He may have signed more free autographs than any player in sports history. You could almost say Babe Ruth made collecting baseball autographs popular. The large, flowing, eminently legible strokes seemed to get better as his career and life went on. Now, the earliest photo of the Bambino putting his name on a piece of memorabilia is up for auction.
RMY Auctions is offering the 101-year-old image—one that spent most of its life in a newspaper archive—in its July Collectors Auction. The photo was die cut for publication and then mounted for preservation.
Measuring about 3 ½” x 5 ¼”, the photo shows Ruth sitting and signing a photo, presumably of himself, for an unidentified man, who also has a baseball at the ready. Taken in 1920, Ruth’s first season with the Yankees, it carries a light International News stamp on the back—one that was used by the company in that year alone. No earlier images of Ruth signing anything prior to 1920 are known to exist.
Ruth had become the center of attention after Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold him to the Yanks for the unheard of sum of $100,000, calling him “selfish and inconsiderate.” Despite the young Ruth’s talent as a pitcher and slugger, it was a lot of money for the Yankees to spend on a single player and there was some concern after he finished April with just one homer. He rebounded with 11 in May and 13 in June, finishing with a record-smashing 54. George Sisler hit the second most that season—with 19. Ruth hit more homers than 14 of the 15 teams in baseball at the time.
The photo is one of more than 500 up for grabs in the auction, which runs through July 17.