Monday, January 24, 2011

The Story Behind My First Babe Ruth Card - A Cautionary Tale

Well, here's a scan of my first ever legit vintage Babe Ruth card. And only the second graded card I've ever owned. Depending on how you look at this, I either got it for free or as part of a package... you be the judge. I'll preface this story by saying a few things:
1) I know I screwed up, I didn't do my research and I ultimately paid the price for my mistake. I can be a bit too naive and trusting. It's who I am and rather than change and distrust people, I know that I will get burned from time to time. Life's too short, in my opinion... trust people until they prove distrustful, that's how I live.
2) There are extenuating circumstances, Friday I was at TriStar alone and was looking to pick up a birthday present for my wife (this will all make sense later, just wait...) and what I found was something I considered rare. I went for it...
3) Bad/deceitful dealers, Topps and other factors were the reason I was pushed out of the hobby 15 years ago, I'm back now and trying not to let the same factors (they are still prevalent) push me back out again. Finding honest and generous blogger friends has really helped... seriously, thanks guys.
4) I will not be mentioning specific booth owners' names or their company. An effort was made to rectify the situation and while I still am not sure how I feel about it, I'm not going to drag their name in the mud or bash them in any way. If you feel you have a legit reason to know the details, e-mail me and we can discuss.

So here's the story. Friday I went up to Reliant Arena here in Houston for the first day of the card show. I had a few goals: get a lay of the land, see what was available for 1978 Topps, look for UD A Piece of History boxes and finally, find something for the wife. We were planning on making a return trip together on Sunday (which turned into Saturday after the events I'm about to describe) so I wanted to get her something while I was there alone AND I wanted to make sure there was product there she'd possibly be interested in buying. As I made my way around the arena, I found quite a bit of merchandise that I knew she'd be interested in (she collects movie memorabilia and cards, particularly older movie stars, Cagney, Garbo, Bogart, etc and she will trade so let me know if you have anything to offer, I'll trade baseball cards for them)... ok, back on topic...

So I turn one of the last corners before I start to call it a day and find a booth with an intriguing set of cards. They were small tobacco sized and styled cards but instead of baseball players, I could tell they were movie stars. The top card was Marlene Dietrich and while I couldn't tell you a thing about her, my wife had spoke of her often. I had never heard nor seen these cards before, despite spending MANY hours the past two holiday seasons searching for something for her card-collecting-related on eBay and through many other sites. I started talking to the booth owner and he pulled out 5 hard cards full of these cards and started showing them to me. Chaplin, Garbo, Gary Cooper, Lon Cheney, Buster Keaton... all names I recognized and knew she would as well. The owner explained that this was a 1931 set of Josetti tobacco cards. There were 272 in the set and all where there except #151, which was in a graded hard case (see above) as it was the Babe Ruth card in the set, coupled with Harold Lloyd. He named his price for the entire set, which was WELL out of my price range. I, hating myself in even asking, then inquired about breaking the set apart for me to buy all of the cards except the Ruth. He was more than willing to do so for the right price and after haggling a bit, we came to an agreement. This is the part where I was far too trusting and naive. I should have done some research to determine the market value of these cards. But I bought the 271 cards at a price I thought reasonable.

I was genuinely excited about getting these cards for my wife. They were vintage 1931 cards! Pre-WWII!!! They were movie stars and would be a piece of collecting that we could share together. I was so excited about it that I couldn't wait until March 15th to give it to her, so I gave it to her once I got home. Needless to say, she was VERY excited! I explained to her that it wasn't a complete set but that the one card we needed to complete it was the Babe Ruth and too expensive for us. She was ok with that. That's when I then went to eBay and did some much needed research which I should have done before purchase. That's when I found that for what I paid for the 271 cards, I could have gotten the entire set AND the Babe Ruth card (graded 3.5 instead of 4) off of eBay. To say that I was livid and angry is to be putting it mildly. I was mainly upset with myself for being so naive and quick to purchase. I stewed about it all night. It kept me up that night for a while. I wanted to be mad at the owner, but I also was kicking myself for not doing my own due diligence. So we decided Saturday to head up to TriStar then instead of Sunday and do our shopping and to give me a chance to do my Festivus "Airing of Grievances" with this booth owner/dealer.

So we printed out both eBay ads, and headed up to the show. I made a bee-line for the booth. For one of the few times in my life, I had a restrained yet pointed conversation without blowing my lid. I explained how I felt he took advantage of the situation and how I felt he was both greedy and unscrupulous. He explained that he had paid "X" amount for those cards and was only looking to make a marginal profit from the sale and could not believe that the set was selling that low on eBay. He acted remorseful and regretted that it upset me to the point that it did. I still don't know how genuine this is, with time maybe my emotions on it won't cloud my judgment as much. He then asked what I thought was a reasonable resolution. Two things crossed my mind: 1) I knew he wasn't going to give me a cent back and 2) I didn't have the cards with me so I couldn't give them back either. There was no reasonable solution, and I had come to confront him on his getting one over on me. I really hadn't expected any kind of resolution. In the end it was my fault and I very much expected him to wash his hands of it all and it be a learning experience for me. I told him that I had no resolution in mind. He said that if I could help him a little, and give him $40, he'd sell me the Ruth for that much. The thought of giving him MORE money almost made me lose it. I told him that my wife and I needed to go discuss it.

After spending a couple of hours shopping, we returned and I told him that mentally and emotionally I couldn't justify giving him another cent of my money, just on principle alone it goes against my sense of right and wrong. I was fine with walking away at that point and going home knowing I had made my case and handled my temper very well (which is a HUGE victory for me personally). He refused to let me go, he reached into his case and pulled out the Ruth card and handed to it me. He said he wanted me to have it, that it wasn't worth it to him to leave me with such a rotten feeling in my stomach about it all and that he didn't want any customer of his to feel like he scammed them or pulled a quick one on them. I really didn't feel right taking it, as he had explained the amount of money (supposedly... I mean, how do I know for sure what he paid!?!?) he had sunk into the set. After some more debate, he finally told me that he wasn't going to let me leave without the card.

So, there's the story. Do I feel great about it? Not particularly. Am I afraid that it's bad-collectors-karma that could haunt me? Possibly. I want/need to know what you readers think. I mean, I absolutely LOVE the card, and if I had known the cost of it all, I may have bought it to complete the set if I bought it through eBay. Do I walk away with a lesson learned and just enjoy owning the card now? I'm conflicted...

P.S.... got two trade packages in the mail today... will post later in the week...


  1. First off I gotta say that it seems like a great gift for your wife and the fact that you can enjoy the hobbie together is awesome. Now on to the situation you encountered. The only mistake you made was not being informed enough about a set that you had no idea you were going to encounter at the show. That's no reason to be taken advantage of. When anybody goes into a store, collectible or other, you have the right and expect the owner to treat you fairly and honestly. Now if the owner of this booth really wasn't aware of the true market value of the set then shame on him. If he did know the value and tried to get over on you as an uninformed consumer he should be banned from selling at any shows in the future. What makes me think it may be the latter is the fact that he tried to get you for another $40 after you presented the facts that he overcharged you by fair market value standards. I commend you for standing your ground and not paying when such an awesome card is in your hand like that. I figure he must have decided to give it to you so you didn't bad mouth him (fully deserved by the way) and hurt his business for the next 2 days at the show. I would feel no remorse and enjoy the hell out of the card and set since in the end you got a fair deal on the complete set. It's unfortunate that in a hobby where pricing can be so subjective, there are some people who try to take advantage.

  2. I think you did the best you could with a tough situation. I don't think you'll ever truly know whether the guy was trying to pull a fast one on you, but at this point speculating on what might have been will drive you insane. I think in the end the dealer did the right thing, although he could have refunded you the difference (or close to it) from what you paid and the price of the set on eBay. I think he did the wrong thing when he asked you for more money, but the right thing when he reconsidered, and handed you the Ruth. I believe I would have handled this situation exactly as you did. I understand your feelings of 'guilt' for taking the Ruth, but what it comes down to is that this is a business transaction, you were the customer, and it is the dealer's job as the business owner to make sure his or her customers are happy. Consider, also, that you really didn't get the Ruth for 'free.' You overpaid for the set in the first place. Regardless of everything else, congrats on the Ruth pick-up!

  3. Wow... that's a great set and an interesting tale.