The case of the fake 1935 Babe Ruth

Quick: Why is it easier to find a 1935 Goudey Babe Ruth on Ebay than the 1935 Goudey card featuring four of his former Yankee teammates, the less-than-immortal Red Rolfe, Johnny Allen, Jimmie DeShong, and Dixie Walker?

Because Red Rolfe was more likely to end up clothespinned onto bicycle spokes, right? Right?

That’s likely, but definitely not the only reason.

On New Year’s Eve, I was the high bidder on a 1935 Ruth card. The starting bid was $199, which is a little low, and I bet that since the auction was ending while most people were getting ready to celebrate their holiday, there wouldn’t be a lot of bids. I was right. I won, and got the card for a mere $211.

The card showed up in the mail less than a week later. Initially my reaction was one of elation, because the card better in person than I had expected it to. But then I looked at it some more. It looked too good. It was far from pristine, but this wasn’t a $200 card I had in my hands. If it was real, it was worth $800, or even $1,000. If it wasn’t real, it was worth about 50 cents.

The packaging made me suspicious too. Every card of a Hall of Famer I’ve bought off Ebay has come shipped with a lot of protection–several layers of plastic and one or two layers of cardboard, shipped in a bubble mailer.

This card was slipped into a penny sleeve, then into a hard plastic toploader, and shipped in a #000 bubble mailer. The seller didn’t take any precautions to prevent the card from being bent.

I went and got some more opinions on the card. One expert said the card looked rather real. But in person, the wear looked white where it should be at least a bit yellow, and there was absolutely no grayish-brown wear. Goudey printed these cards on cheaper, unbleached stock. Then I compared it against my other 1935s and noticed it wasn’t as thick as those cards either. Not only that, it was thinner than a 1968 Topps card, though it was thicker than a 1999 Upper Deck card I had handy.

The expert who told me the card looked good asked me what the card felt like. A genuine card will feel porous, not as smooth as a modern card. This card was definitely smoother than my known-good 1935s. Everything about it reminded me of 1980s Donruss and Fleer cards much more so than 1935 Goudeys.

Since I have a bit of background in graphic design and printing and an interest in toy paper buildings from the first half of the 20th century, the colors didn’t quite look right to me either.

The card didn’t say reprint on it anywhere, but I was pretty sure the card was a good 50 years newer than claimed.

So I requested a return, and the seller almost immediately approved it, no questions asked.

That’s not a smoking gun, but given that the seller didn’t ask me any questions and didn’t treat the card with the kind of respect I would give a $10 card, I have no regrets about sending the card back for a refund.

I know the 1935 Goudey set was reprinted in 1976 and again in 1985. The 1976 reprints won’t fool anybody because they had a thick white border. I don’t know if the 1985 cards were marked as reprints or not. I’ve been wavering on whether to get one of those sets or not. I could use reprints to plug the holes in my set until I get originals, but for the cost of the reprint set I could actually buy one of the originals sooner. Then again, having a reprint set or two would make it much easier to determine if I’m looking at real cards online.

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