A Cartier coin pocket watch Babe Ruth gifted to a Harlem crime boss will star in Christie’s Rare Watches and American Icons sale.
It’s inscribed: "To Bumpy from Babe, Dec 25th, 1937".
Babe Ruth met Ellsworth 'Bumpy' Johnson in the mid-1930s
Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson was born in South Carolina in 1905, but was sent to Harlem by his parents at the age of 14.
He was soon embroiled in the city’s shady underworld. At that time "the numbers game", a local underground lottery, was one of Harlem’s most lucrative rackets.
In 1935, the Mafia took over the game. Johnson managed to negotiate a favourable deal for the African-American bookmakers involved, earning him the respect of his community.
He went on to become one of the city’s most powerful crime bosses.
Babe Ruth, who was from the wrong side of the tracks himself, became friends with Johnson around this time.
Unlike many white people from his era, Ruth had no issue socialising with black people. He would regularly bring friends like actor Bill Robinson to the Yankees clubhouse, much to the irritation of his teammates.
In a 2014 interview with the New York Times, his daughter Julia Ruth Stevens (now aged 100) explained that her father had been unable to fulfil his dream of becoming a manager due to his casual attitude to race.
Had he forged ahead, the colour barrier would have broken in the mid-1930s rather than the 1940s.
The auction takes place on June 21 in New York and will also feature a watch presented as a gift to Jacqueline Kennedy.
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