The 1923 New York Yankees World Championship watch presented to Babe Ruth will cross the auction block on Feb. 22, as part of Heritage Auctions’ Sports Platinum Night Auction at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, 2 E. 79th Street. It is estimated at to sell for more than $750,000.
“As the Babe’s personal award for the first World Championship in New York Yankees franchise history, I believe that this is the most important piece of New York Yankees memorabilia that exists,” said Chris Ivy, director of Sports Collectibles at Heritage Auctions. “This championship watch, which was thought lost to time, will now take its rightful place as one of the crown jewels of sports memorabilia. Based on prices realized for similar historic championship hardware, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it far exceed our preliminary auction estimate.”
The watch was awarded to the Babe, and all of his New York Yankees teammates, when they bested the crosstown rival New York Giants in six games. Ruth had a fantastic series, batting .368 with three home runs.
“More importantly for history, 1923 was the inauguration of the single greatest sports dynasty in history,” said Ivy, “The first World Series victory for a franchise that has garnered 27 to date and is one of the most popular teams in the world, period. This is the official and only award presented to George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth for his contributions in claiming that first trophy. It’s simply unbelievable.”
Here’s the real story: For the first quarter-century of its existence, the pocket watch remained with Ruth as one of his most significant possessions. As his terminal cancer progressed later in his life, however, he asked his close friend Charlie Schwefel if he might want anything from his collection to remember him by.
“Schwefel, a wealthy Manhattan hotelier and an important figure in the New York boxing scene, asked for his dying friend’s pocket watch,” Ivy said.
As noted in the letter of provenance from Lewis Fern, the watch remained in Schwefel’s possession for just two years before his wife gave it to her nephew, Lewis Fern, with the comment that “this should have been yours all along.” Fern had also befriended Ruth and caddied many times for the Babe at St. Alban’s Golf Club in Queens, N.Y. He kept the watch for decades until it was privately sold into one of the finest sports collections in the world in 1988, where it has remained hidden away until now.
The watch is a 14 karat gold “Gruen Verithin” beauty in unique pentagonal format. The verso is engraved with a miniature scene of a pitcher, hitter and catcher, and a ball in flight in their midst. Framing the scene are the historic words, “Yankees, World’s Champions 1923.” The “Babe Ruth” engraving at the upper edge was added by Ruth just prior to gifting the symbolic memento to Schwefel. The rear case pops open to reveal further engraving, most notably the original text announcing, “Presented by Baseball Commissioner to George H. Ruth.” Just above we find the rest of Ruth’s late 1940s addition, reading, “To My Pal Charles Schwefel.”