Everyone who collects baseball cards wants a Babe Ruth card. Unfortunately, cheap Babe Ruth baseball cards are pretty hard to come by. His most famous cards, 1930s Goudeys, cost as much as a nice car. Even though I’m not much of a car guy, the car is more practical. Even unattractive 1910s and 1920s strip cards of Ruth run four figures. But there are several vintage cards of Ruth’s that don’t always break the bank, including cards from his playing days. You just have to look off the beaten path.
Babe Ruth wasn’t just famous in the United States. They took note of his exploits in Europe too, even though baseball never gained much popularity there.
Ruth’s 1932 Sanella Margarine card from Germany is a bargain. It predates all of Ruth’s Goudey cards, the artwork is nicely done and shows him at the plate having just finished his swing and looking up, as if watching where the ball went. At one time, people believed this card was rare, but high prices brought them out of German attics in droves. Today this card rarely sells for much more than $200, and with a little luck or patience you can find a presentable one for under $100.
Ruth also appeared in the 1932 Bulgaria Sport set, in a black and white photograph of him in uniform standing next to German boxer Max Schmeling. While more expensive than the Sanella card, it’s still less expensive than his U.S. cards from the same period.
If you want something a bit older, Ruth features prominently on a 1929 Churchman’s tobacco card from the United Kingdom. The 1929 Churchman’s set features sports from all over the world. The baseball set shows Ruth taking a swing, with the opposing catcher and the umpire looking on. Again, the image is high quality and unmistakable as Ruth even though his name doesn’t appear anywhere on the card. You won’t have any trouble finding this card for $300 and sometimes you can score a complete set at that price.
The same image also appears on the 1929 Shonen Club card from Japan. This card is harder to find than its UK counterpart but tends to be less expensive.
I’ve written about Ruth’s 1935 Goudey card before. It dates to the final year of his career, when he languished as a semi-regular for the Boston Braves. He shared the card with three teammates and Goudey recycled the artwork from one of his 1933 cards, but it’s Ruth, and it’s a Goudey. This card can get expensive, but with some patience, you can get a low-grade example for around $200. Get a graded example, because there are a lot of reprints out there that look enough like the real thing to fool many collectors.
Last but not least, Chicago gum producer Leaf commemorated Ruth’s death by including him as card #3 in the landmark 1948 Leaf set. Featuring a colorized head-shot photograph of Ruth in a Yankees uniform, it’s an attractive card. This card, too, can get expensive, and there are tons of reprints out there, so if you’re looking for a bargain, seek out a graded, authenticated low-grade example. You can still expect to pay upwards of $300, but that’s 1/3 the price of a poor-condition 1933 Goudey.
In 1961, Topps issued a card commemorating Ruth’s 60-homer 1927 season. It was timely because both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris challenged his record that year, with Maris eventually breaking it. Since it came out long after his playing days, it’s not an expensive card. But it’s still a vintage card, predating the days of 1970s and 1980s overproduction. You can get a presentable one for around $40.
In 1962, Topps followed up with a 10-card subset featuring Ruth. These cards are inexpensive, but they’re vintage.
Topps also issued Ruth cards in little-known special sets in 1952 and 1954. If you’re reading this, you probably can’t afford a 1952 Topps Mantle, but you may be surprised to find out you can get a mid-grade 1952 Topps Babe Ruth card for $100-$150, and a low grade one for half that. That’s not a bad consolation prize and it makes for a good conversation piece. Topps also included Ruth in its 1948 Magic Photos set, which predates Topps’ better known issues by several years.
From 1959 to 1962, Fleer issued several cards featuring Ruth. Fleer couldn’t get a license to produce cards of contemporary players (except for Ted Williams), so they produced cards of all-time greats. These cards typically sell for well under $100, sometimes under $50, unless they’re in exceptional condition.
In 1961, Golden Press issued a Ruth card as part of a 33-card set of all-time greats.