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Punch Cards

F or the second of the seldom seen series I remain with sports

It also represents one of my favourite sets, but favourite for the wrong reason. Can't say I like the card in any visual manner. Although having been looking at them almost since the first weeks of collecting there is no other way I can imagine them being done. Although now I think of it that black border could go. It is too thick but compared to other cards of the period not overly so.

The actual cards are produced from photographs, although they are not photographic cards. I do prefer the artistically rendered cards but they are good photographs and certainly a step up from some of the Guinea Gold / Tabs efforts.

They are dedicated to boxing which is certainly a plus point for them, I do rather enjoy watching a good boxing match. Trouble is I can barely remember the last time I watched such a thing. The words Boxing and Great seem to have become strangers over the last 5 years or so.

I should relax about these things

I have just read the opening sentence of Encarta on the subject of boxing '...contest between two persons, each of whom uses the fists to knock the other unconscious or to inflict enough punishment to cause the opponent either to quit or to be judged beaten.' Which would make you wonder what the appeal was but you could define almost anything in a way to ensure it sounded pretty useless. Just dig out the Financial Times description of Pac Man when this was the game to be seen playing.

So what is it which suddenly elevates this set to 'favourite' status. Price that's what. And this is from a fellow that asks cards never to be judged by price or investment potential.

But there was a young man some 20 plus years ago who finally got around to looking at the value of some of his cards and one set shone out as a beacon of wealth. It catalogued at 100 UK Pounds / 170 US Dollars and there were only 25 cards in the set.

Most sets at this time could be bought for a pound (couple of dollars) so this really was a revelation. Gallaher, My favourite part may well have been the set which ensured I loved collecting these things but Cohen & Weenen, Famous Boxers (Black Back) [1912] was the set which meant I was allowed to keep purchasing the things in preference to luxuries like holidays and food.

Two things about this set first off. The cards have no title, so it is a given title, some catalogues call it just boxers and I think that is fair enough. The second issue is the date. Regular readers know what is coming next as it is one of my pet subjects. 1912 is all but impossible as an issue date as card 2, Fred Storbeck says, 'In 1913 lost the Heavyweight Championship of South Africa to Mike Williams on a foul after a most unsatisfactory of contests.'

In the wrong hands this is the sort of thing which can turn into best-sellers with ideas of ancient Britain's having the power of time travel etc. etc. In more sober hands it would appear Murrays have got the date of issue wrong.

This is not the only card which mentions 1913 either. The set has to have been issued after 1913 as well given card 25, Jim Johnson mentions a fight which took place Dec 19, 1913. I suppose I should relax about these things or do something about it. My money is on a late 1914 date for this issue, card 9 mentions Jan 24 1914 for example. No later though as Jack Johnson still seems to be World Heavyweight Champion, which he was not to be by 1915. There are other clues within the set which would possibly tie the date down even further but perhaps enough is enough for now.

So if Franklyn Cards was putting together a catalogue this set would be catalogued as Cohen & Weenen, Well Known Boxers [1914] and nobody would know what they were.

The years have not been overly kind to the price of the cards (let that be some sort of investment warning), they are 'only' worth 312 UK Pounds (530 US Dollars) which when compared to some of the startling price increases enjoyed by other series is pretty mediocre.

Go on you tell him (Tommy Burns)

The series came in three back variations, black, green and anonymous (that most annoying of all back variations.)

Photography in 1912 (for convenience I stick with the date stated) was not the stuff of today so no action shots of glove meeting chin and sweat flying off opponents shaven heads. The shots are posed and although I have never thought about it clearly have been taken by different people in different countries.

I've been a photographer in my time and so have an affinity with some of the more ludicrous poses. I presume this to be a direct result of the boxer being rather self-conscious and the photographer not wishing to get a punch on the nose.

Don't even think of talking this guy

A good number of the boxers are posed without boxing gloves on, a throwback to the bare-knuckle days which had only just been consigned to history with John L Sullivan (1858-1918), the last heavyweight bare-knuckle champion of the world in 1889 a little over 20 years before this set was produced. Although boxing had made its first steps from the fairground heavy, beating all-comers, it was still within that mould. There was money in the game back then as Sullivan fought for a pure of $25,000 and a side-bet of $10,000 in 1892.

Jack Johnson, looking like he might just hurt you.

You might know I have an unhealthy obsession with issue dates of cards and you will also know Jack Johnson is something of a folk-hero of mine for reasons which would probably be too rambling to tie down. Apparently he was refused a ticket on the Titanic because he was black

The fellow appears twice in the set, which is not an unusual occurrence in the early series and given he was the first Black Heavyweight Champion of the World that seems justifiable. On one card it is a head and shoulders picture and in another he is posing in the sort of long johns only now seen in period comedies.

At least he seems to be sporting a pair of boxing gloves in this picture. Card 17, The Dixie Kid (Welterweight Champion having defeated Joe Walcott) seems to be sporting a pair of driving gloves with which to affect a better beating on his opponents. Lord knows what these gloves were like to have shoved in your face. Probably a bit like a fist wrapped in coarse sandpaper.

Styles of attire vary there is the street brawler typified by Packey Mahoney (card 16) described as probably Irelands best heavyweight but dressed in trousers, sweater and a what appear to be a pair of shoes would seem to be the sort of fellow you don't want to get on the wrong side of down the local pub. Then there are the types which appear to have some very sturdy swimming trunks on as typified by the unlikely posed defence of Gunner James Moir. Fearsome he may well have been but would appear to have squared up to an opponent in the best tradition of an English gentleman. Others just seem to be in long-johns simple as that.

In writing this brief page I got reacquainted with the set and suffice to say I like it more now than I did when the writing began but no longer because it is an expensive set of cards but just because of what it is, a rarely seen slice of boxing history. Sometimes it is nice to met and old friend and renew an old acquaintance.