The R306 Babe Ruth was unknown and unchecklisted until 1989. Prior to its discovery, the R306 Butter Cream set was thought to be complete at twenty-nine cards. No one knows why Ruth is so rare, but its great rarity is reminiscent of the 1933 R328 US Caramel #28 Fred "Lindy" Lindstrom: Both are from traditional "R" card series, both are incredibly rare, and both were completely unknown until in the collecting world until the 1980s. In addition, both cards are also from sets issued in the early 1930s involving contests. The R328 Lindstrom, however, has been promoted with great fanfare and offered for sale on several occasions over the years, and the reason for its great rarity is well known. It was intentionally short-printed so that the company would not have to give out too many expensive prizes in exchange for a complete set as offered on the back of each card. It is very likely that there is an identical explanation regarding the extreme rarity of the R306 Ruth.
On the back of each R306 card is a contest entry form. Kids were supposed to guess the final batting average of the player featured on the obverse, and to also fill in their name and address, and send the card in by mail to the Butter Cream Confectionary Company in Union City, New Jersey. The exact rules of the contest and the prizes involved are not detailed on the cards. The contest rules were obviously somehow provided, either on the wrapper, in the form of additional promotional literature that is now long lost, or on promotional store displays. There are two styles of R306 back designs (each card was produced with both styles). One style provides the name and address of the Butter Cream Confectionary Company for youngsters to send their cards (and batting average guesses) in, the other does not provide the company name and address. Aside from the fact that if there was no prize or rules to the contest, there would be no motivation for youngsters fill out the backs and to send cards in, if there was no literature or store display signs providing instructions, kids would not even know where to send the cards that do not include the company's address on the reverse. It is likely that either a special prize was offered if one could send in all thirty cards in the set including the rare (intentionally short-printed) Babe Ruth card, or perhaps a special prize was offered for just the Babe Ruth card.
The R306 Ruth that is coming to auction is one of only two examples known. It is graded VG-EX 4 by PSA. There is only one other confirmed known example. Incredibly, a third example was long ago known to exist but that card has not survived. The existence of the R306 Babe Ruth in the collecting world first came to light in 1989. In one of the most incredible vintage card-related events to ever occur, at the 1989 Chicago National convention the gentleman who owned a poor condition example and another person with a photograph of a different second example both came to the Krause Publications table at the same time, independently, each reporting the existence of the card. The report of the event was published in the August 1989 issue of The Trader Speaks and read in part as follows:
"If we hadn't been standing behind our tables at the Chicago National and witnessed if firsthand, we'd be disinclined to accept this account - veracity-wise, probability-wise and otherwise. Out of 30,000+ persons in attendance at the show, what would you have guessed the chances that two people would simultaneously approach the KP Sports booth and verify the existence of a 30th Butter Cream card - and that card would be Babe Ruth?
A gentleman, perhaps in his 50s, approached the booth, indicating he had a major story for our publications. He pulled from his shirt pocket the Butter Cream Babe Ruth card which illustrates this article. A collector from Wisconsin, the gentleman was adamant that he didn't want his name identified with the card. It was not for sale, he said, he just wanted the hobby to know of its existence.
The Butter Cream Ruth, he said, was found pasted in a scrapbook along with a handful of other cards, and some 1933-1934 Goudeys. As can be seen, the back of the Ruth discovery card evidences its having been removed from a scrapbook page, though enough of the back printing remains to positively identify the card. The torn portions of the back make it impossible to determine which of the two back variations the discovery card of Ruth originally had.
We were effusing over what a great discovery this was when a young man ambled up to the front of the booth and said "That isn't the only one of those known." We must have looked incredulous, because he pulled from his pocket a color photograph of another - much higher grade - Babe Ruth Butter Cream. The young fellow said he was given the photo by the owner of the card with instructions to "shop" the card around the National. The photo showed the other card to be better centered and without obvious wear - at least Excellent condition, based on the photo. The young man left to telephone the card's owner and relay the news that another Babe Ruth Butter Cream card had turned up."
The second R306 Ruth which was unveiled in the form of a photograph on that day in 1989 is presumably out there somewhere, though we have no idea of its current whereabouts. That card was offered at auction in the Sports Collectors Digest in 1990. The auction was conducted in a very unusual manner, via a press release and advertisement in The Sports Collectors Digest. The minimum bid was $100,000. The owner was represented by an attorney who oversaw the auction process. All bids had to be sent in writing to the attorney, postmarked no later than Oct. 6, 1990, and all bids had to be accompanied by a 5% deposit. The result of the auction is unknown and was kept confidential. We have communicated with the attorney handling the sale. He was unfortunately unable to provide any information due to attorney-client privilege.
Incredibly, the first (lower grade) R306 Ruth unveiled in 1989 no longer exists. That card was also presented at auction, in the very early 1990s, by legendary collector/dealer/auctioneer Lew Lipset (author of The Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards). Barry Halper was particularly interested. However, the condition of the card was very weak and the minimum bid was very high. No one placed the opening bid, so Halper chose to not bid also, but he continued to express very strong interest immediately after the auction. A deal was struck between the two collecting legends. Barry also won an item of larger dimensions in the auction. Unfortunately, when Barry received the package, he unpacked the larger item and by accident completely forgot about the R306 Ruth, perhaps thinking it would be sent separately. He did not realize his error until it was too late and all the packing materials – along with R306 Babe Ruth – had been thrown out. The card was lost forever. It no longer exists. Always the perfect gentleman, Barry of course paid for the card, and no doubt hoped that Lew would somehow be able to help him locate another. But neither Lew Lipset nor anyone else was ever able to replace the R306 Ruth, which remained one of the very few Babe Ruth cards (perhaps the only one) that Barry Halper never was able to add to his collection.
While all this was happening in 1989 and the early 1990s, the unfolding events were carefully being watched by the owner of the card which is presented in this auction. Our consignor, a collector who had casually been following the hobby through the trade publications, for years knew from price guides that the R306 Ruth was unchecklisted and completely unknown. He always thought it was possible he had the only one and was very surprised to learn that there was even one additional R306 Ruth in existence, let alone two. His R306 Ruth had been saved by a family member who had personally collected Butter Creams as a youngster in 1933.
This card has been saved in the same family since 1933. There comes a time to sell everything, and it has been decided that it is now finally the time to part with the R306 Ruth. Over the years our consignor has carefully investigated how to eventually proceed with the sale of this historic card. After great thought he has decided to sell it at auction, and REA is delighted to have been chosen to present this extraordinary treasure. One last fascinating note: The card was submitted for grading directly by the consignor. After deciding to sell the card, and having read about the hobby for years, the owner assumed it would be essential to get the card authenticated and graded. The consignor actually traveled to a show with onsite grading, filled out the paperwork, stood in line, and handed PSA the card to grade. He waited two hours to get the card back graded, put it in his pocket, and left the show.
“When the consignor contacted REA about the card, at first we thought it was a joke,” said REA president Robert Lifson - especially when we were told this was the only card he had and that it had been graded by PSA. “News of a card of this magnitude getting graded usually travels fast and we had not heard anything about an R306 Ruth getting graded. We were still skeptical, but cautiously optimistic, when we checked the PSA Population report and found that yes, indeed, there was one R306 Ruth that had recently been graded. And it was graded VG-EX 4, exactly consistent with the story we were being told. It seemed incredible. Soon a scan followed. A few days later we had the card in our hands. It was the first time we had ever seen an R306 Ruth in person. And it was a very sharp-looking example!”
It is very difficult to place a value on such an important and legendary rarity which is essentially unique (one other example known to exist, whereabouts unknown). There are no other sales to refer to on this card. The closest point of reference may be the R328 US Caramel Lindy Lindstrom, which when first discovered was famously marketed as "The Million Dollar Card," and which has several sales at public auction (all many years ago) in the $75,000 to $100,000 range. But while the R306 Butter Cream Ruth and the R328 Lindstrom may have much in common, they are, of course, very different cards of very different players from very different sets. The consignor selling the card has no preconceived notions of its value, but does, however, have confidence in the auction process and is happy and willing to let the card go for whatever market says the card is worth. In this case, that may be the only reasonable approach. Whatever the final auction result, it is exciting for REA and The Sports Market Report to properly document the fascinating history of the R306 Babe Ruth card, and for PSA to be a part of the history of one of card collecting's most interesting and legendary rarities.
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