The New York Yankees are being sued by a woman who claims her uncle was never compensated for his creation of the iconic top-hat/bat logo used by the team in one form or another for the past 70 years — but there’s a ton of documentation proving the legendary Lon Keller was the actual designer.
Tanit Buday claims her uncle Kenneth Timur was working in Europe as a graphic designer in 1936 when his sister, a Brooklyn manicurist, attracted the attention of Col. Jacob Ruppert and Del Webb and persuaded them to let Timur design what became the top-hat/bat logo. The team never compensated him for his commissioned artwork, and he wasn’t aware of its use until he emigrated to America in 1947. Years later, according to the lawsuit, he says he was asked to adapt the logo for the 50th anniversary of the Yankees in 1952 and slipped in the trademark “P” as a way to show he created the logo; the lawsuit says the logo patch said “1P03-1952” instead of “1903-1952.” He died in 1960, telling family members of his work but never receiving a penny for his problems.
That’s an interesting story, but we’re not sure there’s much truth in it. First, the team has always held that Lon Keller created this logo in 1947 as a way to initiate the new Yankees ownership; it first appeared on the cover of the team’s spring-training program that year. Keller, for those outside design circles, was a legend in the sports world for his creation of iconic logos both for MLB and NFL teams. He reportedly was asked by Larry MacPhail to create a new logo for the team. Here’s more detail on the creation of this top-hat/bat Yankees logo from Keller’s website; below is the regular-season program where the logo first appeared.
Second, Del Webb didn’t own the Yankees until 1947; there was no overlap between the Ruppert and Webb eras of ownership, so there’s no chance the colonel and Webb collaborated on anything, much less the hiring of a European graphic design to create a logo. (And, of course, Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston was long gone. We mention this only because this is the coolest name ever for an MLB owner.) Third, Timur never actually trademarked the logo at any point, so there’s no paper trail to substantiate his family’s allegations. Trademark is something that must be done affirmatively (as opposed to copyright, which is more passive, but you can’t copyright a logo), and unless you work to protect it, you will lose protections. The Yankees did end up trademarking the logo, but not until 2005, according to the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).
And we’re not quite sure of the claim that a “P” was displayed as part of the Yankees’ 50th-anniversary patch. A quick check of Chris Creamer’s Sportslogos site (one of the coolest sites on the Web) yielded a scan of this patch, presumably the one used by the team. Now, it’s possible this patch in the Sportslogo collection was sold to the general public while the Yankees wore a different patch. (Doubtful, as this auction house is selling this patch as the one wore by the team, as is this one.) So unless there’s a different patch out there, we’re guessing the only physical piece of evidence won’t hold up to much scrutiny.
In a way, we feel sorry for Tanit Buday; she’s obviously believing everything her uncle told her and has filed suit accordingly. But there’s a large paper trail indicating Keller is the real creator.
The Yankees had no comment; the team has not yet been served with the suit, which was filed in Manhattan Federal Court.
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