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Lot # 1278 (of 1336)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1921 Babe Ruth Proctor's Theatre Vaudeville Advertising Card - Newly Discovered!

Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $19,200

Graded POOR 10 by SGC. Presented is an exciting newly discovered example of an exceedingly rare advertising card heralding Babe Ruth's vaudeville debut at Proctor's Theatre in Mount Vernon, New York, on November 3, 1921. This is an incredible rarity, and to the best of our knowledge, this is only the second example of this fascinating and significant Babe Ruth card. (The first confirmed example was offered as lot #443 in REA's 2009 auction, realizing $9,400.) The small white-bordered card, measuring 1.75 x 2.75 inches, features an exceptional high-quality continuous-tone real photo of Ruth in uniform as a member of the New York Yankees. We have never seen this image of Ruth before anywhere. Ruth's white facsimile inscription appears in the lower right corner: "To My Mount Vernon Admirers - 'Babe' Ruth - Proctor Theatre - Nov 3-4-5." The preprinted lettering on the reverse notes that this card was "Compliments of Mr. F. F. Proctor to Babe Ruth's Many Mt. Vernon Friends - Appearing at Proctor's - Mount Vernon - Nov. 3rd-4th-5th." The extreme rarity of this card is obviously a result of both its regional distribution and the fact that it promotes a specific three-day event and therefore was distributed for only a very short time (at a small venue, no less). It would be hard to overstate the rarity of this Ruth card! While there's no way for us to know what's in every attic in America, we would not be surprised if the two known examples (this example and the one offered in 2009) were the only surviving cards heralding Ruth's debut on the famed vaudeville circuit.

In addition, this card has an extremely fascinating story relating to its provenance: According to our consignor, the card has been in her family's possession since 1921 and was given to her father directly by Babe Ruth. According to the story passed through her family, Ruth and her father were in the same bar one evening when Ruth decided to hand out these cards to fellow patrons. While we have no way of confirming this to be the case, it is fascinating to think that Ruth may have been stumping for people to attend his show and using this very card as an advertising vehicle and reminder.

Ruth's 1921 season was one for the record books, as he took the baseball world by storm with his prodigious batting feats. In addition to setting new single-season records for home runs (59) and RBI (177), Ruth also led the league in runs (177) and slugging percentage (.512) in powering the Yankees to their first pennant in franchise history. Following the season, he decided to capitalize on his fame by taking part in a baseball barnstorming tour, followed by a fifteen-week tour on the Keith vaudeville circuit. Unfortunately, Ruth's off-season began on a sour note. His participation in the barnstorming tour violated league rules (World Series participants were forbidden to take part in postseason barnstorming tours) and resulted in his receiving a stern punishment from newly appointed Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Landis, who later both fined and suspended him for his "mutinous defiance." Landis' actions had no bearing on Ruth's stage career, however, and he debuted his new vaudeville act on November 3rd at Proctor's Theatre in Mount Vernon, New York. Ruth's debut that night is wonderfully detailed in Marshall Smelser's fine book, The Life That Ruth Built (University of Nebraska Press, 1993):

Ruth & Cross, with an act by Thomas J. Grey, tried out in Mount Vernon, New York, on November 3. They filled the house, the applause was spontaneous, and Ruth was at ease. Despite a cold, Ruth joined with Cross to sing 'Little by Little' in a 'not unpleasant baritone voice.' The critic thought the most memorable gag began with the delivery of a telegram, said to be from Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Commissioner of Baseball, even then, as all the world knew, brooding on the punishment he would give Ruth for barnstorming.

Cross: Is it serious?
Ruth: I should say it is! Seventy-five cents, collect.

After fine-tuning his act for two weeks at smaller theaters, Ruth finally arrived in New York City, playing the famed Palace Theatre on November 14th, where he was generally well received by the critics. As stated earlier, because this card was a regional issue in promotion of a three-night event, its distribution was probably quite limited, which explains the fact that only one other example is known. The card presents as Very Good overall, with outstanding centering, light wear to the corners, and a small stain present along the right border. It has been graded and encapsulated POOR 10 by SGC (submitted by REA), due to light paper loss on the reverse, which appears to be the result of album removal. The text is otherwise boldly printed. This is an outstanding, fascinating, and extremely rare Babe Ruth card, and one that would be an extremely important highlight in even the most advanced collection.  Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $19,200

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