Tale of the Tape: 1908-09 Ogden’s Pugilists & Wrestlers vs. 1915 Ogden’s Boxers

Comparing two Ogden’s Cigarettes Boxing Sets

Ogden’s Cigarettes produced all sorts of pre-war card series’. Two of the more popular sports sets that I’m focused on having a boxing theme.

The 1908-09 Ogden’s Pugilists and Wrestlers set features mostly boxers. But, true to the name, it also includes a few wrestlers and is one of the earliest sets to focus on actual athletes in that sport. And technically, this is really two separate sets — a 1908 1st series and a 1909 2nd series.

Ogden’s then used a very similar design to create a separate boxing issue in 1915, simply called the Ogden’s Boxers set.

But while the two look similar, these are very distinctly different sets. Let’s compare the two.

Card Layout / Design

Good luck picking a winner here. Part of the reason collectors are easily confused with these sets is because of how similar they are in appearance.

On the left here is a John Sullivan card from the 1908-09 Ogden’s Pugilists/Wrestlers set and on the right is a card of Sam Langford from the later 1915 Ogden Boxers series.

Despite the fact that they were printed more than five years apart, the fronts of both types of cards are practically identical. Each has the Ogden’s Cigarettes name at the top, a plain white background, and the subject’s name at the bottom. The middle includes a lithographic picture of the subject. Those, too, are not generally that distinguishable.

The backs are how you can really tell these cards apart. The Ogden’s Pugilists and Wrestlers set carries that title at the top and is printed in deep blue ink. The Ogden’s Boxers cards use green ink and have the “Boxers” title at the top.

Those backs are both clearly different but neither has much in terms of advantage when it comes to aesthetics.

Advantage: Tie

Checklist

We get a good amount of separation when it comes to the checklist for the two sets.

To start, the 1908-09 Ogden’s Pugilists and Wrestlers set is bigger with a total of 75 cards. Again, though, that is really two sets combined into one. The 1915 Ogden’s Boxers cards include 50 in the set.

But the real separation in terms of checklists comes in the quality of the subjects.

The 1908-09 Ogden’s Pugilists and Wrestlers set has a distinct advantage here. The set not only includes most of boxing’s big names at the time, but also some retired ones, including the likes of legendary champ John L. Sullivan. Big name after big name is here, including the likes of James Jeffries, Joe Gans, Sam Langford, Charlie Mitchell, and many more. It’s loaded with not only big names but Hall of Famers.

That does not even include the wrestlers and those are among the more valuable cards in the set. There, the two big names are Georges Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch — arguably the two biggest names of their time.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, the set also includes a couple of key rookie cards. One is for Abe Attell, a boxing champion who is more famously known for his role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, helping to dramatically increase the prices of his cards. The other is the legendary Jack Johnson. Johnson’s rookie card is becoming one of the more desirable pre-war issues and easily the most valuable card in either of these two sets, starting at a few hundred dollars, even in low-grade condition.

There are some big names in the 1915 Ogden’s set, too. That series is highlighted by the likes of early Black fighters, Joe Jeannette and Sam Langford, as well as Georges Carpentier, Jess Willard, and other stars/Hall of Famers. But it is a far cry from the earlier Ogden’s release.

Advantage: 1908-09 Ogden’s Pugilists and Wrestlers

Rarity

This one is a bit tough to dissect. The reason for that is, part of the 1908-09 Ogden’s Pugilists and Wrestlers set is not that rare while part of it is.

First series cards are not terribly rare. I would not call them common — certainly not in comparison to the later 1920s and 1930s UK tobacco cards. But they are not scarce by any means. There’s a good reason for that since some of the 1908 first series cards were actually reprinted in 1909.

The second series cards, however, are much tougher. Those high numbers, 51-75, can be quite difficult to track down. And it is part of the reason for the high prices of the cards of Johnson and Gotch in particular — both of whom are found in that rarer series.

The 1915 Ogden’s Boxers cards seem stuck in the middle. I would certainly call them rarer than the first series of Pugilists and Wrestlers but not quite as rare as the second series. Because of that, I’m calling this one a push.

Advantage: Tie

Artwork/Images

Anyone who has seen these sets probably understands that this is going to be another tie.

There’s no real variety of images at all in either set. All are portraits and about the only variation you get in some is an occasional side image of a few of the fighters.

Sure, we might be able to nitpick a few of the images. Some are more well done than others. Additionally, some of the fighters in the 1915 set are seen wearing some really great vintage sweaters. The card of wrestler Ali Nourdah Hassan in the Ogden Pugilists and Wrestlers set pictures him in traditional Turkish clothing, as opposed to the simple athletic shirt worn by most in the set. But in general, we’ve just got a bunch of heads here.

The pictures are fine — some of the artwork, even outstanding. But in terms of a differentiator, there’s nothing to see for the most part. I certainly don’t think one is particular better than the other.

Advantage: Tie

Demand

The 1915 Ogden Boxers set certainly has a following. And there are lunatics out there that collect everything (raises hand) and are building both sets.

That said, I think it’s difficult to deny that the 1908-09 Ogden Pugilists and Wrestlers cards are more desired. Sure, that is led by the individual cards that folks want — the Johnson, Attell, wrestlers, Sullivan, etc. But I’ve also run into more people building this set than the later 1915 issue.

The 1908-09 cards get the nod here and I don’t think it’s particularly close.

Advantage: 1908-09 Ogden’s Pugilists and Wrestlers

Final Analysis

The two sets no doubt have similarities. But the differentiator is really in the subjects included, which in turn, has made the 1908-09 Ogden’s set more collected.

I personally think the 1915 Ogden Boxers release is a fine series. But it just doesn’t have the names or the key cards in it to really challenge the earlier Ogden’s set. The 1908-09 Ogden’s Pugilists and Wrestlers set comes out as the clear winner here.

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