Two CSG-graded Vintage Boxing Cards from the Iconic Allen & Ginter Set

Posted on 12/22/2021

Dempsey and Sullivan are still knockouts long after the glory days of their bare-knuckle boxing careers.

In the earliest days of the sports card collecting hobby, tobacco cards were the standard. The thickness of the cards helped to reinforce soft tobacco packaging as well as entice buyers to collect the cards inside, selling more tobacco in the process. In the late 1800s, one of the largest producers of tobacco in the United States was Allen & Ginter. While Allen & Ginter was not the first to produce collectible tobacco cards in the US — that honor belongs to Goodwin & Co. in 1886 — Allen & Ginter is credited with creating one of the most iconic and beautiful card sets of all time.

This 50-card set from 1887 features unique chromolithographic art-style portraits of the individual athletes with their names as well as the Allen & Ginter name and location — Richmond, Virginia. The back of each card is identical, with the 50-card checklist broken down by sport.

Certified Sports Guaranty® (CSG®) recently graded two of the 1887 Allen & Ginter World’s Champions cards featuring two of boxing’s most recognizable names. Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey and John L. Sullivan, listed as Pugilists, defined the era of bare-knuckle boxing. Each of the cards received a grade of CSG 1.5.

Click images to enlarge.

Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey, was born in County Kildare, Ireland, and won the middleweight title at the age of 22. He would hold that title for the next six years and successfully defended it twice in that time. Indeed, his nickname comes from his reputation of being unbeatable, and indicative of his fame, the Allen & Ginter album that collectors were encouraged to buy for their collected cards showed Dempsey on the cover.

However, Dempsey suffered from tuberculosis — it is believed to have cost him at least one match — and he died from the disease in 1895 at age 32 in Portland, Oregon. In 1954, he was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame and then the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.

Click images to enlarge.

John L. Sullivan, known simply as “John L.” to boxing fans, rose to prominence in the early 1880s when he embarked on a coast-to-coast boxing tour. During this tour, he was scheduled to hold 195 fights in 136 different cities over 200 days, but Sullivan would routinely fight additional matches by charging locals for the chance to spar with him.

Over the course of his lifetime, Sullivan reportedly won over 450 fights and finished his professional career with 42 wins, one loss and three draws (although his exact record continues to be debated). He won the last-ever bare-knuckle championship fight in July of 1889 against Jake Kilrain in a bout that lasted 75 rounds.

The Allen & Ginter World’s Champions set is loaded with names and personalities that defined the era, such as Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, Cap Anson and Charles Comiskey. Now more than 130 years old, these cards are becoming increasingly difficult to find, which means the protection and preservation provided by CSG certification is more important than ever.

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