Rare Joe Louis Champion Sports Wallet Card Misidentified as Rookie Issue

One of Joe Louis’ hottest cards is graded as a 1935 rookie issue — but it was actually printed after that

Like most pre-war cards, boxing cards have been on the move with prices higher than ever. That is particularly true for the biggest names of that time period, including Jack Johnson, John Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, and more. Go ahead and throw the legendary Joe Louis in that group, whose earliest cards came in the 1930s.

Louis’ cards have shot up dramatically in value. His most common rookie card is found in the 1935 J.A. Pattreiouex Sporting Events and Stars set. Finding that card for under $100 was not terribly uncommon a few years ago. Today, though, anything in decent condition starts around $200 with anything slightly better approaching $400 or $500.

A rare card of Louis is being touted as one of his rookie cards — the 1936 Amalgamated Press Champion Sports Wallet card. These cards were strip cards of a sort, printed inside of cardboard covers, which presented a bit like wallets. The ‘cards’ are paper thin and spilled out like a sheet of pictures — much like the plastic inserts in some older wallets did. The Louis card, like others in the set, is very rare and sells for $500 or more in decent condition.

We know that those cards are clearly from 1936. The booklet that Louis’ card is part of is called Famous Fighters. Louis is in the booklet with others, including Jim Braddock, Len Harvey, Jock McAvoy, Jock Petersen, and Max Schmeling. That booklet is one of eight found in the 1936 Champion Sports Wallet series.

The eight booklets were issued inside of a larger, orange book. You can sometimes find these larger booklets, though they are rare. But the key thing of note is the Famous Fighters title on the cover, indicating it is one in the series of eight. The top of the orange booklet tell us that it was issued on October 17, 1936. Each of the booklets themselves were issued subsequently afterwards, one each week. We also know this because some of the booklets actually state what week they were issued in.

The Joe Louis cards are definitively a 1936 issue and the dating should not be confusing in the least.

Yet, you will find these cards constantly bought and sold as 1935 issues. That may not typically be a big issue but because Louis’ rookies are from 1935, collectors are buying these with the expectation they are getting a rookie card — and that simply isn’t true.

Further muddying the confusion is that grading companies themselves have slabbed these cards as pre-1936. PSA has slabbed these cards as 1935 issues. SGC has made an even bigger error, listing the cards as being from 1930 — not 1930s, rather 1930. The 1930 date, of course, is impossible. Louis’ boxing career did not even begin until 1934 and in 1930, he would have only turned 16 years old.

So why the confusion? Well, a deeper dive makes it pretty clear where there could be mistakes.

First, only some of the orange books included the 1936 date. But more importantly, Amalgamated Press produced a similar but entirely separate series of booklets called The Champion Portfolio of Sport. Those are often cited as a 1935 issue and included a boxing booklet. However, that one is titled Fighting Furies of the Boxing Ring and does not include Louis. PSA and SGC could simply be confusing the Sports Wallet booklets with the Portfolio of Sport booklets because they look exactly the same with blue covers and similar designs.

I know the rush is to criticize grading companies when these sorts of mistakes are made. And the mistakes are significant because those cards are slabbed and being bought and sold with that incorrect date. But there are so many obscure issues out there that mistakes like these are not unavoidable. The problem, of course, is for those collectors spending large amounts of money on the Louis card and not getting quite what they paid for.

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