1915 Cope’s Boxers set Highlighted Fighters’ Call to Duty in World War I
The somewhat rare pre-war boxing tobacco card set included boxers … as military men
During World War I, the production of many trading cards was halted. But a few sets were produced and one of the more interesting ones was issued in 1915 and actually comes from the UK.
For some context here, the war ran from 1914 through 1918. However, many of the participants were not engaged in the war for a year or two. For example, the U.S. involvement didn’t come until 1917. Others, like France, were in the war from the beginning.
At any rate, in 1915, Cope’s produced a set simply known as ‘Boxers’ and today, it’s called the 1915 Cope’s Boxers set. Cope’s (more specifically, Cope Brothers and Company) was a tobacco firm based in Liverpool, England. They were one of many tobacco companies that produced cards as inserts into their products.
Cope cards are somewhat rare compared to other popular UK issues. They are not as numerous as others that routinely distributed cards, like Wills, for example. Even when they did produce sets, the cards in them also are not seen as frequently, leading us to believe that fewer of their cards were produced than others.
The Cope’s Boxers set is an attractive one. It includes a total of 125 cards of boxers with the most valuable being the likes of Jack Johnson and John Sullivan. Those cards, even in modest condition, will usually top $100. But the really interesting thing in this set is that the makers combined boxing with the World War I.
While many of the fighters are depicted in boxing trunks and really shown as athletes, others are not. Some, for example, are in plain clothes. But others are even depicted in full military gear. While this is a UK set, it includes fighters from all over the world.
One of the more desirable cards is that of Hall of Famer Georges Carpentier. Carpentier’s cards are not on the level of Johnson, Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, or Gene Tunney. But they are typically priced in with that next tier of guys. Carpentier’s card in this set is a great looking one.
Shown here, Carpentier is one of the fighters shown in military uniform. He was an aviator in France’s Air Force and he’s pictured on his card along with a dog.
The back of Carpentier’s card also is interesting for a couple of reasons. It references his last victory as having come against Gunboat Smith in July of 1914 but Carpentier also won a fight a little bit after that against an English fighter named Kid Jackson. Why that fight is not recorded there is not known. The card also references a scheduled bout against a fighter named Young Ahearn but that it didn’t take place with Carpentier set to enter the war. And in fact, another Carpentier card in the set shows him actually signing the contract to fight Ahearn.
France was in the war from the beginning, and Carpentier is pictured as a military man in this 1915 set. But other fighters did not join the military later, if at all.
In the case of the latter, their entry date is relevant to this set. After all, if they had not yet entered the war, they could not have a card depicting them in military service. Thus, even if they became a veteran of the war later, their cards would not reflect that.
Along those lines, it is also important to point out that, while the set did depict current veterans from the war in uniform, that was not always the case. The case of British fighter Bandsman Blake is interesting. Blake entered the war in 1914. But he was wounded in that year after only about a month and returned to fighting in 1915. Despite having served in the war, his card does not show him in uniform. Because he returned to fighting that year, that could be the reason he is shown as a boxer and not in uniform, despite having served in the war.
Finally, of note is that many boxers featured in this set did not make it back home to resume their careers. Several were killed in action during the war and their cards in this set, for many, I assume, would represent some of their final cards issued prior to their deaths.
When you add it all up, this set provides a fascinating look into the times combining what was arguably the most popular sport with the biggest event happening in that period.