A Look at James Jeffries’ Two T218 Champions Cards

Hall of Fame boxer James Jeffries has two cards in the T218 Champions set — here’s an up close look at both, including pricing and rarity

Like the legendary Jack Johnson, Hall of Fame boxer James Jeffries has two cards in the popular T218 Champions set. Jeffries’ cards aren’t quite as desirable as Johnson’s but they are among the keys to this multi-sport issue.

Jeffries’ career was notable. He began fighting in the late 1800s before defeating Bob Fitzsimmons in 1899 for the world heavyweight title. He retained title through several notable fights before retiring as an undefeated fighter after his final fight in 1904. While his record was not perfect (he had endured a few draws and No Contests), he had never been formally defeated.

Jeffries was lured out of retirement on the Fourth of July in 1910 with Johnson, who was then champion. Dubbed as the Fight of the Century, the racial overtones were heavy. Jeffries, who was nicknamed ‘The Great White Hope’ in an effort to establish racial superiority, going so far to say that “No negro alive can beat a white man.” Those were famous last words as Johnson would defeat Jeffries by a technical knockout.

One of Jeffries’ cards is a traditional fighting pose, which is a horizontal card. The action pose, shown here, is one very similar that is seen on other Jeffries cards, including an Exhibit and in the 1948 Topps Magic set. The artwork for it seems to have been taken from the image, or a closely related one, used to create this Sarony cabinet card from 1909 that I purchased earlier this year.

The portrait card, meanwhile, is a more subdued Jeffries, shown with arms folded while wearing a t-shirt with sleeves. It also includes a minor difference on the front with Jeffries’ name as there is no middle initial of ‘J’ on it.

Unlike Johnson’s cards, which had the same print on the back, Jeffries’ two cards are different. One (the action card) was seemingly printed before the fight with Johnson as it states “he has recently come out of retirement to defend his title against Jack Johnson.” The portrait card seems to have come later and states, “His last fight, prior to the great battle with Jack Johnson in 1910 …”

That statement on the action card about Jeffries defending his title, of course, was misleading. Jeffries had retired years earlier and his title was vacated before ultimately being won by Johnson. Jeffries himself would have known the title was vacated — he was actually the referee for a fight between Marvin Hart and Jack Root for that vacated belt.

The card is an intriguing piece of history because, as other publications did at the time, it sought to discredit Johnson as the current champion while pushing the fact that Jeffries had never been beaten. The cards’ makers further sold that narrative as Johnson’s card does not even recognize him as champion, even though he won the title in 1908 prior to this set’s release.

To the two Jeffries cards, let’s take a look at rarity and pricing. The action card seems to be slightly tougher to find, though neither is technically all that rare. To date, PSA has graded about 180 of the portrait card to fewer than 150 of the action card. SGC’s pops are a bit harder to decipher but they seem to have graded fewer of the action pose cards as well.

I’ve built a T218 set already, am about 2/3 of the way done with a second, and have a few dozen triples. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of this set and constantly tracking values. The portrait card of Jeffries seems to command a wee bit less than his action card, though I am not convinced the rarity has much to do with it. Jeffries’ fighting pose card just looks more like a true boxing card and is aesthetically more desirable as a sports card. Low-grade portrait cards for Jeffries usually start around $10-$15 while his action cards start closer to $15-$20.

Even as virtual post-career cards for Jeffries, both appear to be relative bargains for more than 100-year-old cards of one of the best fighters of his era.

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