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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 9/10/2022

ADDENDUM: Now posted is an additional PSA/DNA LOA confirming the handwritten portion is in Johnson's hand.

At the turn of the 20th century, boxing challenged our National Pastime as America’s most popular spectator sport. While Cy Young, Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb were idolized for their heroics on the diamond, prizefighting celebrities such as Bob Fitzsimmons and James J. Jeffries were immortalized as larger-than-life deities in the ring. A menacing 6' 1" 225-lb. specimen known for his immense power and athleticim, Big Jim announced his retirement in 1905 at the age of 35, still officially undefeated as the reigning Heavyweight Champion of the World having defended his title seven times since 1899. Meanwhile, a young up-and-coming African American heavyweight from Galveston, Texas, named Jack Johnson was rapidly climbing the ranks. When Johnson defeated Canadian Tommy Burns in 1908, he became the first black man to earn the coveted crown of World Champ in boxing's most revered weight class.

It is widely accepted that Jeffries intentionally dodged Johnson by retiring early. So what ultimately convinced "Big Jim" to dust off five years of rust and come out of retirement to finally face the "Galveston Giant" on July 4, 1910, in one of the greatest, most hyped title bouts in history? Was it the mounting racial tension and media pressure that pumped up Jeffries as the "Great White Hope" against a black nemesis most of White America hoped to see fall? Was it $75,000 from fight promoter Tex Rickard to get back in shape and a $40,000 purse just to step back in the ring? Or could it have been as simple as machismo fighting words from Johnson himself, calling out Jeffries for his cowardice and urging the southpaw to get in on?

Presented here is a mind-blowing Jack Johnson signed letter, both typed and handwritten, challenging Jeffries to the original “Fight of the Century” (sorry, Ali-Frazier I) on that famous Fourth of July in Reno, NV. The typed portion reads:

"In view of the statement last night by James J. Jeffries in Pittsburgh, that he ‘hoped Ketchel would kill me and that he would do so if Ketchel failed,’ I, Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world to [sic] hereby challenge James J. Jeffries to either fight me at once for my title, or to henceforth hold his tongue. I believe he is a four-flusher to the back-bone and to show that I mean business, hereby agree to fight him within two months from this date, one round or fifty, for a purse of not less than $30,000 for own end and a side-bet of $10,000. Aside from the purse, I make but one condition, that Jeffries shall accept this challenge within 10 days from date and as a token of that acceptance, post a forfeit of $5,000 within two weeks. The other four-flushers are not excluded from this challenge, but I aim it directly at James J. Jeffries who has long been making capital out of phony challenges hurled at me which he has no intention of keeping."

Then, in large pencil at the bottom of the page, Johnson handwrites, "I have $5,000 with the New York Federal [bank?] & will post $10,000 any time. Yours Truly, Jack Johnson." The massive signature is one of the largest, most impressive Johnson autographs in existence, and certainly the most significant that we know of. The subject material within is almost too good to be true. PSA/DNA has authenticated the signature and confirmed that the entire inscription is indeed in Johnson's hand. From a historical and boxing collector's standpoint, this is as good as it gets.

In the end, the younger, fitter and more disciplined Johnson used his patented defensive, capitalistic style to tire out and eventually overwhelm Jeffries in the 15th round with an onslaught of viscous uppercuts, sending America's “Great White Hope” to the canvas for the first time in his career. The fight was never really in doubt for Johnson, who withstood an onslaught of racial slurs from many of the 20,000 spectators on hand. 

Based on the timing of the referenced Johnson-Ketchel fight that took place 10/16/1909, the letter was most likely written in late 1909 or early 1910 during the ongoing negiations for the big Johnson-Jeffries clash. It was originally sourced from the prestigious Stanley Weston Collection that Sotheby’s auctioned in 2005. Weston was a prestigious American publisher, sportswriter and photographer who spent decades covering boxing at The Ring before acquiring the magazine in 1989. His collections spanned 150 years of of boxing history and several pieces were displayed at the first Boxing Hall of Fame in the old Madison Square Garden from 1922-60. In 2006 Weston was inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which is where this historic piece should reside.

The letter, which originated as two smaller pages now taped together, has been authenticated and nicely encapsulated in a PSA/DNA jumbo holder, preserved for boxing fans and American history buffs to appreciate for generations to come. Also included is a full LOA from PSA/DNA verifying both the autograph and inscription to be Jack Johnson's hand.

Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $5,000
Final prices include buyers premium.: $40,388
Number Bids:20
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