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Champion of the World Jack Johnson.

Published: [Chicago:] Brandt & Scheible, 1909

Stock code: 97237

Price: £2,500

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This item is on show at 100 Fulham Road (map)

A remarkably well-preserved example of this uncommon poster celebrating the ascension to the world heavyweight throne of the great African-American boxer. Having spent several years trying to lure heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries, who refused to allow a black fighter to challenge for his title, into a match, Johnson finally won the title from Canadian Tommy Burns in Rushcutter’s Bay, Australia, following a one-sided contest during which Johnson constantly taunted the champion; “Poor little Tommy, don’t you know how to fight Tommy? They said you was the champion Tommy?”. Visiting Canada the following year he was somewhat more gracious; “Let me say of Mr. Burns, a Canadian and one of yourselves, that he has done what no one else ever did, he gave a black man a chance for the championship. He was beaten, but he was game”. Johnson’s victory made him “the most hated man in America because he was black, a winner, and he flaunted it all … On the eve of the fight, writing for the New York Herald, Jack London told the world, “Burns is a white man and so am I, naturally I want the white man to win”. But Johnson won, and continued to win, successfully defending his title for seven years. And each time white America hated him more”. (Hauser, The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing, p.64). Evidently cheaply produced for display in those bars and club-rooms where the Galveston Giant was venerated rather than despised, it is extremely uncommon to find this piece in such pristine condition.

Offset-lithographic poster (470 390 mm), en grisaille. Mounted, framed and glazed. Central image of Johnson in boxing pose with stars and stripes sash around his waist, superimposed over a large laurel wreath, either side are oval vignettes, one of the log cabin the “Birthplace of Johnson”, the other of “Johnson in his Car”, the champion had a succession of flashy and fast cars. Lightly browned verso, a few superficial creases, a small chip from the top margin, image unaffected, else very good.

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