Lot 1611: 1860 John C. Heenan Boxing Poster - The Earliest Known Boxing Poster for a U.S. Champion
Auction Date:6/26/2005 9:00 PM EST
The flavor and freneticism of boxing's bare-knucked glory days resonate in every typeset word on this magnificent and markedly rare original poster touting an August 27, 1860 event in Providence headlined by John C. Heenan -- who was given rock-star treatment even in the age of the harpsichord for winning (at least partially) the world heavyweight crown in a wild and wooly contest against the Brit champ Tom Sayers in Farnborough, England on April 17. In that bout, Heenan was seemingly robbed when as he battered Sayers in round 42 the British fans stormed the ring and the fight was declared a draw. On May 20, however, Heenan was awarded a duplicate championship belt, and came home to a hero's welcome and invitations such as this "The Grand Reception Festival" held at Providence's Washington Trotting Park, in which Heenan (billed as "America's Own Champion") boxed exhibitions against 5 other fighters of the day whose names are listed in smaller lettering below Heenan's in large-point type. In the center is a reproduction of the championship "silk" with the image of a crested eagle surrounded by stars and stripes. The 1st line at the top reads "Will Positively Come Off!" -- a veiled reference to the state of boxing at the time. Because while the Heenan-Sayers contest sparked tremendous interest in boxing in the States, it was still risky business to put on a bout, given the "rabble" that would attend. The Providence promoters had to assure fans they'd get what they came for. They also billed a "showing" of the Heenan-Sayers fight, though it's unclear how they would accomplish that, an appearance by The American Brass Band, and a warning that "The Amphitheatre and Balconies are for the exclusive use of ladies and gentlemen accompanying them." (Who else was there?) Condition of the poster is astonishingly good for its hoary age, its fine paper surely creased and gnarled in spots. 3 light fold marks and a hole in the lower left margin unaffecting any of the text. Most noticeably, the very bottom has been torn off, removing some text under the admission price of 25 cents and burgeoning a bit along the left lower border, possibly the result of a fan ripping the address off so he could keep it in his pocket. Lettering is toned to a chocolate brown and the background to a light and even beige. Poster is VG-EX, approx. 8 x 20" and securely mounted beneath a matted tan outer surface under glass in a gray frame sized to 14 x 30". If boxing has a holy grail, this is it.
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