Ellen Kelly, of Westernport, bought the piano at a family estate sale in 1992 for $25. When she noticed the pedal was sticking and the piano seemed out of tune, she called a friend to take a look. Wedged under the pedal was a stack of 112 baseball cards from 1916, including one of the first cards of Ruth, Sports Collectors Daily reported.
“Best $25 I ever spent,” Kelly told the website.
After 27 years, Kelly, 65, a receptionist at an area hospital, is now selling the card -- now known as the "Piano Babe Ruth" card -- along with the other cards. The Ruth rookie is a 1916 M101-4 Babe Ruth blank back card that is part of Goodwin and Company's Masterpieces and Uncommon Commons auction, which ends April 25.
The card, which carries a 2.5 grade from Beckett Grading Services, already is close to six figures as bidding continues, according to the Goodwin website.
After buying the piano, which is now nearly 100 years old, Kelly moved it to her home. When a friend fixing the piano uncovered the cards, Kelly did a double take.
"He was looking at a pile of cards and I said, 'Hey, there's Babe Ruth,'" Kelly told Sports Collectors Daily.
In addition to the card that depicted Ruth as a young pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, there were more than 20 other Hall of Famers. Those cards, the key elements of a 110-card lot belonging to Kelly, are part of a second Goodwin auction lot.
Kelly’s stash did not include Ty Cobb or “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
"If I'd had those two (plus Ruth), I would have retired a long time ago," Kelly told Sports Collectors Daily.
Kelly said she believed the cards were hidden in the piano either by her father or an uncle.
"They had to hide the cards because my aunt threw everything out," Kelly told Sports Collectors Daily.
Kelly put the cards in a safe deposit box, where they remained until she allowed a friend to research auction possibilities. After the cards were graded in early March, Goodwin and Company listed the Babe Ruth card it in the auction house’s latest sale.
"We thought $60,000 to $75,000 was a fair estimate for this card," Steve Bloedow, Beckett's media director of auctions, said in a news release.
"Different people had offered to do it before for me, but it didn't feel right," Kelly told Sports Collectors Daily. "Someone offered me $40,000 for the Babe Ruth card and I thought, 'That's Babe Ruth, he's worth more than that.'"
The cards were in surprisingly good condition, according to Andy Broome, a senior grader for Beckett -- except for one flaw.
"They all had this crimp, most of them in the middle of the card, like there had been something heavy on top of it," Broome told Sports Collectors Daily. "They all line up. If they didn't have that crimp, they'd be beautiful."
Kelly is considering selling the family home and moving closer to her brother, who is receiving medical care. She said she will use the proceeds from the auction to help her brother financially and buy a new truck.
"I don't guess I realized what they (cards) were worth when I found them," Kelly told Sports Collectors Daily. "My brother's Subaru is broken down and so is my Ford Ranger truck. I just want to get a new truck to get around in.
“And I just want to help my brother, so it’s time.”