March 29, 2006

Introduction to collecting Muhammad Ali memorabilia… by Troy R. Kinunen

Listed in the Guinness Book of World’s Records and the most famous man on earth, it is easy to understand how countless items of memorabilia have been produced to capture the life and work of this man. With the advent of Ebay and traditional means of acquiring collectibles, this article will serve as an introduction to collecting Muhammad Ali memorabilia. Additionally I have included some definitions of the terms that will be necessary to understand the jargon associated with Muhammad Ali collectors.

When referring to programs, posters, and tickets, the term onsite and close circuit are regularly referenced.

Onsite: An item issued at the actual venue where the fight took place.

Closed Circuit: With boxing becoming more and more popular and technology advancing, fights were able to be broadcast via satellite to movie theatres throughout the country. For the price of admission in line with a movie ticket, millions of fans could watch Ali fights from the comfort of their own towns.

Programs were sold at these venues much in the same manner as scorecards at baseball games. Programs are probably the most collected of Ali items. Since most are easily identified with the date, event, and the fighter’s names are usually listed. Also, there are similarities to collectors of programs from other sports. The first programs available, which are associated with the career of Muhammad Ali, are programs from his golden gloves career, where he fought with his Christian name, Cassius Clay.

Amateur program: Cassius Clay programs from his golden gloves dates are found as Louisville Golden Gloves boxing, Louisville AAU, or the tournament of Champions held in Chicago, IL. These were issued as standard programs, 2 pagers, and one sheet or bout sheets. Many times only the boxers name, weight class, and city represented is listed.

Dates to look for:

3-5-58 vs. unknown, Chicago Golden Gloves Finals, defeated
3-11-59 vs. Jeff Davis Tournament of Champions Finals, Won title
3-9-60 vs. Jimmy Jones, National Golden Gloves championship Chicago, IL
Tournament of Champions, Won title

Examples of both the program and tickets and be found.

Professional Onsite program: Starting on October 20th, 1960, with the boxing policeman Tunney Hunnsaker, Muhammad Ali fought until December 11th, 1981 when he ended his career versus Trevor Berbick. Programs from the early portion of his career (1960-1964) are quite rare. Examples of his fights from foreign lands such as Foreman (Africa), Frazier 3 (Philippines), Mac Foster (Japan) and even the final fight versus Berbick from the Bahamas are difficult to find and sell for $1,000 or more each.

Closed Circuit programs: Typical information included the “Tale of the Tape” which listed height, weight, waist, reach and ring record. Advertising from local establishments was also found. The covers are almost always different in design from the rarer and more valuable “onsite” programs. Closed circuit programs are usually void of the town and state where the fight was held. This was done because generic programs were produced that could be sold in all of the venues that broadcast the fight.

Onsite Tickets: Onsite tickets were sold and were needed to attend the actual event at the arena where the fight took place. With most Ali fights being sell-outs, full tickets are quite rare. Stubs can be found, and again, foreign fight stubs are very rare and the 1960’s much harder to find that his 1970’s fights. Full examples can be found from the 1965 Clay-Liston 2 fight in Lewiston, Maine, and there was a find in recent years of authentic full tickets. One of the most popular tickets is the 1965 Clay-Liston 1 fight with full tickets selling for $4,000 or more and stubs selling for $800 to $1200. When collecting onsite tickets, be aware of proof printer’s proof tickets, which may be vintage but will be lacking, assigned seat numbers.

Closed Circuit tickets: Issued for admittance to the closed circuit theatres where the fights were broadcast via satellite. Typically printed on standard low-grade paper stock with one color printing. Majority of tickets are found with marquee style writing only. Printed in large quantities and easily found, they sell in the $10.00 to $20.00 each. Closed circuit tickets featuring portrait headshots of the fighters are more desirable and command up to 25% more.

Onsite Posters: The rarest of all items produced in conjunction with the promotion of Ali fights. Produced to be displayed at the venue or around the town the fight was held. Issued with the intent to sell tickets to fill the arena. With the end of the fight, most were discarded and rarely did souvenir collectors remove the posters to take home. 1960’s examples are very rare with all of the fights fought on foreign soil being hard to find. Most popular posters are the Clay Liston 1, Ali Frazier 1, and Ali Foreman the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

Closed Circuit Posters: Much more readily available than there onsite cousins. One fight can find many different versions as local printers were in charge of the design. The earliest known closed circuit poster is found from the 1963 Doug Jones fight. By the 1970’s, most posters can be found as the Ali telecasts gained much popularity. Posters were typically printed on cardboard stock and featured images of the two boxers. Due to their displayability, they are great for autographs Closed Circuit posters from Frazier 1, Spinks 2, and Holmes were issued in 1 sheet rolled poster size and are very common and can be found for about $75.00.

Training Items: Starting with the golden gloves era and continuing with his pro career, Cassius Clay training items have been saved by fans. Items that were used in the gym in preparation for his actual fights are referred to as training items. Documented examples that have entered the marketplace include bag gloves, signed speedbags, golden gloves trunks, custom tapes water bottles, mouthguards, headgear, hand wraps, and heavy bags. As in all “game used” memorabilia, documentation and photographic support are very important.

Fight Worn items: The most desirable of all Ali items. Fight worn items represent the pinnacle of items relating to the career of the Champ. During the 1960s, robes and gloves have been documented.
The earliest known fight worn gloves come from the 1963 Clay Cooper fight. Robes from the 1960’s were typically made of terry cloth or satin. Gloves were manufactured by Everlast, Post, Cleto Rey, G&S, Tuf
Wear, and Baileys. Training gloves weighed in at 16 ounce, 14 ounce, or 12 ounce. Fight worn gloves weighed in at 10 ounce or 8 ounce. Trunks were manufactured by Post, Everlast, Tuf Wear, G&S, Spartan, AMPro, Frager, Sayer, Pearson, McGregor. My personal favorite was the hand beaded white full-length robe made by a craftsman for his fight with George Foreman in Africa. Many items have entered the markets that were saved by Ali corner man, Drew Bundini Brown. Lesser items have come from other Ali insiders such as Gene Kilroy, Lloyd Wells, and Wali “Blood” Muhammad.

Product endorsed items: As the most popular athlete of the time, many product endorsement opportunities were presented to Ali. Never signing with an official marketing company, the decisions of which products to endorse were solely left to Ali. Never wanting to disappoint, and he was willing to lend his name and image almost whatever idea his friends suggested. Items which have entered the market include pancake syrup, barbecue sauce, shoe polish, Champburgers franchise, candy bars, Ali boxing tournaments, wool coats, and even D-Con roach traps with a photo of Ali on the box with the slogan, “Kills bugs Dead!”

Wire Photos: The hobby has experienced an explosion in the popularity of photograph collecting. Muhammad Ali was well represented and many collecting opportunities exist. The earliest wire photos I have seen started with Cassius Clay’s 1960 Olympic trials and gold medal events. Photographs have been issued spanning his entire professional career from 1960-1981. Be aware that wire photos are often printed with low quality images. Starting in the 1970’s, lazer images were printed and have low quality pictures.