Although the Sweet Science has fallen on hard times as of late in terms of popularity and public awareness, boxing memorabilia remains alive and well on the auction circuit.
Gone are the days when the heavyweight champion of the day was treated like royalty. Those days have been replaced by police blotter blurbs and a steady stream of bad press, with many who are now active in the sport now serving as punchlines to catchy one liners on late-night TV instead of fulfilling their roles as sports heroes of the day.
But while the sport of boxing is currently in the midst of what amounts to a decade-long standing eight count, the public has yet to count it out entirely. So what better way to lift the sport off the canvas and back into the hearts of the sporting public than to reflect back on a time when boxing was king.
That concept will soon be put to the test as Geppi’s Memorabilia Road Show will feature what’s being billed as the “most significant boxing collection in recent history,” – the Weston Collection – in its Oct. 25 auction.
A remarkable letter written in 1916 by former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, confessing to throwing his historic title fight with Jess Willard will highlight the more than 1,000-item collection which comes from the estate of boxing historian, publisher and artist, Stanley Weston.
The five-page document, dictated by Johnson to his wife, is primarily typed but includes handwritten notations by Johnson, was sold to Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer and later acquired by Weston.
The collection is being offered by Weston’s daughter, Toby Weston Cone, his long-time partner who worked with her father for the last 25 years, documenting and augmenting the collection.
“I got involved back in 1980 with the death of my mother. My mother had worked with my dad and I kind of stepped in to her role in the office,” Weston Cone said. “Over the last 25 years, I’ve become very familiar with the business and the collection. I got a great kick out of hearing his old stories because he was actually friends with many of the legendary champions like Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Jack Chardin, Barney Ross, Tony Canzinari, Mickey Walker, Ray Robinson and Rocky Marciano.”
While Weston Cone is well-aware of boxing’s recent struggles, she feels the public will welcome the trip down memory lane that her impressive collection will likely evoke. Weston Cone initially was a little leery the family’s collection could wind up in the wrong hands if she was to sell it, but after watching a film that clearly illustrated the historical significance of her wares she knew it was time to let it go.
“I think that back then at the turn of the century, the heavyweight champion was more were regarded, more renowned in the world than being the ruler of a country,” Weston Cone said. “It really was, it was a social phenomenon. I became very interested in Jack Johnson and the racial barriers that he crossed. When Ken Burns came out with the film ‘Unforgivable Blackness’ on Martin Luther King’s birthday, that was when I decided to put everything up for auction. Because I have that letter, I have two letters written by Jack Johnson.
“One of the letters is the confession, the famous letter that you probably know all about. The other is another handwritten letter that is five pages long. I always tried to get the collection into the right place, in the right hands. At first I wanted it to be preserved as a lot and to go to a museum. But I just ran into all kinds of obstacles and I didn’t want it to be sitting in a basement of a museum somewhere. I did look for one collector to buy the whole thing and have the wherewithal to put it in the right place, maybe create a museum. And that didn’t work out. So I was really delighted to find the Road Show and work with them.”
A face-to-face meeting with the owner of Geppi’s Memorabilia Road Show allowed Weston Cone to lay to rest any reservations she may have had about letting go of her father’s prized possessions.
“I actually contacted them. Spencer Later, who founded it, he’s the person that twisted my arm and made me go that route,” Weston Cone said. “I had not met Steve Geppi at that time but I am thrilled now that Steve Geppi is the principal owner and I think he’ll do a great job. I have confidence in them and I think they are doing a good job and Steve Geppi is a superb human being and I know that he cares for the art of collecting and memorabilia as much as I do.”
What makes the Weston Collection a treasure any true boxing fan would love to discover? An authentic group of artifacts that could double as a timeline for that era in the sport would be the answer for many.
“The collection actually spans more than 150 years from the 1840s to the present. At one point it was permanently on display at the first boxing Hall of Fame at Madison Square Garden in New York City,” Weston Cone said. “My father had this lifelong love affair with boxing that started 78 years ago. He started as an 18-year-old office boy at Ring Magazine and he worked his way up the ranks as a reporter, feature writer, editor and eventually, cover artist. His pastel portrait of Billy Conn which appeared on the cover of, I think it was the December 1939 issue of Ring. That was the first of 57 covers that he would eventually do.
“His father was interested in boxing and they didn’t have a lot of money but my grandfather bought my father his first Ring magazine when my father was about 10 years old and it never went downhill from there. The interesting thing is that Matt Fleischer, who founded Ring Magazine, was the next-door neighbor to my grandparents and my father used to rake his leaves and kind of take care of his lawn,” Weston Cone continued. “You see back then they didn’t have color photographs, but they would colorize photographs with these oil tints. So they had these very large head shots of boxers and he knew my father was very artistic and liked to draw and he said, ‘Would you like to come over to my basement and colorize some of these pictures? Let’s give it a shot.’ So that’s really how it started. He started in the basement of Matt Fleischer’s house colorizing photographs.”
After Weston graduated from high school, Fleischer gave him the job at the magazines’ headquarters. After leaving the magazine for the Air Force, Weston later returned and applied the skills he had picked up along the way to found his own publication company. His first magazine was called Boxing and Wrestling, which debuted in 1951. He spent the next 40 years producing 75 magazines including Boxing Illustrated, KO and International Boxing. In 1989, Weston had the opportunity to rescue Ring Magazine from bankruptcy so he purchased it from Dave Debusschere and assumed its publication. He owned it for four years and sold it after he had revived it.
Weston was a collector his entire life and the numerous relationships he established as an editor and publisher helped him acquire many of the pieces in the collection. Weston would buy or trade for items in lieu of payment, which was commonplace in that era. Many of the boxers became his friends which made adding pieces to his collection much easier.
“It’s so unique. You can’t compare it to anything,” Weston Cone said. There is a huge following for this type of memorabilia in Europe right now, but here in the United States, most people’s collections start and end with Ali. I’m hoping there will a lot of interest world wide.”
For more information about the auction and a complete list of items being consigned go to www.geppismemorabiliaroadshow.com.