While most collectors know about the Jack Dempsey of the 20th Century, fewer have heard of the original
In the 1910s and 1920s, Jack Dempsey carved out one of the greatest boxing careers in history. A former world heavyweight champion, his name is among the most recognizable in the sport, despite his career ending nearly a century ago.
But Dempsey, actually named William Harrison, shares his iconic name with another boxer that came before him in Jack ‘Nonpareil’ Dempsey.
Born in 1862, the original Jack Dempsey lived a miserably short life, passing away by 1895 from tuberculosis. He was an early middleweight champion (some accounts say he was the first world middleweight champion) and was nicknamed ‘Nonpareil,’ which means unequaled or unrivaled. That nickname seemed fairly justified as he was 51-4 in his career with 11 draws.
It is said that William’s brother, also a fighter, actually used the Jack Dempsey moniker first before William ultimately adopted it as his own. His brother Bernie was said to have adopted the name ‘Jack’ as he was a big fan of the Nonpareil Dempsey. And as if all of this wasn’t confusing enough, Jack Nonpareil Dempsey wasn’t a birth name, either. His name was actually John Edward Kelly.
In short, though, the most important thing to know is that there are two boxers that went by the Jack Dempsey name — the original Jack ‘Nonpareil’ Dempsey of the 19th Century and the later, more popular version from the 20th Century.
At any rate, the latter Jack Dempsey of the 20th Century is by far the most popular. For one, he was the heavyweight champion of the world and, all things being equal, that title is generally more marketable than the middleweight champion. In addition, he boxed in a more modern era and is probably recognized a bit more because of that, too.
But while the later version is more popular, don’t be shortchanged here. The original Jack Nonpareil Dempsey is still popular in his own right and is a Hall of Famer while having some pretty popular boxing cards.
19th Century Jack ‘Nonpareil’ Dempsey Cards
Nonpareil’s most well-known card may be his issue from the 1888 N28 Allen & Ginter Champions set, which is pictured here to the right. Like the others in the set, it’s a simple blank-background card with a color lithograph of the fighter.
While the baseball cards in the set are the most valuable, Dempsey’s is one of the more expensive cards of players not from that sport. It has undoubtedly been confused by some collectors as featuring the later Dempsey and that is often a reason some have cited for its high cost, as it is hard to find much below $50 even in lesser condition. But it is still valuable and even when collectors know what they are bidding on, it still sells for more than most cards in the set.
As is the case with other N28 issues, collectors not familiar with the cards should be wary of what they are buying. Allen & Ginter also produced a premium album with pictures of the cards in the set and those pictures were often cut out by collectors. While they are considered cards of a sort and have some value, they are worth only a fraction of the regular cards issued with cigarette packages. The easiest way to tell the genuine cigarette cards from the album cuts are that the cigarette cards have the Allen & Ginter’s name on the bottom and also a checklist on the back. Album cuts have only the athlete’s name on the front bottom and are blank-backed.
While perhaps not quite as popular or well-known, Dempsey is also found in the N162 Goodwin Champions set. That card, pictured to the left here, is more colorful by nature and also more expensive. They are much rarer and it would be difficult to find a Dempsey in any half-decent condition for under $75-$100.
A third Dempsey card from the Champions sets is his N184 Kimball issue, which is pictured here.
While this card is easily the rarest of the three, it is not as popular with collectors — probably in large part due to the fact that many do not it exists. That card is pictured in the middle here and asking prices for it are typically around what you might see for the N162 Goodwin Champions card, though educated collectors may surely ask for more.
Note that, similar to the N28 Allen & Ginter set, there are also premium albums featuring pictures of the cards in the N162 Goodwin and N184 Kimball sets. Those cards were also sometimes cut out and the corresponding album cards are also worth only a fraction of the value for a ‘real’ cigarette card.
Those are probably Dempsey’s more common cards. However, the fighter appears in numerous other 19th Century sets that are far more rare, including the late 1880s Lorillard’s N266 and N269 sets, the N332 Hess Cigarettes set, and the popular N174 Gypsy Queen set. Aside from the N269 card, which would probably be price, you may not pay a fortune for any of those cards if you can find them in the right circumstance. But finding them would probably the most difficult part as they are not particularly common.
20th Century Jack ‘Nonpareil’ Dempsey Cards
While Dempsey died before the 20th Century, he still was remembered as a popular figure and is seen in other early post-career sets.
One of Dempsey’s rarer cards here is the T223 Dixie Queen issue. He was included in that set, which featured both current and former boxers.
But if you’re looking for something a little more manageable, his T220 Champion Athletes card or his 1909 James Jeffries Playing Cards issue are available, too, and easier to find. Fittingly, Dempsey is the ‘Jack’ of Clubs card in that set, which is a deck of playing cards. Dempsey is found in some other 20th Century sets as well.
In particular, low-grade T220 commons can be found for as little as $10 on occasion. Dempsey will usually command more than that but it isn’t a terribly expensive card. Pictured here is Dempsey’s card from that set and finding it at about $20 probably isn’t out of the question if you don’t mind a card in lower grade.