New R306 Butter Cream Confectionary Babe Ruth Discovered!

Published by Robert Lifson on Tagged Uncategorized

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REA is excited to report a newly-discovered R306 Butter Cream Confectionary card of Babe Ruth! In the very small universe of truly iconic baseball cards, few cards approach the rarity of this elusive legend. Exactly three are known, including this newly-discovered example.

The R306 Ruth is a card that is so rare that even an image of the card had never appeared in a guide or an auction catalog prior to REA’s offering of the first example ever sold at auction in May 2008.

It is always fascinating for us to see new important rarities surface. There is always a story associated with any new discovery and this is no exception. When an important item sells for a significant sum at auction, the auction result can sometimes receive a lot of publicity. This can sometimes play a role in bringing treasures to the marketplace that otherwise might remain in attics or might never surface. The R306 Ruth sale in May 2008 was a particularly newsworthy card collecting event because the card is so rare, valuable, and the card itself has such a fascinating story. In August 2008, a gentleman from New England happened to see a newspaper story reporting about the sale of the R306 Ruth in the May 2008 REA auction. He is not a collector, but as a youngster he did have an interest in cards, including old cards. From the illustration in the story he immediately recognized the R306 Ruth as being from the same set as a small group of cards he was given as a gift by a family friend as a youngster. He had no idea if he had Babe Ruth (he had not looked at these cards in approximately twenty years) so he called his parents. The cards were still stored at their house and he asked if they would check his cards for him. For collectors who are knowledgeable about the hobby’s rarest cards, R306 Butter Creams, or vintage cards in general, the idea that a group of approximately a dozen R306 cards would happen to include Babe Ruth is preposterous. Things like that just don’t happen. It would be similarly unlikely for a noncollector to read of the value of a T206 Honus Wagner, have a small handful of T206 tobacco cards, check them to see if maybe he has a Honus Wagner, and actually finding one. Anything is possible, of course, but finding an R306 Ruth among a small (or large) group of R306s, in our opinion, truly falls within the realm of a card-collecting miracle. But that’s exactly what happened! Our consignor would have been more likely to win the lottery. Or get hit by lightning. He didn’t know anything about how great the odds were stacked against him. When he called his parents on the telephone, they got the cards out for him, and they told him that yes, he had Babe Ruth! This is the third R306 Babe Ruth card known to exist.

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 29 cards. No one knows why Ruth is so rare, but its great rarity is reminiscent of the 1933 R328 US Caramel #16 Fred “Lindy” Lindstrom: Both are from traditional “R” card series, both are incredibly rare, and both were completely unknown 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 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. Previous to this unlikely discovery there were only two R306 Ruths known. The stories of the other R306 Ruths (and yes, each has a story!), and the story of the no longer existing example that was thrown out by accident in a deal between collecting legends Barry Halper and Lew Lipset years ago, can be found in the REA auction archives. (Here is the link:  http://www.robertedwardauctions.com/auction/2008/4.html).

The newly discovered R306 Ruth has a Near Mint appearance but has not been assigned a numerical grade. It is encapsulated “Authentic” by SGC due to the fact that according to SGC it appears that this card was not machine-cut, but was perhaps more likely cut from a sheet in a different manner. Looking at a scan of the card, it is not apparent that the R306 Ruth card has an unusual cut (though SGC was able to examine the card before it was encapsulated and it may have been easily seen under magnification). An unusual cut, however, is clearly apparent on some of the other R306 Butter Cream cards which accompanied the Ruth, and which will be offered together as a separate lot. This in itself is fascinating. While we don’t know precisely how or when these cards were cut from a sheet, it is likely that the great mystery and rarity of the R306 Babe Ruth card is somehow related to the survival of this example and the unusual cut of this group. The fact that Ruth is so rare, combined with its great value as the key card to receiving a valuable prize in 1933, clearly tells us that the Ruth card was not cut and issued in the exactly the same manner as all the other cards in the set. The fact cards from this small group have a slightly irregular cut suggests that this group originates from the printer or directly from someone that worked for the company. The fact that the group also happens to include the impossible Babe Ruth card is clearly related. It doesn’t tell us everything, but like the T206 Gretzky-McNall Wagner (a perfect analogy as this extraordinary R306 Babe Ruth example is literally “the Gretzky-McNall Wagner of R306s”), it does give us a clue as to how this incredible rarity could possibly have survived in essentially perfect condition. Even the boldness and perfection of the printing on this example is far superior to the other Ruth examples, and the quality of the image is superior even to other R306s. The image on this card has perfect contrast, no printing imperfections (which are so common to R306s), and the image really “jumps out”, which is extremely rare and for any R306 Butter Cream card, let alone Babe Ruth. All of the cards, including Ruth, have the lightest barely-detectable hint of toning from glue on the reverse. These cards were stored in an album since 1933, and this (along with the fact that they were probably never actually issued in packs of Butter Cream Confectionary) has played a role in their near-perfect preservation.  

It is very difficult to place a value on such an important and legendary rarity which is essentially unique. There are few other sales to refer to on this card. This card will be featured in REA’s April 2009 auction. Whatever the final auction result, it is exciting for us to properly document the fascinating history of the R306 Babe Ruth card, and in the process to be a part of the discovery of, and help write another chapter in the history of one of card collecting’s most interesting and legendary rarities. Reserve $10,000. Estimate (open).



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