An incredible discovery.

Group portrait of baseball players (left to right) Babe Ruth, Bob Shawkey, and Lou Gehrig of the American League's New York Yankees, sitting on a batting practice backstop on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1930.
Group portrait of baseball players (left to right) Babe Ruth, Bob Shawkey, and Lou Gehrig of the American League’s New York Yankees, sitting on a batting practice backstop on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1930.

Easily our favorite part of running a sports auction is the research component.  Digging into the history of an item, a player or a team, and discovering some obscure detail that can improve a story or increase our knowledge is rewarding, challenging, and most importantly, fun.

This time, we’ve found something that’s never been found before, and it has an enormous impact on the key lot in our current auction.

Several weeks ago, we let you know about the Lou Gehrig game-used bat that would be featured in our summer auction.  It is an extraordinary piece with an incredible backstory, and it’s made lots of news since we announced it, appearing in a variety of articles in newspapers, magazines, and also on television.

While we were designing our catalog, however, we actively searched for a photo of Gehrig, holding a Batrite bat.  On the other occasions when Gehrig Batrites have sold at auction, the listings included a photo of Gehrig, selecting a bat from a bat tray that contained some post-1930 Batrite models, but we’d never found a photo of the Iron Horse with a Batrite featuring the “bat wing” logo.

Two weeks ago we discovered one, taken for the Chicago Daily News, featuring Gehrig alongside Bob Shawkey and Babe Ruth.  The photo depicted Gehrig clearly holding a “bat wing” bat, so much so that it could have been an ad for Hanna Batrite.  We reached out to the Chicago History Museum, who owns the rights to the photo, and procured a license.

What they sent us was astonishing: a 1200 DPI scan from the glass plate negative that illustrated the detail on the bat in a way we hadn’t seen before: the grain patterns on the bat appeared to be a match for the bat in our auction!

Group portrait of baseball players (left to right) Babe Ruth, Bob Shawkey, and Lou Gehrig of the American League's New York Yankees, sitting on a batting practice backstop on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1930.
Group portrait of baseball players (left to right) Babe Ruth, Bob Shawkey, and Lou Gehrig of the American League’s New York Yankees, sitting on a batting practice backstop on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1930.

This week we returned the bat to John Taube of PSA/DNA, who conducted a thorough examination of the bat, and arrived at the same conclusion: we had a photo match, and are in possession of the exact bat being held by Gehrig in the photo!

PSA/DNA found nine different points of reference on the subject bat with the bat in the photo, where the grain alignment of the barrel and centerbrand matched perfectly.  Like fingerprints, grain patterns are unique.  This new discovery increased the grade of the bat from PSA/DNA GU 8.5 to PSA/DNA GU 9.

This is the first and currently only Lou Gehrig professional model bat that has ever been photo matched.  Among the rarest pro model bats in the hobby, this photo match enables us to put this very bat in Gehrig’s hands in Comiskey Park in 1930, clearly establishing Gehrig’s use with photographic proof.  No Lou Gehrig bat exists with such impeccable provenance.

This extraordinary discovery could not have been made without help from the fine folks at the Chicago History Museum, or John Taube of PSA/DNA.  We are thrilled to offer this incredible bat, now dated to 1930, perhaps Gehrig’s finest offensive season.  How many of Gehrig’s 220 hits in 1930 were pounded by this bat?

Visit us in Manhattan on Thursday

Foleys PosterCome celebrate the launch of our Summer auction at the great Foley’s NY Pub & Restaurant on Thursday, July 23, from noon til 4PM.

Foley’s is at 18 W. 33rd St., between 5th & Broadway, right across from the Empire State Building.  If you can make it down, we’ll be displaying material from our summer auction (which will be underway), offering free appraisals on pre-1960 sports memorabilia, and offering special deals on consigning to our fall auction.

Most importantly, though, come see Lou Gehrig’s bat!

Hope to see you there.

Extraordinary Babe Ruth Famous & Barr Rookie Card

M101 Ruth

We’re proud to feature a beautiful 1916 Famous & Barr Babe Ruth in our upcoming Summer auction.

The Summer, 2008 edition of Old Cardboard contains what we believe to be the definitive word on the various M101-4 and M101-5 issues, in an article entitled “Making Sense of M101-5 and M101-4.”  Written by hobby scholars Tim Newcomb and Todd Schultz, the article makes sense of the various card issues produced in 1916 by Felix Mendelsohn, including the Famous & Barr issue.  The article discusses Meldelsohn’s visionary use of black and white action photography on baseball cards, a practice seldon seen in 1916 but which remains in practice today.  As collectors dig further into the complexities of the M101-4 and M101-5 issues, the beauty (and difficulty) of the various sets is helping to increase their popularity.

Of course a larger contributor to the issue’s growing popularity is the presence of what is often considered Babe Ruth’s rookie card.  The card is one of the hottest in the hobby at this time, with record breaking prices realized virtually every time an example becomes available.  Examples of the card are known with a variety of advertising backs, and most are considered rare.  The significance of this card cannot be overstated; it is one of the most important cards in the hobby, its rarity increased by the difficult Famous & Barr advertising back.  In fact, just six graded examples of this card are known to exist (one of which does not appear on any population reports, but according to another auction house, does exist).

1916 Famous Ruth BackThe card, which depicts Ruth as a young Red Sox pitcher, is graded POOR 10 by SGC though the aesthetic appeal of the card is far greater.  The primary flaws lie in two tiny, barely perceptible pinholes at the top and bottom of the card.  In addition, the card is marred by a thin crease that traverses the center of the card, as well as mild soiling and what appears to be glue residue on the reverse.  That glue residue, however, is likely what maintained the card is such presentable condition, as mounting cards in vintage scrapbooks was a practice that helped preserve their appearance for many years.  Such is the case with this card, which boasts a sharp, clean image and centering far superior to most examples of this card.

Few cards in the hobby are true “blue chip” cards.  A 1916 Famous & Barr Ruth rookie card, however, certainly qualifies, as few cards in the hobby are more desirable.  As we approach the 100th anniversary of the card’s production, we are pleased to offer this amazingly rare specimen, a centerpiece of even the most World Class collection.