Incredible 1920 Babe Ruth Original Large-Format Hollywood Publicity Photograph

Sold For: $30,000

Auction Year: 2017 spring

Lot: 1877

Item Year: 1920

Category: Post-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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Extraordinary large-format (10.5 x 13.5 inches) promotional display photograph of Babe Ruth in uniform as a member of the New York Yankees, taken by legendary Hollywood cinematographer Ned Van Buren in 1920. This stunning matte finish display photograph would be on a short list of candidates to qualify as "The Finest Babe Ruth Photograph Extant." This is the single most impressive Ruth photograph we have ever seen. It is in a league of its own and is simply an extraordinary Babe Ruth display piece of any type, let alone an original specially produced large-format artist-signed display photograph. The photo features a still from one of Ruth's two silent-film instructional shorts produced in 1920. Not surprisingly, it is ideal for display as intended.

The photograph has cinematographer Ned Van Buren's signature and the date ("1920") written in red pencil near the lower left corner (the name touches upon Ruth's leg). The crystal-clear image pictures Ruth striking a batting pose at the Polo Grounds (the Yankees played at the Polo Grounds from 1913 to 1922) with a catcher positioned behind him. Its status as a film image is confirmed both by Van Buren's association and by the fact that Ruth is wearing a coat of white "pancake" makeup on his face, a common practice in Hollywood during the silent era. Ruth made three films in 1920: one was the feature film Headin' Home, and the other two were instructional shorts titled, Babe Ruth, How He Hits His Home Runs and Play Ball With Babe Ruth. Because Ruth is wearing his Yankees uniform, as opposed to the fictional uniform worn in Headin' Home, it is a virtual certainty that this still was issued in promotion of one of the aforementioned instructional shorts (no cast or crew information is available on those films). Notable for both its quality and size, this is undoubtedly one of the finest Babe Ruth photographs in existence. The fact that it dates from Ruth's first season with the New York Yankees is also noteworthy and adds to its historical significance. Ruth photos of this size and quality, especially those dating from his early years with the New York Yankees, are exceedingly rare (in fact, virtually nonexistent), as are those related to his few cinematic endeavors. This is the only example of this large-format photo we have ever seen, and it ranks as one of the premier Ruth photos of any era. We can only speculate, based on the size and unrivaled quality of the print, that this was produced for promotional theater display or as a special presentation piece for those involved with the film in some significant manner. The photo remains in extraordinary condition, with only the slightest hint of minor edge wear, a few light surface wrinkles (barely visible), and a slight semicircle surface mark touching upon Ruth's leg. A few vintage pencil notations (relating to Ruth's career), appear on the reverse. In spectacular Excellent to Mint condition overall. Reserve $2,500. Estimate $5,000++.

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