Last edited: January 31, 2005

Memorabilia from Jack Johnson’s Era Packs Quite a Punch

San Francisco Chronicle, January 31, 2005

By Dwight Chapin,

“Unforgivable Blackness,” filmmaker Ken Burns’ superlative PBS documentary on Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, has revived interest not only in Johnson, but in boxing in the early decades of the 20th century.

Memorabilia from that time is not going to be easy to find, because so many years have passed since the heyday of Johnson and the men he fought, notably one-time champ James J. Jeffries and the man who dethroned Johnson, Jess Willard.

The best bets for collectibles of that era probably are autographs, but they’re not going to come cheaply, according to the two magazines that most often price boxing signatures.

According to Sports Market Report, a Johnson-signed 3x5 index card is worth $350, a letter $850, an autographed photo $2,500 and a signed boxing glove $5,500. Tuff Stuff magazine has a Johnson photo priced at $2,000 and a glove at $7,500.

Jeffries’ prices in Sports Market Report are $350 for an index card, $750 for a letter, $1,500 for a photo and $8,000 for a glove, and Tuff Stuff lists an autographed Jeffries photo at $900 and a glove at 3,750.

Willard is at $375 for an index card, $600 for a photo and $2,250 for a glove (no price is listed for a signed letter) in Sports Market Report, $600 for a photo and $2,400 for a glove in Tuff Stuff.

The most accurate barometer for current sales prices, however, probably is Internet auctions on sites such as EBay and Yahoo.

A rare Johnson artifact will hit the market in the spring.

That’s a letter he wrote in 1916 in which he confesses to throwing his title bout against Willard in Havana a few months earlier. The five-page document, dictated by Johnson to his wife, is typed, but includes hand-written notations by Johnson. The letter was sold to Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer and later acquired by onetime boxer artist and publisher Stanley Weston.

Many experts, including Fleischer, have contended over the years that Johnson didn’t fix the Willard fight, but wrote the “confession” so he could sell it because he needed money.

By any measure, it’s a remarkable document, and it will be offered at a still undetermined date in an auction by the new company, Memorabilia Road Show. Other items include the gloves Johnson used to train for the 1910 Jeffries fight, his punching bag and an original ticket from the bout.

49ers’ redux: This might be a perfect time for another book about the 49ers’ past, because the present is so bad and the future so murky.

Historian Martin Jacobs of San Francisco, who has had an affinity for the team since he was a kid in the 49ers’ early days at Kezar Stadium, is out with his latest book on the team.

This one, titled simply “San Francisco 49ers” (Arcadia Publishing, $19. 99), is based around vintage photographs, many from the collection of ultra- fan Jan Boehm, and there are some dandies, including shots of most of the team’s stars and many of its coaches over the years.

Two personal favorites: a shot of Hugh McElhenny, Jacobs’ all-time favorite player, posing and laughing it up with Lions quarterback Bobby Layne before a Pro Bowl practice, and one showing the eyes of another 49ers running back, Roger Craig. Did any football player ever have more intense eyes than Craig?

Jacobs could have used a better proofreader in a few spots, particularly in team-photo identification, in which a name occasionally is missing, but the book, overall, is a loving, appealing and breezy tribute to a team with a rich history.

Jacobs will be signing copies of the book at 2 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Barnes and Noble outlet on Taylor Street in downtown San Francisco.

[Home] [News] [USA]