An exceptionally rare 1914 Babe Ruth baseball card from the legendary American sports icon’s days as a minor league pitcher has sold at auction for $7.2 million (£6 million).
The pre-rookie card depicts a 19-year old Ruth during his brief stint with the Baltimore Orioles before he made his Major League debut with the Boston Red Sox later that year.
Although the final bid fell shy of an ambitious $10 million valuation from the auction house, it makes the card the second most valuable sports trading card ever sold.
Last year, a rare 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card, made $12.6 million (£10.5 million) at auction.
Brian Dwyer, president of New Jersey-based Robert Edward Auctions which handled the sale, said the final price reflects Ruth’s enduring, larger-than-life appeal. “He’s a transcendent figure. Whether you’re from Boston or New York, or just a sports fan or not even a sports fan, you know the name Babe Ruth.”
The card’s rarity is exceptional and its sale triggered some fevered bidding. There are only 10 known surviving examples of minor league Ruth cards.
Ruth as a New York Yankee in 1920.
The image on the card shows Ruth as a promising teenage pitching prospect. His baby face is in stark contrast to the better-known image of the big Yankees slugger who would reshape baseball record books in the 1920s.
Sports memorabilia is a niche and specialist collecting area. Baseball cards even more so. But rare items linked to iconic athletes like Ruth or Mantle can reach staggering sums at auction. The sellers believe figures like those transcend their sports and the time periods in which they played.
This is the third most valuable baseball trading card sold in open sales.
A Mickey Mantle card from his rookie year with the Yankees sold for $12.6 million. A T206 1909-11 Honus Wagner trading card was sold in a private transaction by Goldin Auctions for $7.25 million.
Baseball cards were pioneered in the 1860s. The first were used to advertise sports stores, but they later became a staple giveaway with cigarettes and sweets. In the US the collectible cards market is enormous, supporting a circuit of shows and conventions.