Some of the great mysteries of pre-war card issues is linking unidentified pictures of players with actual players of the era. When able to establish a credible link of a player to an issue depicting an unknown player, that generally increases the collectability and the value.
Consider, for example, the relatively recent discovery that the highly desired Joe Jackson is likely to be a previously unidentified player on a T202 Hassan Triple Folders panel. Or that Hall of Famer Babe Ruth is generally understood to be the player in the 1929 Churchman/BAT baseball card, despite the fact that he isn’t named on the issue. Both of those links have driven up the prices on otherwise relatively low-dollar cards and there are countless other examples of the same happening elsewhere.
One interesting issue is the 1917 Youth’s Companion stamp.
Youth’s Companion Background
Youth’s Companion was a Boston-based magazine for children. The term magazine should be used loosely as the earlier 1900s versions were more like bulletins or small newspapers. It looked very much like a lower-budget publication.
The publication lasted more than 100 years before merging with another magazine called American Boy. There wasn’t some immediate consolidation, however, as both publications continued to exist under their same name. Later, Youth’s Companion did start to make more of a magazine type of publication. Over the years, Youth’s Companion printed a variety of stamps. Some focused on sports and one, in particular, was an interesting baseball issue.
1917 Youth’s Companion Baseball Stamp
The 1917 Youth’s Companion baseball stamp features an unnamed pitcher. As you can see from the picture, he’s leaning back to throw. A pitcher’s mound isn’t visible so some might immediately make the argument that it could be simply a depiction of any position player in the outfield making a throw. But if you consider the way he’s leaning, balanced on one foot, etc., it becomes pretty clear that this is a pitcher of some sort ready to deliver a throw towards home plate.
Further, considering the distance where he’s positioned from the outfield wall (quite a bit away), it’s also hard to make that case.
The rest of the stamp has a pretty straightforward design. The picture is printed inside of a double-lined black and red border. The Youth’s Companion name is printed at the bottom along with ‘Outdoor and Indoor Sports,’ leading us to believe it was part of a series featuring those subjects.
Finally, it should be noted that 1917 is an estimated year used by most collectors. However, the set could have been printed a little earlier than that.
First Identified as Babe Ruth …
For years, the stamp was credited as a Babe Ruth issue and that drove values upward. The pitching and timing worked since in 1917, Ruth was still an active pitcher. The picture works because it features a lefty and Ruth was a left-handed picture. And, well, it just looks like Ruth, too. Not only that, but it made sense that he would be featured as a pitcher because of how well he was playing.
In 1917, he was at the top of his game on the mound. In 1916, he had a career-high 23 wins and led the league in ERA (1.75), shutouts (nine), and starts (40). Those 23 wins were surpassed only once in his career – when he won 24 games in 1917 and Ruth’s 35 complete games that season was tops in his league. In other words, Ruth wasn’t only a pitcher, but was one of the best in those two seasons. Featuring him on a product like this made all the sense in the world.
The link was so clear in the minds of most that Ruth was even credited as being the player on graded issues. Today, graded cards can be found today with Ruth listed as the player on the stamp.
… Or is it Rube Marquard?
Several years ago, however, the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards shed some
light on a new revelation. The stamp was likely not Ruth but instead fellow Hall of Famer, Rube Marquard. That was based, at least in part, to the finding of a Marquard photo with the same pose. While they did not cite the picture in my version of that book, I purchased a copy of what might have been used as the original artwork and it is displayed here.
If you compare the stamp with the photo, that’s pretty strong evidence. Nearly everything from the position of the body, the feet, etc., seems to match up, right? There are a few subtle differences and the positioning is slightly off.. Also, the type of pitch being thrown is different based on the placement of the fingers. The one the stamp appears to be a knuckleball. But in terms of the overall image, it is practically the exact same picture. And if you compare it to this cartoon sketch, which was likely drawn from the real photograph shown here, it’s even harder to make a case that the Marquard picture wasn’t used to create the stamp. The stamp and the image from that sketch are virtually the same.
While the shape of the pitcher and design is 95% the same, there are a few subtle differences in addition to the pitch type from the original photograph. First, look at the socks, which are striped in the Youth’s Companion stamp. And at a glance, the face in the Youth’s Companion stamp seems to resemble Ruth more than it does Marquard. Plus (and this could be me) but the image on the stamp just looks like a more bulked-up figure. Finally, it just looks like Ruth.
And while the picture used was certainly of Marquard (particularly, if you match it against that linked cartoon image), there’s nothing to say that the publication didn’t alter it slightly on purpose to make it look more like Ruth and intend it to be a depiction of him. Perhaps, they liked the pose but preferred others to believe it was Ruth. Ruth was a player having his best years. Marquard, while effective, had pitched his best baseball earlier in his career.
PSA, for what it’s worth, now considers this a Marquard issue. And if I’m picking one side or the other, I’m calling this a Marquard stamp, too. My reasoning is pretty simple on this one. The picture is practically without a doubt taken from the Marquard image. And while we have that in the Marquard column, there’s really nothing in the Ruth column that’s anywhere close to as definitive. Sure, it sort of looks like him, but lots of likenesses of players on cards don’t match what they look like. Take a look at virtually any of the cartoon strip cards, for example. And while it might make sense to make Ruth the model, Marquard was still a pretty good pitcher himself.
Aside from past claims of it being a Ruth issue, there’s no hard evidence linking him with the picture. Without any real evidence of any kind, there’s nothing to suggest that this should be considered a Babe Ruth item.