 E253 Oxford Confectionary set contains only 20 sepia-toned cards but is loaded with 14 Hall of Famers. Not surprisingly, Ruth is still the key card to own. Ruth is shown in a nice pose in his Yankees uniform with a semi-smile on his face, bat across his left shoulder. The Sultan of Swat’s legacy as a hitting legend really started to take off in 1921 as he put up incredible numbers batting .378, scoring 177 runs, knocking in 168 runs, and blasting 59 homers.
1922 E120 American Caramel
Estimated PSA 9 Value: $65,000
American Caramel created a very large set for the times with their release of 240 E120 cards in 1922. The players were depicted in black and white photos within a very intricate border design–American League players had sepia borders and National League players had blue borders. The pose of Ruth in his Yankees uniform shows him simply holding a baseball, this time as an outfielder for the New York Americans rather than as a pitcher on his 1921 American Caramel card.
1922 V89 William Patterson #25
Estimated Value: A PSA 6 copy sold for $14,430 in 2012
William Paterson Limited was one of Canada’s oldest confectionary companies established in Brantford, Ontario in the 1860’s. In 1922, they would produce a 50-card set that featured multiple stars like Ruth, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson. The card has since become one of Ruth’s rarest and you very rarely see these come up for sale or auction. His was card #25 in the set and shows a nice portrait shot of the Babe with a rather serious look on his face.
1923-1924 Exhibits Geo. H. “Babe” Ruth
Estimated Value: PSA has only graded 4 copies with no recent sales data. However an SGC 1 graded copy sold for $8,400 in 2016 and an SGC 2.5 graded copy sold for $13,530 in 2017.
Babe Ruth appeared on several different Exhibits Supply Co. cards over the years but there are few tougher than the 1923-1924 issue. Ruth is shown with his hands on his knees likely in the outfield awaiting a pitch. It may not be his most popular Exhibits card but you can’t on one hand the amount that have been professionally graded. That should give you a good idea just how rare these are. It’s one of the very few cards you’ll ever see that features both his real and nickname together at the same time.
1923 Lections #8
Estimated Value: The highest graded copy (PSA VG3 MK) sold for $5,288 in 2010 and would likely go for much more today.
This is one of Babe Ruth’s most unique cards in my opinion and they were virtually unknown to the hobby until the late 1990’s. Experts now believe they were passed out to kids at a fair in Albany, NY during the early 1920’s. At the fairs, there were many podiums where local politicians could talk to potential voters. Adults could receive a small election card showing the candidates while kids could receive “Lection” cards showing baseball players such as Babe Ruth. They measure in at 4 x 2.5 inches and featured rounded corners and thick cardboard stock. Only 5 copies have been graded by PSA as of this writing.
1927 E126 American Caramel #38
Estimated PSA 8 Value: $25,000
The American Caramel Company issued their last set of baseball cards in 1927 with their 60-card E126 set. The dual-image of Ruth, known in the hobby as the “montage”, provides some great character to the card but is not unique to this set. The reverse side of the card mentions a redemption offer and album in which these were meant to be placed. Many cards in this set therefore show paper loss on the back as a result of having been removed. That issue, along with the fact that these cards were printed on thin, glossy stock make them susceptible to wear and cracking.
1927 FC59 Honey Boy Ice Cream #14
Estimated Value: A PSA 3 copy sold for $5,676 in 2013
Only 6 copies of this card have been graded by PSA as of this writing making them extremely rare. They belong to yet another set of cards that were printed north of the U.S. border by the Purity Ice Cream Co. of Winnipeg, Canada. To that point, the set does contain multiple Canadian League baseball players alongside Big League players like Ruth. The reverse of each card features advertising for the Purity Ice Cream Co., with an offer of a brick of “Delicious Honey Boy Ice Cream” for anyone able to collect and return a full set of twenty-one cards. Although they are thought to have been printed in 1927, the cards interestingly still show Ruth as a member of Boston Red Sox.
1927 E210 York Caramel #6 Type 1
Estimated Value: A PSA 4 graded copy sold for $4,080 in 2017
1927 would prove to be a huge year for Ruth as he’d set the single-season record for home runs that would stand for decades by smacking 60 long balls over the fence. He and “Murderers Row” as the 1927 Yankees were called, would also win 110 regular season games and the World Series that year. The card shows Ruth in a pose that we’ve seen before on other cards of him as a Boston Red Sox pitcher but it’s still a much desired issue. Of the 60 cards in the set, his is the most desired.
1929 Star Player Candy #21
Estimated Value: A PSA 5 copy sold for $25,000 in 2016
This is one of the most interesting but least understood Ruth cards on this list. It isn’t known who manufactured these cards but they’ve long since become known as the 1929 Star Player Candy set. Adding to the mystique, only two players from the set are known to the hobby, Ruth’s card #21 and Lou Gehrig’s card #32. That would imply there are many other cards to the set but at this time it’s not known for sure. There were also Star Player Candy cards from 1928 whose reverse sides were blank but as you can see, the 1929 cards featured nice, short bios of the players. Ruth’s bio is especially interesting as it mentions his single-season home run record that would take decades before it fell to Hank Aaron.
1932 US Caramel #32 Babe Ruth Baseball Card
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $110,000
The 1932 U.S. Caramel set is a tough pre-War set that featured different baseball, boxing and golfing stars of the era. Released primarily in the Boston area, the cards are tough to find. Since Ruth’s is the last card of the 32 card lineup, they’re often seen in lower grade condition. No matter the card’s condition, the imagery of the Sultan of Swat towards the end of his career in front of a bold, red background is instantly recognizable.
1933 Butter Cream #23
Estimated Value: A copy graded in PSA 4 VG-EX condition sold for $111,625 in 2008
This is one of the most rare Bambino cards on the list with even the most advanced Ruth collectors having never seen one. Part of the reason for its rarity is that experts believe it may have been a short print but no one is 100% sure. The back side features a contest entry form where collectors were challenged to guess the Bambino’s final batting average. One version of the back shows the address of the Butter Cream Confectionery Company in Union City, NJ while the other does not. Neither version is thought to be more expensive than the other.
1933 Goudey #53
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $500,000
They may not be the most expensive Ruth cards but they may very well be the most recognizable. Each of the four different 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth cards (#53, #144, #149 and #181) boast amazing eye appeal and unforgettable imagery. The “Yellow Ruth”, #53, is thought to be his toughest of the four to collect. It’s a beautiful card showing the legendary slugger following through atop a bright yellow background.
1933 Goudey #144
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $175,000
The “Full Body Ruth” as it’s known among collectors is #144 in the set and shows a full body pose of the Yankee great. The card was double-printed meaning there are more of them in circulation but it’s still just as difficult to find in high grade. You can tell a difference between the double prints if you look closely as one version features sharper focus and clarity. However, there is really no difference in value between the two prints.
1933 Goudey #149
Estimated PSA 8.5 NM-MT+ Value: $200,000
The only real difference between the “Red Ruth” and the “Yellow Ruth” is the background color and difficulty to find in high grade. The red version is just as appealing as the yellow but it’s a bit more challenging to find in top condition. As of this writing, no mint copies of #149 are in circulation.
1933 Goudey #181
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $185,000
The “Green Ruth” is the last of the famous quartet. Ruth is shown seated in pinstripes looking over his right shoulder with an off-color hat. The green background really makes this card pop but it is usually considered to be the least favorite of the four among collectors. You wont really find a collector out there that will complain about having this card, though. It’s still a Ruth.
1933 Goudey Sport Kings #2
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $350,000
This set is one of the most popular sports card sets of the 1930’s and similar to the US Caramel set discussed earlier, it contains stars of several different sports. Top athletes from baseball, football, hockey, tennis, golf, boxing, swimming, horse racing and even dog sled racing are showcased in the set. Ruth is the key card to own but centering and angular cuts are common issues that hamper the card. A smiling Ruth on a green background with silhouettes of baseball players along the bottom make for a beautiful card.
1933 Uncle Jacks Candy “King of Swat” #24
Estimated Value: A PSA 2 graded copy sold for $32,980 in 2016
Most of the 1933 Uncle Jacks Candy cards were distributed regionally in the Springfield, MA area and came in one of four color tints: blue, green, red or purple. The 30 card set shows Ruth in the same pose as his 1933 Butter Cream pose, albeit the full pose instead of the cropped version. Conditions of these cards are usually not great, with none of the seven PSA-graded copies having been assessed higher than PSA 2.5+ condition. His status as the “King of Swat” is depicted at the bottom right corner of the card which adds a very nice tough to this rare card.
1935 Goudey Four-On-One
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $32,500
Goudey was a bit creative in 1935 when they released cards that featured four different players instead of one. The front sides showed crops of images from their 1933 set while the backs were pieces to 9 different puzzle combinations. The colored borders present quite the condition challenge as they are prone to showing wear and chipping. Although there were other oddball and regional Ruth issues printed in 1935, the Goudey Four-On-One is considered to be his last mainstream card of his playing days.
1948 Leaf #3
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $65,000
It wasn’t printed during Ruth’s playing career but the 1948 Leaf #3 issue has long been a favorite of many collectors. It is often considered as a sort of farewell tribute to the Yankee legend as he died of cancer on June 13, 1948. The image of Ruth in his Yankees cap on a bold red background makes for a great card. Centering is a challenge and print quality can vary widely from card to card.
Babe Ruth Baseball Cards Wrap-Up
Babe Ruth baseball cards will continue to be some of the most coveted and expensive baseball cards for years to come.
His legend is forever fixated in the game and it seems highly unlikely that anyone would ever unseat him as the most iconic player to ever set foot on the baseball field.
Over the course of his career, Ruth put up astonishing numbers and set many records, some of which still hold up today.
If you’re going to get into the habit of buying and selling his baseball cards then you’ll definitely need some deep pockets as the competition is huge.