Flea Market Find: 1914 Farmer Burns Wrestling School Newsletters
I used to do the flea market thing quite a bit. But I’ve got less free time these days and, collecting only pre-war stuff, I’m less often to find things in that time period so I don’t bother as much.
Made the trip to a relatively large one this weekend and, surprisingly it was well worth my time. I’d been here before and have had some really nice finds. But those involved post-war vintage cards and I don’t think I’d ever found any pre-war stuff there.
This weekend, I first scored a pair of wooden cigar boxes that I plan to keep some tobacco cards in. I’d always wanted some of these and they were in great shape at a low price of $3 each. But the real find was an old set of wrestling newsletters distributed in 1914 by some guy named Farmer Burns.
About Farmer Burns
Even if you’re a wrestling fan, chances are relatively high that you’ve not heard of Farmer Burns. Burns was one of the more popular late 1800s and early 20th century wrestlers. In 1895, he won the American Heavyweight Championship, defeating the legendary Evan Strangler Lewis. He participated in thousands of matches and while he never wrestled in the WWE, he is inducted in the Legacy Wing of their Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport.
Burns was not a professional wrestler in the same mold of professional wrestling today. Back then, Catch as Catch Can wrestling ruled with matches often held at carnivals and fairs. The competitions had mostly undetermined results with wrestlers utilizing a grappling style. A lot of the matches ended in submissions instead of actual pins.
A great wrestler himself, he is also just as well-known for his teaching abilities.
Burns is known as the instructor of the legendary Frank Gotch, a very popular early 1900s wrestler. He wrestled Gotch once and saw his potential. Gotch would later become a champion under Burns’ instruction. Along with George Hackenschmidt, the pair are two of the most collected and recognizable early stars of the sport.
Burns was hardly his only student. In fact, he is said to have trained more than 1,600 wrestlers in all. One of his newsletters also indicates that he had spoken to more than one million people through lectures. Burns also developed the idea of taking his school on the road through a mail venture.
Wrestling Correspondence School Newsletters and ‘The Find’
In addition to teaching Gotch, Burns wanted to find a way to expand his instructional methods to others. In 1914, he created a correspondence wrestling school. Students received a total of six newsletters with each newsletter consisting of two lessons.
The lessons covered a variety of wrestling holds and techniques. But they also contained a lot of training methods and some of those are still used today.
The newsletters always began with some opening remarks. Burns himself appeared on the front along with a cartoon wrestling logo of sorts. They then went into tips for training, clean living, etc., before getting into the business of wrestling holds. Some of the training methods from the publications, although more than 100 years old, are still being used to this day. The wrestling methods were demonstrated by wrestlers including Burns himself, Gotch, and other grapplers.
Now, I had heard about these newsletters before but only recently. I have to say that, as little as three months ago, I would have walked right past these and not given it a second thought. But as soon as I spotted them this weekend, I knew exactly what they were as I’d been reading up on early wrestlers and materials. I’d seen some replica wrestling posters elsewhere at the flea market so my first question was if they were reprints. But a closer inspection easily showed they were real.
What was the damage on these? Asking the seller for his price, he responded with an unbelievably low price of $3 for the lot. I’m sure I could have even talked him down from that if I were so inclined but there was no way I was passing at that price.
I wasn’t aware of what they could be worth but knew that I obviously wasn’t taking any sort of real risk on them at a price that low. I did know what they were and that they were somewhat rare but really hadn’t researched the price at all before. After getting home, turns out they can sell for around $100-$150 for a full set. Didn’t hit the jackpot and I’m missing the first newsletter but, for $3, hard to complain. Just a really cool item you don’t see everyday.
Overall, it was just a reminder for me that, even as a pre-war collector, flea markets can still be a good place for finds of early collectibles. The newsletters and the two cigar boxes cost me a mere $9. I don’t typically see old cards there but things like these newsletters and other stuff like postcards can be found
Sometimes at good prices, too.