Wednesday, April 10, 2013

1949 Ruth clock was "$247" item in its day

During my more active years as a collector, I sometimes lingered over auction listings for a bronze-tone art deco style Babe Ruth digital clock. I never pulled the trigger, but if I had encountered an example at a show, I might have made the purchase.

The clocks are a large, functional collectible that was nearly contemporary with the Babe, having been produced shortly after his death in 1948.

I recently found an ad in the June 29, 1949, issue of The Sporting News that offered the clocks to the public. The ad has some details that I don't recall ever seeing before.

The ad was placed by De Four Sales Co., Chicago. The clocks were made by Abbottwares Co., Los Angeles, and several recent auction offerings state that they were a top prize in a punchboard gambling game.

De Four Sales appears to have been distributing the unsold of the timepieces. Contemporary ads for the company show they were also the distributors of other types of bronze desk or mantel pieces such as clocks and radios featuring a Western saddled horse, ashtrays with a large cowboy boot, and radios made from beer and champagne bottles. The Ruth clock is also found in a much scarcer radio versionThey may have also been connected to the Joe Louis bronze clock that was produced about the same time as the Ruth.

The copy in De Four's ad in TSN reads . . . 

The incomparable Babe Ruth exquisitely sculptured in imperishable bronze. This beautiful statuette, flanked by baseballs showing the number of home runs he made in his record season and in his lifetime, is combined with a precision built, time accurate clock.

These magnificent Babe Ruth memento timepieces have been made for a special purpose. THEY ARE NOT FOR SALE IN STORES. But a small production over-run allows us to offer then at manufacturer's cost. This is an unprecedented opportunity to acquire a rare treasure. Write at once. There are very few left.

The ad originally specified "ONLY 117 LEFT" but was altered to indicate a remaining quantity of 94. Whether this was an accurate count of available inventory or just "Get one now, before they're gone!" hype can not be known.

Note the price in the ad was $25.95. That was not cheap in 1949, but digital clocks would have been the latest thing back then. Running the numbers through an internet inflation calculator, I found that $25.95 in 1949 dollars is comparable to about $247 today. In turn, that $247 in 1949 dollars would be the equivalent of about $2,344 today. In the current collector market, a nice working example of the Babe Ruth digital clock sells for $1,500-2,000. 

Notice that the picture in the ad shows a plaque on the front of the clock beneath Ruth's bust and above the digital display. The metal tag reads "Abbottwares," but it is not present on many of the examples seen in the market today.

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