Extraordinary original photograph, complete with its issued mount, capturing Babe Ruth posing with his father, Geore Herman Ruth Sr., at the family's tavern in Baltimore in 1915. Certified as a Type 1 original photograph by PSA/DNA. This is one of the most well-known photographs of Babe Ruth from its having been reproduced in countless books and periodicals over the past 100 years. Despite its familiarity, original examples, such as this, are exceedingly rare. To the best of our knowledge, fewer than five original prints have survived. The photographer's credit, "V. Velzis Studios/749 W. Baltimore St./Baltimore, MD.," appears in the lower-right corner of the mount.
The appeal of this photo is apparent at first glance, as it is impossible not to be struck by the resemblance between Babe Ruth and his father. One could easily mistake them for twins, especially since they are dressed in identical striped shirt, vest, tie, and bar apron. Although no year is listed, many reference sources specifically date the photo to December 27, 1915. While we cannot confirm that date, it is certainly a very close approximation given what we know. Ruth had just enjoyed his first full season with the Red Sox in the winter of 1915, winning 18 games in his rookie campaign. He also led the team in home runs, with four, despite having only 92 at-bats. Even more important for Ruth, the Red Sox won the World Series that year, defeating the Phillies in five games. As a result, Ruth received a check for $3,780.25, which was the full-share bonus for each member of the winning club. The amount, which was much more than his annual salary, probably shocked Ruth, but he didn't squander it. Instead, he bought his father a brand new tavern, called "Ruth's Cafe," at the corner of Lombard and Eutaw streets in Baltimore, where Ruth grew up.
While only speculation, this photo might capture the tavern during its grand opening. At the very least, it is from one of the establishment's earliest days. The bar is gaily festooned for the holiday season, with streamers decorating the ceiling. A large bowl of egg nog sits on the bar, while a sign along the back wall reads "Oyster Style Raw Bar Now Open." One of the most interesting aspects of the decor is the calendar on the wall to right of Ruth's father. It is a popular advertising calendar from the era, which could be custom ordered by retailers as a promotional giveaway. While it is difficult to make out all of the text, one can clearly see the lettering just above the tear-away calendar sheets that reads "Babe Ruth's Cafe."
The relationship between Ruth and his father was never a close one. When Ruth was 7 years old, his parents sent him to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, which was basically a reform school for incorrigible youngsters and orphans. Run by Jesuit Brothers, Ruth spent much of his remaining childhood there. Ruth's mother died in 1910 and all of his siblings died in infancy, with the exception of a younger sister, so by 1915, Ruth probably longed for a little stability in his family life. The tavern included an apartment above it, in which Ruth and his new bride, Helen, took up residence. Ruth also worked full time alongside his father during the entire off season. If Ruth's purchase of the bar for his father and their working together did help to bring them closer, their newfound friendship would be brief. Ruth moved to Boston the following year and in 1918 his father was accidentally killed while trying to break up a fight between two of his relatives outside the tavern. It was said that Ruth never again mentioned his father, either publicly or privately, for the remainder of his life.
Both the photo (9.5 x 7.75 inches) and mount (14 x 11.75 inches) have benefited from professional restoration to a number of tears. While the flaws are still evident upon close inspection, the photo in particular presents as Excellent in its overall appearance, displaying outstanding clarity and contrast. This is both a rare and historically significant Ruth photo, and just the fourth example we have seen at auction in the past 25 years. Opening Bid $5,000. Estimate (open).