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Brief Boxing Card History

A "Very Brief" History of Boxing Cards

Have you ever looked at one of your old tobacco cards and thought "where did this come from?". Maybe I am the only lunatic around, but think of it this way; a turn of the century card has somehow managed to find its way to you. Yes, you probably purchased it from a seller, or even traded it for another, but where was that card before you?

For what could be 100 years that card has probably been passed down through generations, traded to others, sold many times over, and maybe even traveled around the world. This example explains why old tobacco cards in mint condition are extremely hard to come by, and therefore very valuable.

The first tobacco cards were produced around the time of 1886-1887 and used as a stiffener to the paper cigerette packets, as well as an incentive for people to buy that brand of tobacco in order to collect the cards.

The first companies that produced these cards were Allen & Ginter's, Goodwin & Co.(Old Judge/Gypsy Queen), Lorillard, Kimball's and a year or two later came Duke & Sons and Mayo Tobacco Works. Outside of the US, WD & HO Wills in England commenced production of tobacco cards in about 1888, with their first major boxing set coming in 1911 simply titled "Boxing".

Another manufacturer making forefronts into tobacco cards at the turn of the century was Ogden's Cigarettes, also based in England. They first depicted boxers on their cards through the 1900/01 set entitled "General Interest". This set contained 150 cards and depicted many familiar faces of the time. Their Guinea Gold Tabs set, also in this period, was also released in Australia.

During the early 1900's, the tobacco industry was booming and they produced many sets of cards in relation to boxing, as well as other sports and topics as they had done for many years.

Ogdens cigarettes continued with their love of boxers with the popular Pugilists & Wrestlers set, first issued in 1908. The set also conatined a 2nd series, which was issued in 1909. In 1914 & 1915, they delivered two more boxing sets entitled "Boxing" and "Boxers" respectively.

In 1908 Red Sun issued a set which is now very scarce in excellent condition. This set was entitled "Pugilist Subjects" (T226).

The year of 1910 was extremely popular with boxing sets and the American Tobacco Co. issued numerous sets during this time with the Hassan & Mecca "Prizefighters" sets (T-218) being the most popular. Further to this, there was also the Honest Long Cut "Champion Pugilists" set (T-219) and a further Mecca "Prizefighters" set (T-220). Other "T" series sets were also produced by the company.

Throughout 1910, The Imperial Tobacco Company issued a "Prizefighters" set, and Philadelphia Caramel Co. introduced their "Scrappers" series (E79 & E80). American Caramel Co also issued similar sets that were catalogued E75, E76 & E77.

Further to the previously mentioned sets, many others depicting boxers were produced by the tobacco companies, not only in America, but also the rest of the world. During this time, apart from the numerous sets, the cards also came in many sizes. The sizes ranged from the "standard" tobacco size of 2 inches by 1 1/2 inches through to a card of 2 inches square.

The decade of 1910 to 1920 was also very busy for collectors of boxing cards. The two English companies WD & HO Wills and Ogdens Cigarettes brought out their very popular sets, being the 1911 Wills "Boxers" and the 1914 & 1915 Ogdens "Boxing" and "Boxers" sets. Apart from Wills and Ogdens, other English companies introduce boxing tobacco card sets. These were Weenen & Co. (1912) and Copes (Boxers 1915).]

The main boxing sets were still being produced in America with American Tobacco releasing another "Champion Pugilists" set (1911 T219), and a set entitled "Series of Champions". Turkey Reds introduced a set of cabinet cards available by sending in a certain amount of coupons from cigarette packets. These were catalogue T3 for the baseballlers and T9 for the boxers. Khedivial was another who issued a "Prizefighters set" (T225).

The next ten years saw many new sets available, such as the Ogdens "Pugilists in Action" (1928) and also Churchman's "Sporting Celebrities" (1931). During the 1920's and 1930's, many new companies started producing "tobacco" cards. Not only were tobacco companies producing cards, but cards were also included with gum and other household products, such as margarine, ice cream and crackerjacks.

In 1933 Goudey Gum revolutionized the card collecting industry, with their set entitled "Sports Kings". This set featured the leading sportsmen of the time and included names such as Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Max Baer & Gene Tunney. Goudey had the idea of targeting children for their sales, as the children enjoyed the cards, but did not buy tobacco, so the stick of gum was included within each packet. Even though these cards were issued by the millions, many were thrown out or lost during the paper drives throughout the war, so these cards in mint or near mint condition are very valuable and hard to come by.

Some popular sets came from England during the late 30's, which included Cartledge Razor "Famous Fighters" (1938), and possibly one of the most popular boxing sets for collectors, "Boxing Personalities" by Churchman Cigarettes, issued in 1938.

From 1938 to 1950, not much occurred in the area of card collecting. The most notable set was introdued by the Leaf Gum Co. with its "Knockout" set in 1948, and has become a very popular set with collectors today.

The Leaf set was thought to contain 49 cards, and uncut sheets of 7 cards by 7 cards were discovered to prove this.

1888 Goodwin & Co. "Champions" (N162) set
This picture shows an album page (A36) of reproductions from the very coloful set.

However, during the early 1990ís, a Rocky Graziano card was discovered, and since so have some more.

This card may have been accidentally released by the company and later recalled. Anyway, it has turned out to be a very valuable card. The last one sold at auction for just under US $18,000.

In 1951, along came the largest of all card manufacturers; the Topps company. Their "Ringside" set of that year contained 96 cards, and the Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Ray Robinson and one of boxing's most sought after cards - Bob Murphy are the valuable cards in this set. The Bob Murphy card was a short print and can fetch well over $1000 at auction for a good specimen.

For five cents, you could purchase a stick of gum and five Topps cards, so these cards were very popular with children, and there wasn't the opportunities to store the cards as there is today. The kids also used to play games with these cards and the combination of the above two issues affected the condition of the cards drastically.

Also in 1951, Berk Ross had a "Hit Parade Of Champions" set, which featured notable boxers of the time, such as Sugar Ray Robinson. Gum Products issued their colorful "Adventure" set in 1956, which includes the very rare Max Schmelling card, featuring Max in front of a Nazi swastika.

From 1985 onwards Johhny Brown had their boxing sets, and in 1991 a mini boom of boxing collector cards hit the market, with no less than three companies producing sets. These were All World Boxing, who issued a 149 card set, Kayo Cards, who had an even larger set, and the Ringlords set. Kayo also took on board the "insert" cards that the baseball card companies had been using and issued a hologram set, with cards featuring boxers such as Evander Holyfield and George Foreman.

The last notable boxing set was the "Ringside" set issued in 1996, but with the ever increasing poularity of card collecting and the always popular sport of boxing, expect to see more trading cards manufactured in the future. Many independent people are releasing their own sets, which can be found over the 'net.

Obviously this is only a brief introduction to the many hundreds of boxing card sets containing many thousands of cards that have been produced all around the world over the past 120 years. Thsi website aims to list them all !

Front & Rear of Card

Jim Hall & Ted Pritchard
1893 - Lorillard Co.
Card were included within packets of their
"Red Cross Long Cut Tobacco"

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