Scarce 1916 Babe Ruth Department Store Rookie Card Expected To Fetch $500,000 At Auction

A rare 1916 Babe Ruth rookie card given out at a Milwaukee department store is now up for auction. In April 1916, Gimbels Department Store handed out these M101-4 Ruth cards as part of a promotional campaign for children who came in person to the boy’s clothing section. The PSA 5 Gimbels ink stamp on the verso is expected to fetch up to $500,000 in an auction at Bonhams.

A BABE RUTH M101-4 1916 ROOKIE CARD #151 PSA EX 5, WITH GIMBELS INK STAMP ON THE VERSO
A BABE RUTH M101-4 1916 ROOKIE CARD #151 PSA EX 5, WITH GIMBELS INK STAMP ON THE VERSO. (credit: Bonhams)

Ruth was part of a 200-card set, featuring other legendary players like Ty Cobb, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and Jim Thorpe.

The M101-4 set was developed by baseball card publisher Felix Mendelsohn. The cards were revolutionary at the time because they used black and white photography instead of color lithography.

“The fronts of the M101-4 cards are uniform, but the backs often feature different information, depending upon which of Mendelsohn’s clients distributed the sets,” Bonhams writes in the lot description. “Mendelsohn’s biggest client was The Sporting News, a St. Louis-based publication that dominated baseball news in the U.S., and most of the examples of the Babe Ruth M101-4 cards bear ‘Sporting News’ imprints on the verso (so much so that the M101-4 Babe Ruth rookie card is often referred to as the ‘Sporting News’ card). But at least 18 different companies distributed the M101-4 card sets, including the Altoona Tribune, Famous & Barr, H. Weil Baking Co., Successful Farming — and Gimbels Department Store.”

A BABE RUTH M101-4 1916 ROOKIE CARD #151 PSA EX 5, WITH GIMBELS INK STAMP ON THE VERSO
A BABE RUTH M101-4 1916 ROOKIE CARD #151 PSA EX 5, WITH GIMBELS INK STAMP ON THE VERSO. (credit: Bonhams)

The Gimbels text on the Ruth verso reads, “Everything for Boys of Every Age / Popular Prices / GIMBELS.” In an effort to drum up business, the department store published advertisements in Wisconsin newspapers to promote 20 free baseball cards every Saturday.

“The ad published in the Wisconsin papers reads: ‘Attention! / Boys of Milwaukee / Especially—You Baseball ‘fans’ / How would you like to have Photographs of 200 Major League stars and other “Stars of the Diamond”? You can have them in lots of 20—each Saturday. / First bunch of 20 photographs on Saturday FREE / These are actual photographs of the players in their favorite action, and in ten Saturdays you will have the entire 200 players. Won’t that be great? / Just sign your name and address below and present this ‘ad’ in Gimbels Boys’ Clothing Section on Saturday, the 15th, and receive the first 20 pictures FREE,'” says Bonhams.

Gimbels Department Store ad from 1916
Gimbels Department Store ad from 1916. (credit: Bonhams)

A 10-year-old Milwaukee boy took advantage of the promotion and scored the free Ruth card. He ended up leaving it to his grandson after he passed away.

Bidding for the card ends April 10.

Last December, a 1914 Baltimore News Ruth rookie card sold for $7.2 million — the third most expensive baseball card of all-time.

Babe Ruth: The Legendary Slugger Who Changed Baseball Forever

George Herman “Babe” Ruth, born on Feb. 6, 1895, in Baltimore, Maryland, is widely regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. His incredible batting prowess and larger-than-life personality made him a cultural icon and helped shape the sport of baseball as we know it today.

Ruth began his professional career as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in 1914. He quickly established himself as one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game, leading the Red Sox to three World Series titles in 1915, 1916, and 1918. However, it was his hitting that would eventually make him a legend.

In 1919, the Red Sox sold Ruth to the New York Yankees, a move that would forever change the course of baseball history. As a full-time outfielder and hitter, Ruth’s offensive numbers skyrocketed. He set numerous batting records, including the single-season home run record of 60 in 1927, a mark that stood for 34 years until Roger Maris broke it in 1961.

Ruth’s dominance at the plate helped the Yankees become the most successful franchise in baseball. He led the team to four World Series titles in 1923, 1927, 1928, and 1932. His famous “called shot” in the 1932 World Series, where he allegedly pointed to the center field bleachers before hitting a home run, remains one of the most iconic moments in sports history.

Off the field, Ruth’s popularity was unmatched. His charisma and love for the game endeared him to fans across the country. He became a symbol of the Roaring Twenties, a time of great prosperity and cultural change in America.

Ruth’s career spanned 22 seasons, during which he hit 714 home runs, a record that stood until Hank Aaron surpassed it in 1974. He was one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.

Ruth’s impact on baseball cannot be overstated. He revolutionized the game with his power hitting and helped usher in the live-ball era. His legacy continues to inspire players and fans alike, cementing his status as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century.

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