A Maryland woman’s discovery in an old piano more than a quarter-century ago is paying off. The M101-4 Babe Ruth rookie card she found in a stuck pedal sold at auction for $130,053 this week.
The 1916 Sporting News card features a photo with his name, position and team on the front and a blank back.
Babe Ruth card discovered in old piano
Ellen Kelly found the card in 1992 in her aunt’s piano and kept its discovery quiet until deciding to sell it this year, per Sports Collectors Daily.
Her aunt Nora kept the piano at her Westernport, Maryland, home though Kelly noted she “never [remembers] it working.” It was kept in the family after Nora’s death in 1969 and put up in a family estate sale in 1992.
Ellen Kelly purchased it for $25.
Since she wanted to play it, she had a friend come over to fix a pedal and tune it, per Sports Collectors Daily. They found the problem: 112 baseball cards inside the pedal.
“He was looking at a pile of cards and I said, ‘Hey, there’s Babe Ruth,’” Kelly said.
She told the site her father or uncle likely stashed the cards to keep them from being thrown out by Nora, a neat freak.
Kelly said she decided to auction them to help care for her brother’s medical condition and buy a new vehicle as her truck is breaking down.
Ruth goes for double the estimate
The cards Kelly found were put up as part of the Beckett Goodwin Masterpieces and Uncommon Commons 78 auction, which opened and closed last month.
The card had 23 bids on it and fetched double what Beckett anticipated at $130,054. It was graded a 2.5 BVG (Good+), per Sports Collectors Daily.
“We were expecting $60,000-$75,000 [for the card], so it far exceeded our expectations,” said Steve Bloedow, Beckett Director of Auctions, in a Beckett news release. “Ruth’s RC continues to soar in price and has clearly joined the hobby’s elite. The centering and eye appeal on this one was very strong so it’s not shocking that it exceeded all expectations.”
It set a record for public sale of a card in its graded condition, per Forbes. It sold for four times more than another Ruth rookie card sold for a decade ago. And that one was in better condition.
The card, graded a 6 on a scale to 10, sold in Heritage Auctions for $38,837 in 2009, per Forbes. It would be $46,017.44 in today’s dollars due to inflation.
Kelly’s collection included fellow Hall of Famers from the era such as Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander. The cards condition was “surprisingly good,” a senior grader told Sports Collectors Daily, but all of them had dust stains as well as a crimp likely from sitting underneath the pedal.
The 110 other cards from 1916 sold as one for $4,420, according to Forbes.
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