The Collectible Paper Jewels of Boxing

By Bob Pace

Ah... boxing tickets, the paper jewel that is your gateway to a classic fight. Have you ever been to an event that was a classic - even just a classic to you?

When it's over you smile and think, wow that was special! You look down at your used ticket and again you think, I was actually here. Proof to yourself; your ticket. That little piece of hard paper means so much. It ensures the great memories of that exciting event. Every time you look at it, you remember.


That's just one of the great things about ticket collecting. Even if you didn't attend the fight, you know that the ticket in your collection was from a very special event that you admired one way or another. It is the one item that brings you closer to that event than any other collectible with the exception of fight used equipment. Even more so than a program or poster, these are also sold at off-site closed circuit venues and sometimes stores around the city of the event. Take the Lewis/Tyson fight. You could buy a program, t-shirt, cap or poster at any store in the city, but not the ticket.


A ticket is not made to be a collectible. It is your pass to the event. Yes, they made them with care and beauty all the way back in the 1800's. But they made them that way because the price of a boxing ticket or any other special event was always more than that of a regular sporting event. Promoters wanted you to feel that the fight was special and that you were getting your money's worth with a fancy ticket. It's their way of saying, yes, this is a big event. Boxing tickets are the most sought after and collected, with the Super Bowl running a close second.


Championship fight tickets have always been beautiful keepsakes. Starting with the very first Heavyweight Championship fight under the "Marquis of Queensbury" rules (which they still fight under today), the John L. Sullivan vs. Gentleman Jim Corbett fight in 1892. In my opinion, this is one of the most underrated collectibles in all of sports memorabilia. Just think of it, a gorgeous ticket from the first major sporting event in American history. I've seen these tickets sell from $1200 to $3500, a steal at any price in between there. This is a Smithsonian piece! There are probably less than twenty of these in existence - very undervalued and a great investment. One thing should be noted, there are two different tickets for this event. One is a beautiful 4 ¼ inch by 3 ¼ inch and the other is about 4 inches by 2 inches. Though the smaller is much scarcer, I've only seen about four or five, the larger is much more ornate.


A lot of boxing tickets from the 1900s through the late '40s had elaborate printing on both sides of the ticket. The back of both Dempsey/Tunney fight tickets have raised lettering and both their pictures on it - a true work of art. On some tickets, they would print the stadium sections and entrances on the back. There is one special ticket that I should mention here. It is the ticket to the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling II fight. The tickets to the fight are like most of the other tickets from the '30s with the exception of the ringside seat tickets. These were printed with gorgeous raised gold lettering. There is a big difference in the appearance of these tickets and should be priced accordingly.


Most Heavyweight Championship fight tickets are available, and are reasonably priced. Tickets to the fights from when the legendary champions won their title are the most sought after and usually priced between $500 and $800. There are exceptions. Until the early 1990's, a full unused ticket to the Walcott/Marciano fight was not known to exist among collectors and dealers, then a handful were found in Philadelphia where the fight took place - a very scarce full ticket. Even scarcer is a full unused ticket to the Liston/Clay fight. I've only seen two of these, and both were in big auction house catalogs. Even the stubless ticket is very scarce. Another super scarce full ticket is from one of the biggest upsets in sports history, the Tyson/Douglas fight. I have only seen two of these since the fight.


There are several variances in tickets. You have your full unused ticket. This is a ticket with the stub still attached with no visible signed of being used. Then there is the full ticket with holes punched on it. The stub is still attached but the ticket was used to attend the event. Another version is a ticket with no seat or section designation. These were sometimes used for standing room only or printed up as extras that found their way into the public's hands. Last but not least are the "police" or "photographer" tickets. These were used the above-mentioned and look exactly like the other tickets but, instead of seat and section numbers, they just have "police" or "photographer" on them. Though some collectors are not interested in the later four categories, I don't believe these factors detract from the tickets. Today, separate passes are made for all officials of the fight. Press passes are often larger and better looking than the actual tickets.


In addition, with the cost of printing so high, a lot of venues are now just printing computer generated fight tickets. No photos, no color printing, very plain on slightly heavier paper. Even if they do print a nice colorful ticket, you would still get just a computer ticket if you purchased it from a Ticketron outlet. At the same event, the press passes are large, beautiful type tickets in plastic holders with a chain attached for wearing around the neck. They are really nice compared to the computer ticket. Though not an official ticket, they surely are very collectable.


Now we have another category, the stubless ticket. They are exactly what they are named, tickets that were actually used to attend the event with the stub ripped off usually at a perforation on the ticket. Hopefully, they ripped only on the perforation. These are still very sought-after, though not as much as a full ticket. A lot of times, especially at a legendary event, these are all that are available, like the Liston/Clay fight.

Naturally, a ticket that was ripped on any other part other than the perforation would be worth less. On some occasions the venue kept the large portion of the ticket and just gave back the stubs to the fans. Though these are far less valuable, it might be the only part of the ticket available to collectors. I know this was the case at the Walcott/Marciano fight. Only the stubs were available until those few full tickets were found. You never see a stubless ticket to either of the Dempsey/Tunney fights, just the stubs. During those great Celtics-Lakers playoff games in the '80s, they would always keep the large part of the ticket and hand back the small stub on the way in. That used to kill me! I asked many times if I could keep the large part in vain.


Early on, a lot of businesses would print up a ticket to advertise their products. Take the Jack Johnson-James Jeffries fight. There are several advertisement "tickets" for that fight. It looks like a ticket to the fight but if you read it carefully, it's just an advertisement. There are plenty of Joe Louis "tickets" that look like tickets to the fight but are actually tickets to the closed circuit showings. If not inspected carefully, they can easily be mistaken for an on-site ticket. Sometimes the advertisement or closed circuit tickets are better looking than the on-site ticket. Take the Foreman/Morrison fight ticket. The on-site ticket is just a computer generated ticket but Kentucky Fried Chicken printed a gorgeous ticket. It looks like a real ticket, but it's just advertisement for the chicken. It is a great way to advertise because they look good to collectors and you know they would keep them.

Boxing tickets make great collectibles – you just need to keep doing your research.