Babe Ruth's Personal Chewing Tobacco Spittoon - Signed to Joe Bihler (Ex-Halper)

Sold For: $19,975

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1029

Item Year: 1940

Category: Autographed Baseballs/Flats/Photos

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Offered here is perhaps the most unusual Babe Ruth signed item in the entire collecting world: Babe Ruth's personal spittoon, which he signed on the underside when he presented it as a gift to Joe Bihler. Joe Bihler was a very close business associate of Ruth. He worked for many years on Ruth's promotional projects under Christy Walsh, who was Ruth's business manager. The gold-colored spittoon features Ruth's engraved initials, "GHR," on the front and has been inscribed on the flat underside in black ink, "To Joe/From Babe." Because the metal base is not a very conducive writing surface, the signature, while legible, is very light and grades "2/3." Joe Bihler had quite a few signed Ruth items commemorating his close friendship and business relationship with Ruth, but all of the other items (which are now in various collections and have appeared in various auctions over the years) were very traditional (Christmas cards, photos, books, etc.). It's impossible to say with certainty, but it is likely that this spittoon was given by Ruth at least in part as a joke. Ideally, the provenance of this piece is extremely well documented. This spittoon originates directly from Bihler's estate, which was sold in the 1970s, and was purchased by famed collector Barry Halper, who prominently displayed it in his den for many years. This was one of Barry's Halper's favorite Ruth pieces and in 1995 it was prominently pictured in a Sports Illustrated feature article on The Barry Halper Collection (May 22, 1995 issue, a copy of which accompanies the piece). The spittoon later entered the collecting community in 1999, when it was sold at the historic sale of The Barry Halper Collection in New York City. While the date of this spittoon is unknown, it probably dates from the time of Ruth's second marriage to Claire. Prior to that time Ruth was known for his unruly and uncouth behavior, but Claire took great pains to improve his manners and tame his wild lifestyle. After their marriage, this spittoon was probably one of the first things Claire purchased for their home (especially if Ruth insisted on chewing tobacco in the living room) in her efforts to "civilize" Babe. The spittoon (5 inches in height, top diameter of 6.5 inches) is lightly tarnished and displays two small dents along the side. In Excellent condition overall. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $19,975

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