Posted By whatsitworth on July 24, 2012
I have an original framed poster of silver belt winners from the United States and England. The poster was a supplement in a National Police Gazette dated December 15, 1888. I would like to auction it off to highest bidder after I learn what it is worth.
It has what looks like a mark from scotch tape on one side and it has been glued to a canvas backing. You can see where it was folded but all of the folds seem to have been ironed out before it was framed. It is 18 x 25 inches.
Two journalists, an attorney and a transcontinental railroad proponent founded the National Police Gazette in 1845. Its proposed purpose was to track police business and crime but in reality it was a racy tabloid covering visually exciting, sickening and salacious stories. It used large format woodcut prints to illustrate stories in stark contrast to its text heavy contemporaries and was printed on stunning pink paper.
Richard K. Fox was the editor during the Gazette’s most popular decades, from 1880 until his death in 1922. Fox came to New York City in 1874 as an immigrant from Belfast where he had worked as a journalist. He took a job in the business section of the Wall Street Journal and a year later became the business editor at the Police Gazette. By 1878 he was the chief editor and by 1880 he was the sole owner of the Gazette, now the leading sports publication in the country.
Under Fox the Gazette grew in its reputation as a publication specializing in sensational tabloid journalism, soft porn and sports reporting. Not only did the Gazette cover horseracing, sculling, wrestling, bicycling, running and shooting it covered back room and not-quite-legal sports like cock fighting, eating competitions and boxing. To help popularize and legitimize boxing, in particular, the Gazette offered to sponsor both fighters and fights. In the 1922 New York Times obituary of Fox it was estimated that he gave away more than $1,000,000 in prizes.
One of Fox’s greatest and most spectacular prize was the heavyweight championship belt he commissioned and awarded beginning in 1880. The belt, weighing more than twelve pounds, was made from gold and silver fixed with rubies, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds. Its creation and the tabloid weight thrown behind the matches for which the belt would be awarded helped to legitimize the sport of boxing in the eyes of the public.
The 1880 winner of the belt was Irishman Paddy Ryan; he lost it in 1882 to John Sullivan who is considered the first modern heavyweight boxing champion. Both of these fighters are pictured on your poster. The central figure in your poster is Jack Kilrain. Kilrain fought and won the 76 round fight against John Sullivan in 1887 when Sullivan’s team – fearing for his life – threw in the towel and conceded the fight.
Other figures on your poster are Jem Smith, the British bare knuckle boxing champion; Jim Carney, the English lightweight champion; and Yankee Sullivan, who is described as an Irish prize fighter and political enforcer! By the 1890s boxing was accepted as a legitimate sport. By 1901 Theodore Roosevelt, the youngest US president to hold office, was encouraging youth to box as a way to keep fit.
Your poster, published in the December 1888 edition of the National Police Gazette, is a wonderful example of Richard Fox’s exuberance in promoting both his newspaper and his investments in sports figures. It was a giveaway meant to be enjoyed. His newspaper was nicknamed “The Bible of the Barbershop” and it is likely that a good percentage of barbershops in New York hung this poster.
It was printed on inexpensive paper to begin with so I don’t know how many survived. Your poster has condition issues including being glued to canvas, sun damage and tape residue. Although it is a great testament to one immigrant’s American Dream, the poster in its current condition would bring only $60-100 at auction.