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1948 Nat Fein Large-Format Photo - The Babe Bows Out - Pulitzer Prize Winning Photo
Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $3,819
Exceedingly rare, specially produced presentation photo of The Babe Bows Out taken by noted photographer Nat Fein (1914-2000). Signed by Fein in black ink in the lower right corner. The haunting image, capturing Babe Ruth during his final appearance at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948, was featured on the front page of the New York Herald Tribune the next day and later earned Fein the Pulitzer Prize. Today, it is perhaps the most famous sports photograph ever taken. What makes this particular example all the more significant is that it appears to have been specially produced during the 1950s for display in Yankee Stadium! According to our consignor, a longtime collector, he purchased this piece at a special auction of Yankee Stadium material held, of all places, at a Little League field in Queens, New York, in 1975. (Yankee Stadium was then undergoing an extensive renovation, and nearly all of the items housed in the original stadium were either sold or discarded at the time.) He recalled that numerous items were offered that day at the outdoor sale, including turnstiles, light fixtures, etc., but it was nothing like the most recent Steiner Sports liquidation of Yankee Stadium memorabilia. Instead it was attended by a small number of local collectors and he remembers that most of the photographic display pieces, including this photo, were simply lined up against a fence with price tags on them. (Four additional photos from Yankees Stadium, offered as a separate lot in this auction, were purchased by our consignor at that same sale.) Ideally, all of the physical aspects of this piece support that provenance. In addition to its obvious age and the extra-thick photographic stock it is printed on, the photo displays a quartet of news stamps on the reverse that point to its having been produced during the 1950s (perhaps even the early 1950s). Two of the stamps, which briefly overlap, read "Photo By Fein," while another reads "Herald Tribune-Fein." The fourth is a standard copyright notice: "For Personal Use Only, Not for Publication Or Advertising Purposes Without Permission of New York Herald Tribune."
Further distinguishing this piece is its immense size. This piece measures a very nonstandard 18.25 x 14.25 inches and has been hand trimmed to its current dimensions. From 1948 until the time he passed away in 2000, Fein maintained complete ownership of this photo's copyright, which he used for commercial gain. During those fifty-two years Fein personally oversaw the printing of numerous additional photos made from the original negative for retail sale. (Today, the family holds those rights and continues to offer prints made from the original negative to the general public, and even these later-produced prints sell for very substantial prices.) However, all of those prints were in standard sizes, normally 8 x 10 inches or 11 x 14 images, and, on rare occasion, 16 x 20 inches. With the exception of the piece offered here, we have never seen a print of The Babe Bows Out measuring greater than 16 x 20 inches. In speaking to experts in the field, we have learned that both the size of this print and the fact that it is printed on extra-thick photographic stock, are clear indications that it was specially produced by Fein as a presentation piece. Such presentation pieces are rare and were only given to important individuals or organizations. Obviously, the New York Yankees certainly qualified as a recipient for one of these special prints. The historical significance of Ruth's final appearance at Yankee Stadium, combined with the fanfare the photo later received, almost certainly resulted in Fein or The Tribune honoring the club with a gift of this specially produced original print.
This photo has been in the collection of our consignor for the past thirty-five years and he had no idea of its significance. It was just among the other framed items from the sale that he brought as an afterthought when delivering his cards and autograph collection. (He didn't even know if we would be willing to take it!) It is amazing to think that such an historically significant piece of baseball history was once part of a "tag" sale of Yankee Stadium memorabilia held at a Little League field some thirty-five years ago, and its true significance undiscovered until now. Luckily, it has been well cared for all these past years and it now awaits a new caretaker to preserve and cherish it for future generations. Included with the photo is its original matting from when the consignor purchased it. (The original very inexpensive frame and glass have been discarded.) The photo, which offers remarkable clarity and contrast, displays adhesive residue along the front border areas from having once been matted and framed (which can easily be matted out once again), a few tiny surface wrinkles, and paper residue on the reverse; otherwise it is in Excellent condition overall. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $3,819
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