More than 60 years after his death, George Burke remains one of the most famous and collected baseball photographers. Based out of Chicago, Burke shot some of the iconic images of the days’ stars including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Dizzy Dean and Joe DiMaggio, was the official photographer for several teams and provided the photos for the Goudey and Play Ball baseball card sets.
Ruth once called Burke his favorite photographer, and he and numerous other stars bought his photographs to fulfill their autograph requests. You will see many Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Hank Greenberg and other Pre-War star autographs on Burke photos.
Our guide to George Burke’s baseball photos will show the standard types of Burke photos, and how to identify the more valuable vintage versions as versus the many later reprints. You can be happy to know that identifying the old ones made by Burke is as simple.
The Original Burke Photos
Burke had a stroke in 1948 and died in 1951. The majority of his photographs on the market are from the 1930s. A smaller portion date from the late 1920s and 1940s.
Most of these period 1920s-40s photos are either about 8×10 inches or postcard sized. The 8×10 photos come in two types: glossy images with round corners and matte finished with square corners. The postcard-sized ones are usually square cornered and matte finished.
The 1920s to 1940s photos made by Burke are easy to identify because the images are of highest quality, often crystal clear and sepia toned, and have his rubber stamp on back. The backs will have his name (Geo. Burke) and 847 Belmont Ave. Chicago address stamped in ink. The tops of the back also usually have the player’s name and a cataloging number typed at the top.
I have seen real photo postcards and postcard-sized photos by ‘RDM Studio’ instead of his name but with his 847 Belmont Avenue address. Apparently these were made by Burke.
There are rarer examples of oversized 1930s Burke photos, around 11 x 14 inches, and die cut photos on wooden stands. These also are identified by Burke’s stamp on back.
In the 1930s, Burke also made a small number of 847 Belmont stamped 8×10 photos showing players from earlier eras, including Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Walter Johnson. These images are obviously from earlier days (Walter Johnson pitching in his 1910s uniform) and are of lesser image quality. The backs have Burke’s vintage stamp with the Belmont Avenue and typed cataloging. As these are antique reprints, they do have good value on the market.
Burke also produced snapshots. You can find them with his stamp on the back, like this one of Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett.
Dating Burke’s Old Photos is an Inexact Science
Burke 1920s-40s photos almost never are found with a date stamp, and it is usually impossible to date a photo to a specific year. He likely re-used the same image over a number of years. For example, a Burke photo showing Babe Ruth in 1930 may have been made in 1930, 1933 or 1936.
This lack of specific datability doesn’t hurt the value or collectibility. The 847 Belmont show the photo is old, and that has proven enough to attract collectors. It also demonstrates that photos, even originals, can’t be dated to a specific year.
1930s Burke Photo Stamps
Burke issued small photo stamps found as singles and uncut sheets. These have long been collected by baseball card collectors. The single stamps usually have perforated edges.
Later Burke Reprints by His Business Partner
For years after Burke’s stroke then death, his longtime business partner George Brace reprinted Burke’s images of Pre-War players. These photos are easy to identify because they have either a ‘Burke & Brace’ or ‘Brace Photos’ stamp on back with a different from the 847 Belmont Ave address.
The story I’ve heard is the Burke & Brace photos were made by Brace while Burke was alive but after his stroke and when Brace was running the studio. The ‘Brace Photos’ versions were made after Burke’s death. These reprints are typically on bright white paper and without the lush, sepia-tinged tones of original Burkes.
Brace was a prominent photographer himself and owned the rights to Burke’s negatives after his death. The Brace-made Burke reprints are official and collectible, just not worth near the same in value as Burke’s originals. In photography, the vintage original versions made by the photographer himself are always the most desired by collectors.
Another Burke: Francis Burke
There was another early Chicago Burke photographer, a news photographer named Francis Burke. He also did baseball subjects, along with non-sport news subjects. His photos can have his name, or ‘Burke and Dean’ and ‘Burke and Koretke.’ on the photo These photos are also collectible and can have good value. If you get the wrong Burke for a baseball photo, no worries.
You can see George Burke photos on eBay here.