Obscure Card of the Month: Jack Johnson 1922 Felix Potin

The Obscure Card of the Month is a 1920s boxing card of the legendary Jack Johnson

Often, the Obscure Card of the Month features generic subjects or less consequential personalities. But for the second month in a row now, we’re focusing on a big name.

Last month, it was Babe Ruth. This month? Legendary fighter Jack Johnson.

Johnson is one of the subjects in the massive Felix Potin set issued in four series’ in/around (dating is iffy with some series’ believed to have been issued in more than one year) c1898-1908 (first series), 1908 (second series), 1922 (third series), and 1952 (fourth series). In all, there are roughly 1,850 cards in the massive collection.

While the first two series’ included some important cards, it’s the third series that really is a focal point for collectors of sports cards. The sports cards found in that third series are not only bigger names than those in the first two, but the cards are significantly rarer. And in that third series, no cards are more notable than the ones of Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey.

Dempsey’s card is intriguing as it is one of his earlier issues. He was, at the time of the set’s production, the reigning heavyweight champion and there is no disputing the importance of his card. However, I am more intrigued by Johnson’s in this set.

While Dempsey’s career was just beginning, Johnson’s was nearing the end. By 1922, Johnson was still technically boxing. But he was a shadow of his former self and his career was likely in doubt. He had not competed since May of 1920, where he’d been fighting down in Mexico for the past year. Johnson had been on the international circuit, in fact, since 1913 where he fought — you guessed it, in France — the home of these cards.

The non-Domestic route wasn’t by chance. Johnson famously left the country after being sentenced to a year in jail after relationships with prostitutes landed him in hot water. He fought in numerous countries, including France, Argentina, Cuba, and Spain before settling in Mexico. In 1920, he eventually surrendered in the U.S. and served a one-year prison sentence, being released in 1921.

By that time, Johnson was 43 and there was no telling how much fighting, if any, he’d be doing. And that’s part of the reason I’m intrigued by his inclusion in this set. Johnson didn’t fight the rest of 1921. And the year these cards were released, 1922, he didn’t fight, either. Even in the years leading up to his eventual surrender, his fights were largely not high-profile ones. After losing the title to underdog Jess Willard in 1915, Johnson was mostly off the radar of the big-time prize fight scene. World War I and the lack of fighting opportunities, too, was a factor. Thus, his appearance in this set looks largely like a tribute card of sorts.

But Johnson did return. In 1923, he fought a pair of fighters in Cuba before heading for a trio of appearances in Canada and Mexico over the next few years. That run ended when Johnson was 48 but it was still largely successful as he was 5-1. However, after returning to the midwestern United States for six more fights from 1926 through 1931, it was clear he was done. Johnson went only 2-4 in that stretch, though, with bouts in his late 40s and early 50s (his last one at the age of 53), what more could be expected?

The Felix Potin card of Johnson is a slick looking one, to be sure. The majority of Johnson’s cards were issued earlier and were lithographic renderings of him. However, this one is a real photographic image. And, suffice to say, the sepia style of photograph goes perfectly with the distinguishable black borders. These cards, if you are unfamiliar with them, have a bit of gloss and are produced on thinner stock. If you add it all up, they are just really attractive cards.

One downside is that, many times, you will find them with some sort of back issues as they were placed into special albums offered by Felix Potin. Some still reside in those albums, though a good number, of course, have since been removed from them as well. That has sometimes left them with the aforementioned back damage. Still, because of the rarity, even that flaw is widely overlooked.

Finally, if you look closely at the card, you will notice a typo. That typo is not the ‘Boxe’ classification at the bottom (that is French for boxing). Instead, Johnson’s last name is misspelled as Jonhson. I am not aware of any sort of correction of that mistake so it appears to be an uncorrected error.

Johnson’s Felix Potin card is not one seen that often. That makes pricing it extremely difficult. PSA reports a single sale — and that was from more than four years ago when prices were much more collector-friendly. A PSA 6 sold or $677 on eBay. While not a card from Johnson’s heyday, it is a legitimate ‘fighting days’ card of Johnson while he was still an active fighter. Its significant value is aided by the fact that it is a very rare card. To date, PSA has graded only six examples.

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