Welcome to America's Great Boxing Cards, a site devoted to the study of boxing cards issued in the United States of America, Canada and a few other places, from 1862 to 1971. The site shares the name of my boxing card encyclopedia, checklist and price guide, now in BRAND NEW edition. The response to the prior editions was overwhelming; each was favorably reviewed and each sold out completely. The brand new 2012-2013 edition of the book is available now; it weighs in this year at over 280 pages. Here is a link to Lulu.com, where you can purchase the book and have it shipped directly to you:
This site will be a continual work in progress as I strive to educate the collecting public about the second most diverse sports card collectible. As an adjunct to the encyclopedia, this site will cover new developments in cards, the hobby and boxing collecting. Check back periodically for special features, commentary, rare images, and of course cards for sale and trade, and please feel free to contact me with your questions. And yes, I buy boxing card collections
Above: 1910 T9 Turkey Red boxing cards of Sam Langford and Jack Johnson
Now, you may be asking yourself, "Why should I believe what this guy says?" Well, in a nutshell, I am one of the preeminent experts on boxing cards in the United States. In addition to publishing the "go to" guide to boxing cards for the last four years, I am a principal contributor to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards and I have written extensively on card-related matters over the years, with articles published by Vintage & Classic Baseball Collector
and Old Cardboard
. I've been interviewed on hobby subjects and had my comments run in major newspapers such as the New York Daily News.
If you are interested in my book
, a new edition is available at the following site:
Let's start with a brief history of boxing cards in the USA:
A subject of great debate among card collectors is identifying the earliest card. The contenders in baseball are cartes de visite (CDV) from the 1860s, which are small albumen photographs. The earliest verifiable boxing cards I have located are a pair of John C. Heenan CDVs issued by Charles D. Fredricks & Co. as part of his Specialite series before 1870.
The explosion that began the first great era of boxing cards got underway in 1886 with the issuance of three insert cards by Goodwin & Co. in packs of their Old Judge cigarettes.
From the 1880's forward to about 1895, many classic sets of boxing cards and mixed subjects including boxing cards were issued by the cigarette companies. Goodwin led the way with its second Old Judge issue. The second major boxing issue from Goodwin debuted in 1887 and consists of small, blank backed albumen photographs with Gypsy Queen and Old Judge branding. Numerous other tobacco insert and premium cards followed on the heels of Goodwin's first issues. These cards are covered more in depth in the book. The first great wave of cards petered out around 1895.
Above: N174 Goodwin Godfrey, N184 Kimball Cardiff, N162 Goodwin Mitchell
Following the absorption of all but a handful of tobacco companies into the American Tobacco Trust, tobacco card production ended for about 15 years. With the death of the tobacco insert cards came the virtual halt of boxing cards as well. Only a few cabinet cards and some postcards document the period from 1895-1905. Tobacco cards had a renaissance around 1909. It appears that tobacco marketers were closely followed by candy makers, who brought several important issues to market at roughly the same time. From 1909 to 1912, hundreds of boxing cards were issued. The first epoch of the new card age came to a conclusion at the start of American involvement in World War I, both because of the war and because Camel advertising denigrated premium issuers as putting money into something besides the smokes. With Camel’s successful campaign, all American tobacco card production essentially ceased. Oddly, the candy company issued ceased as well.
Above: T218 Mecca Jack Johnson, T226 Red Sun Willie Lewis
Boxing card production started again after WW I with candy and strip cards, but never reached the bounty enjoyed in the prewar golden years, with one exception. In 1921, the Exhibit Supply Company of Chicago began issuing boxing cards dispensed from arcade machines and sometimes sold over the counter as postcards. We do see the only major prewar gum issues in the 1930s, from Goudey, but there were only four cards issued in a multisport set. The other main issues of the era were strip cards, issued on thin stock, often in strips or sheets for kids to cut apart. Exhibits and strips were the predominant issues of the 1920s for boxing fans. Weirdly, candy companies did not launch cards for boxers comparable to the caramel issues for baseball, with the exception of the York Caramel issue of 1927.
Above: W515 strip card of Harry Wills; 1933 Sport Kings Max Baer; 1930 Rogers Peet Gene Tunney
After World War II concluded, the Silver Age of card production began in earnest with the 1948 issues from Bowman, Leaf and Topps. Unfortunately, boxing cards were not among the sustained offerings from the gum manufacturers. Bowman issued only a generic card referencing the bare-knuckles brawl between Sullivan and Kilrain. Leaf issued its classic 1948 set including the most expensive boxing card, the ultra-short-printed Rocky Graziano card, but its skip-numbered series of 49 cards (50 if you include Graziano) was its only entry into the field. Topps issued a dozen boxers in its 1948 magic photos issue. In 1951 it issued the 96-card Ringside set, which is the classic set of the postwar period. In 1956 under the name "Gum, Inc." a Boston successor to Goudey issued the Adventure set which included 20 boxing cards. That issue included the infamous, short lived Max Schmeling card with the Swastika. And of course, the Exhibit Supply Company continued to churn out its issues until its demise ca. 1971. Beyond those issues, however, there were precious few American boxing cards. I really don't know why. Perhaps the ascendence of baseball and football and other better televised sports; perhaps the low place boxing found itself after widespread revelation of the Mob's role in boxing history. By the time of the great heavyweight era of the 1970s, where Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Norton and others slugged it out for supremacy, there were literally no boxing cards.
What we are left with is a giant portfolio of thousands of cards issued over a period of more than 100 years. Boxing cards crossed racial barriers earlier than any other element of American society, chronicled the Americanization of its immigrant populations, and forever memorialized the colorful exploits of men with nicknames like The Manassa Mauler, Two Ton Tony, Gorilla, Gentleman Georgie, Newsboy, Kid, the Black Diamond, and so on. So read on, friends, and enjoy the wonder of America's Great Boxing Cards!
Above: 1947 Homogenized Bread Marcel Cerdan, 1948 Leaf Jack Dempsey, 1951 Berk-Ross Sugar Ray Robinson, 1951 Topps Ringside Abe Attell