Not worth the paper it’s written on

Published 8:32 pm Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Babe Ruth arguably was the greatest baseball player of all time, certainly of his generation.  Many of his baseball records survived for decades and some remain even today.

It was 100 years ago this year that Ruth began his baseball career.  In 1918 he signed with the Boston Red Sox for the princely sum of $5,000.  This week that contract sold at an auction for $1.02 Million, a new record for a sports contract.

Other items sold for high amounts, including one of Ruth’s early bats which brought $215,000 and a signed ball for $96,000.   Clearly the Great Recession has not hit the people whose hobby is collecting baseball memorabilia.

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Readers often see a popular phrase, “Not worth the paper it’s written on”.  Obviously that isn’t the case with Ruth’s contract, but it does apply to many things in our everyday life.  Many would argue that the U.S. Dollar has not been worth the paper it’s written on since the gold standard was lifted.

Even as the stock market once again breaks new records, there are many who remember various crashes when the stock certificate of a company was not worth the paper it was printed on.   Those a little older than me may have driven a Studebaker, like my Dad.  I certainly remember F. W. Woolworth and Tower Records.  Who my age can’t remember American Motor Company, the maker of two of the ugliest automobiles of all time; the Gremlin and the Pacer.

Those of us affected by the budget of the United States (that includes all of us, doesn’t it), might agree the budget isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.   Of course that only applies to the years when Congress actually manages to pass a budget.

As breathtaking as the price paid for Ruth’s 1918 contract is, it doesn’t even come close to the value of some of the most valuable pieces of paper.  The singular most valuable book is thought to be “The Codex Leicester” purchased in 1717 by the Earl of Leicester.  It contains many of the handwritten notes of Leonardo di Vinci.

Some 300 years later, it was purchased by Bill Gates for $31 Million.  Given the inflation of the past 30 years and the increase in wealth of collectors, it is widely considered to be priceless.

Just five years ago, a little chalk drawing about the size of a sheet of notebook paper, sold for a record at an art auction.  The “Head of a Muse” by Raphael was purchased for almost $48 Million.

If you should happen to find one of the few signatures of William Shakespeare in existence, you can expect to receive at least $5 Million if you decide to part with it.

Moving back to baseball; $2.1 Million was paid for a 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card just over a year ago.  Wagner was fiercely anti-tobacco, and when he learned that one of his baseball cards was selling with cigarettes, he personally ordered all production of the cards stopped and had the existing copies destroyed.   Only a few dozen exist today.