A bust of the Babe turns up at a Minnesota flea market. But what’s the story behind it?
It’s a tale involving world-renowned artist, an icon of corporate America, the wreck of the Titanic and Babe Ruth. And it’s driving Pat Armstrong crazy.
"I just haven’t been able to find out why it was done."
The object of Armstrong’s quest for information is what seems to be a one-of-a-kind Babe Ruth bust, sculpted apparently, in 1935. Armstrong located the unique piece at a Minnesota flea market. "A woman and her husband had bought it at an estate sale. The rest of the stuff at their table was glassware but the husband had insisted they buy it to re-sell."
That part of the story he knows. He also knows a little of the history behind the artist. It begins aboard the doomed ship Titanic. George Douglas Sr., co-founder of the Quaker Oats company would not survive the wreck. But he had three sons and one was an accomplished artist.
"Edward Bruce Douglas was an internationally-known sculptor," Armstrong explained. It is E. Bruce Douglas’ signature on the back of the bust along with the date–1935.
Ruth served as a spokesman for Quaker Oats from the mid-30s through the early 1940s. He was signed to a radio show deal in 1934 that was sponsored by Quaker. Armstrong believes that because of his close association with the company at that time, the Babe may have agreed to pose for the bust as some point. He theorizes because he simply doesn’t know. "But if your family’s company had hired Babe Ruth and you were a die-hard sports fan like E. Bruce Douglas, it makes sense that maybe the Babe would do something like that."
The bust weighs about thirty pounds and stands about 20" high by 22" across. The base is wood and the piece shows some chipping, especially on the back, but remains in reasonably good condition.
Armstrong has found no evidence that an identical piece exists. He believes it would generate interest in a major auction, but ensuring it’s unique and piecing together the ‘why’ part of the equation has been a challenge. Solving the mystery that favors his theory that Ruth posed specifically for the artist to produce the work would likely benefit the eventual selling price. He was finding no takers at $50,000 but few collectors walking the floor in Anaheim were in a position to write him a check on the spot, especially with part of the mystery still unsolved.
"This piece has appeal not only to sports collectors but the art community as well," Armstrong said. "That’s what has me excited about this."