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Treasure: Liberty card has bevy of baseball signatures

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Anything marked with Babe Ruth’s name commands attention. So we were curious when a letter came in from Jerry and Nancy Lanctot with a picture of an item with the famous player’s signature at the top.

“These are two pictures of the front and back of my father-in-law’s liberty card from the U.S. Navy,” Jerry explained in a letter to the column. “We think it was signed in New York in the summer of 1929. The autographs are Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, D. Schulte, Buck Newsom and Frank Grube. Jack Burns was the captain of the ship.”

Sports enthusiast and expert Jerry Anderson took a look for them at a recent appraisal session at DuMouchelles auction house and art gallery, where Lanctot gave him a little more background.

“We think that my father-in-law was on leave in New York and had his card and went to a game and got them all to sign,” he says of the small orange card marked “Navy Department, Bureau of Navigation and Official Business.” The other side is marked “U.S.S. Cincinnati,” and with the name C. Fails.

Beyond that, the dates and details are a mystery, he says. Unfortunately, Nancy’s father passed away without giving them much background on the piece, so Lanctot’s age estimate is a guess at best, he says. The 1929 date came not from family lore but from a sporting goods shop on Woodward Avenue many years ago when the couple took the card looking for an appraisal and more information.

Anderson thought the date was iffy at best, but agreed that he would date it “definitely before the war,” but added that the player dates don’t appear to track by team or year. The appraiser’s best guess was that the card was signed at a charity or all-star event sometime during that time frame. Anderson also told Lanctot that it’s hard to get a Babe Ruth signature by itself and that Ruth’s signature was often found with a variety of others. “The fact that this is an impromptu piece gives it more value than one that was premeditated,” he also added. “It also has more authority because it was signed in his presence.”

Anderson said he found one similar item that sold at $850 that had similar all-stars who went to Japan. He said that one key to knowing it was real Ruth autograph was that he always used a black fountain pen to sign items. “That’s what’s here, which is a good sign,” he told Lanctot. He added that individual autographs often command more, but that he would estimate the piece at $800-$1,500 at auction and recommended that it be kept out of the light, in an acid-free enclosure and in a dark place.

“The key with things like this is that you keep the moisture away from them,” he told Lanctot. “You want to make sure it doesn’t get moldy.”

While he appreciated Anderson’s tips, the couple ultimately decided to sell it. “I checked with my kids and they’re not really excited about it,” he said. Anderson recommended that the couple contact the website psacard.com, which will authenticate and sell the piece. Lanctot is planning to pursue that in the near future. “If I know anything, I know it’s not a fake,” he said.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to trashortreas@aol.com. If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About This Item

Item : Autographed Navy card

Owner : Jerry and Nancy Lanctot

Appraised by : Jerry Anderson, DuMouchelles

Estimated value : $800-$1,500 at auction