This 1916 Babe Ruth Rookie Card Was a Store Giveaway. Now It Could Fetch $500,000 at Auction.

A Babe Ruth baseball card could score big when it hits the auction block later this month.

The 1916 M101-4 Babe Ruth rookie card will go under the hammer at Bonhams, and bids are expected to fetch anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000. Over a century ago, in April of 1916, Gimbels department store ran a marketing campaign that included a free giveaway of 20 baseball cards from different Major League stars to any child who visited the boy’s clothing section. As it turned out, the present owner’s grandfather, who was 10 years old at the time, acquired the Great Bambino card during the promotion, and the relic has been handed down within the family ever since.

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Baseball card publisher Felix Mendelsohn produced the historic M101-4. The Ruth card on offer features black and white photography instead of a color lithograph and has been graded a five out of 10. On the back, it sports an advertisement for the department store that reads: “Everything for Boys of Every Age / Popular Prices / GIMBELS.”

“A profound and desirable rarity in any condition, Ruth rookie cards are one of the of most sought-after trading cards in existence,” the auction house says. “Ruth’s larger-than-life personality, record-breaking achievements, and memorable moments, such as his ‘called shot’ in the 1932 World Series between the Yankees and the Cubs, when Babe pointed two fingers at center field before driving a mammoth home run deep into the center field seats, all contribute to his enduring legacy.”

M101-4 1916 Babe Ruth Rookie Card
A 1916 Babe Ruth rookie card with a Gimbels ad on the back is headed to auction.

The Baltimore Orioles signed Ruth in 1914, but the team traded the rookie to the Boston Red Sox shortly after. The Sox ended up sending him back down to the minors before he returned as a pitcher and hitter in 1916. Three years later, he was famously traded to the New York Yankees, which led to the Curse of the Bambino legend.

Last year, a 109-year-old Babe Ruth card sold for a whopping $7.2 million at an online auction, the third-highest sum ever paid for a sports trading card and the most for any Ruth item. The 1914 Baltimore News card was one of just 10 in existence. The Gimbels version of the M101-4 1916 Babe Ruth rookie card will be for grabs during Bonhams’s Fine Books and Manuscripts event, which will run online and in New York from March 31 to April 10. The auction also includes literary memorabilia including a first edition, first printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

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