Circa 1888 Janus Tobacco Boxing Poster Featuring John L. Sullivan

Sold For: $9,600

Auction Year: 2016 fall

Lot: 2049

Item Year: 1888

Category: Football/Basketball/Hockey/Boxing/Other Sports

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Offered here is what can only be described as the most stunning and extraordinary tobacco-related boxing poster ever issued! This extremely rare, possibly unique, lithographic poster, produced during the late 1880s in promotion of Janus Plug Tobacco, features full-color images of the top pugilists of the day. Heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan shares top billing in the center of piece with the Australian and British Commonwealth heavyweight title holder Peter Jackson. At the time, Sullivan and Jackson were considered the best heavyweights in the world, but Sullivan refused to fight Jackson because he was black. Pictured above and below them, respectively, are (above) Jake Kilrain (heavyweight contender who lost to Sullivan in 1889 in the last bare-knuckle title fight), William Muldoon (both a top prizefighter and wrestler, and later manager of John L. Sullivan), and Jack Dempsey (former middleweight and welterweight champion); and (below) Frank Slavin (a top heavyweight from Australia), Jem. Smith (celebrated British bare-knuckle fighter), and Charlie Mitchell (a top heavyweight who lost to Sullivan once and later fought him to a draw; he later served as Sullivan's cornerman). As noted in print along the base, this display was produced for the T. C. Williams Co., by A. Hoen & Co., one of the leading lithography companies in the United States during the late 1800s. A stamp in the lower right corner reads "Property of A. Hoen & Co."

What makes this piece all the more interesting is the fact that all of the fighters are depicted in full-color cabinet-card designs that are similar in appearance to other tobacco premiums from that era. However, no cards or premiums are known depicting these fighters in precisely the designs and poses featured. In addition to its obvious extraordinary visual appeal, the poster is exceedingly rare. We have never seen another example of this incredible poster and cannot imagine a finer nineteenth-century boxing display. The poster (18.75 x 23 inches) displays a few moderate creases, as well as a few minor tears. A small tear along the left border was once repaired on the front with a single strip of thin tape. The tape was later removed, but the adhesive residue still remains. A few tiny tears that resulted in paper loss have been touched up with paint (not professionally executed). Although technically in Good to Very Good condition, the flaws do not detract from its spectacular visual appeal and the poster presents at a much higher level, with all of the colors remaining bold and vibrant. This is a phenomenal nineteenth-century advertising display, on par or superior to any tobacco banners of the era, and simply an extraordinary example of the art of the American advertising poster. Matted and framed to total dimensions of 22 x 26 inches. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open).

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