Ringside Collectibles: Boxing Memorabilia Packs a Punch

This pair of gloves signed by Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier are a great collectible for every boxing fan.

Pugilism: (pu·gi·lism) The skill, practice and sport of fighting with the fists; boxing.Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.

The sport of boxing has a long and divisive history. Dating back to the ancient Greek Empire, it was honored as an Olympic sport. Boxing or prizefighting, as it is also called, gained popularity first in England and then the in United States, particularly in the 19th century.

As with all sports, boxing has a dedicated fan base, despite it precipitous decline in popularity over the last several years. With new competition from mixed martial arts, combined with scandal and poor marketing decisions at the top levels of the World Boxing Federation, boxing often takes a backseat to the Ultimate Fighting Championship and other MMA leagues.

Regardless of these issues, there is no denying that the sport of boxing over the last century or more has produced some of the most electric, volatile and entertaining personalities in all of sports.

As a result, boxing collectibles are extremely popular. Whether it’s vintage turn-of-the-century fight posters or autographed boxing gloves, pugilism—whether you call it boxing or prizefighting—holds its own in the collectibles marketplace.

Posters promoting matches between famous fighters or memorable bouts carry a premium—but watch for counterfeits!

One of the most iconic and popular pieces of boxing memorabilia is the promotional poster used to advertise upcoming bouts. Those that feature legendary fighters such as Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson can command four figures. Early samples from the likes of Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, Max Schmeling or Joe Louis can go for even larger sums. Being a paper collectible, the posters are obviously very condition-sensitive, and condition is a primary component used to determine value. The colorful pieces make for a great display for boardrooms to home offices, and they garner a wide level of interest from die-hard collectors and casual fans alike.

Easily reprinted, forgeries are commonplace. Ink-and-paper analysis is a crucial part of the authentication process, and collectors should only purchase samples accompanied with a Certificate or Letter of Authenticity from a reputable third-party authenticator. These specialists are able to determine if the paper and ink are appropriate for the period in which the fight occurred, providing the foundation for the poster’s authenticity. It is customary on vintage paper more than 30 years old to see signs of foxing, which is the natural spotting and browning of the paper over time.

This collection of vintage boxing tickets recently sold for $575.

Match Tickets
As detailed in a previous article, vintage tickets are a relatively undervalued collectible. However, their significance to sports history shouldn’t be taken for granted. Tickets chronicle moments in time and events for the sake of posterity. When it comes to tickets from boxing matches, the most valuable are those at the turn of the century and pre-World War II and those for famous bouts.The collection of tickets pictured here recently sold for $575 and features some of the top fighters of the era, including Kid Chocolate and Primo Carnera. More modern samples that would carry collectible value include the great matches of Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommie Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, as well as the legendary fight between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.

One of the nice things about collecting tickets from boxing matches is that it requires a relatively low dollar threshold to enter the market. Tickets from some classic matches can be purchased very reasonable sums. The ticket pictured here, from the 1974 match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, recently sold for just $26 but is a truly nice representation of the boxing-ticket niche.

Interestingly, the color and composition for boxing gloves make them the perfect medium for deep, long-lasting autographs.

As is the case with all athletes, the most popular boxing collectibles are those that are autographed. While prints, lithographs, art and photographs all make for nice display pieces, the unique nature of boxing equipment means that one item in particular carries more value than others when signed: the boxing glove. The deep, rich red coloring of most boxing gloves provides the perfect background and contrasts well with multiple ink colors, particularly black. Able to absorb the ink from a Sharpie, the glove insures a deep signature that provides natural protection from fading over time. Specialty cases designed to house such gloves provide additional protection.

When it comes to boxing autographs, even from the same fighter, some are significantly more valuable than others. Such is the case with Muhammad Ali. The value of his signature fluctuates greatly depending on when he signed the item. Born Cassius Clay, he converted to Islam and changed his name. Items signed with the Cassius Clay moniker command a huge premium. Currently suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the quality of Ali’s signature has deteriorated significantly over time. Still a very gracious signer, those items autographed in the last 10 to 15 years are often time much less valuable due to their legibility than those signed at the height of his career.

Bought in an abandoned storage unit bought for $650, Muhammad Ali’s trunks from his “Thrilla in Manila” bout sold recently for $100,000.

Fight-Worn Items
The real treasures when it comes to boxing memorabilia are those items that were worn by the fighter in the ring, namely their gloves, robe and trunks. As is the case with most athlete-worn material, these items are extremely expensive on the secondary market and are most often found at major sports-auction houses.

Last year, Robert Edwards Auctions, an esteemed auction house specializing in sports memorabilia, was consigned the trunks Ali wore in the famous “Thrilla in Manila” fight against Joe Frazier. The black and white nylon shorts sold for $100,000. The trunks were originally salvaged from a delinquent storage unit purchased for $650 in 1988. The trunks sold through an auction at Sotheby’s for $58,000 that same year. The price difference is a testament to the quality investment value and appreciation that high-end memorabilia can garner in the market place.

The different eras of boxing provide an endless amount of material to pursue. So whether you think the all-time greatest fighter is Ali, Tyson, Louis or somebody else, there is no shortage of items, in all prices ranges to collect.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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