Rare 18th century texts about boxing come up for sale at Chiswick Auctions

Image above: Selection of Victorian boxing press

Boxing library punches above its weight

Chiswick Auctions’ Books and Works on Paper sale on Thursday 24 August includes two rare Georgian manuals on the art of boxing. Both were written by well-known bareknuckle prize fighters around 1790.

Boxing Reviewed; or, the Science of Manual Defence, displayed on Rational Principles was penned by the Birmingham pugilist Thomas Fewtrell. Dubbed ‘the gentleman jaw breaker’, he is said to have had over 100 fights in his career.

In this book, possibly the first written by an active pugilist, he studies the techniques of several leading Georgian boxers. The frontispiece depicts a scene titled ‘Thomas Johnson the first Pugilist in the World’, who was the English champion between 1784-91. It carries an estimate of £1200-1800.

Image above: Boxing Reviewed; or, the Science of Manual Defence, displayed on Rational Principles  by Thomas Fewtrell

Prize fighters pass on their techniques

Fewtrell was a friend and sparring partner of Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836), a fellow prize fighter who was also highly regarded as an instructor of pugilism. He held frequent public exhibitions and published several books on boxing technique.

The copy of The Modern Art of Boxing offered for sale at Chiswick Auctions dates from 1790, with a guide price of £1000-1500. Both books are from a collection of boxing books compiled by private collectors Brian and Debbie Watkins over five decades.

Also by Mendoza is a rare autobiography from 1808, one that appears never to have been offered for sale at auction before. Memoirs of the Life of Daniel Mendoza; Containing a Faithful Narrative of the Various Vicissitudes of His Life, and an Account of the Numerous Contests…, is estimated at £4,000-6,000.

The work numbers 320 pages with the title page outlining it was ‘Printed for D. Mendoza, Ship Tavern, Commercial Road, by G. Hayden, Brydges Street, Covent Garden, 1808’ – eight years before a better-known edition of this work. The text is thought to have been written around 1806 when Mendoza spent time in debtor’s prison.

Images above: Memoirs of the life of Daniel Mendoza; A catalogue of the trophies ‘won by and presented to the late Tom Sayers, Champion of England’

The first boxing world championship

This copy estimated at £800-1200 is a copy of a contemporary account of the contest fought on December 11, 1821, between Bill Neat (aka the Bristol Bull) and Tom The Gas Man’ Hickman.

A crowd of 22,000 gathered on Hungerford Common to witness 18 bloody rounds before Neat reduced his opponent ‘to senselessness’. Pierce Egan’s 22-page report titled An Account of the Great Fight for the Championship of all England, suggests that the fighters shared a purse of 400 guineas.

Tom Sayers (1826-65) was the heavyweight champion of England between 1857-60. His lasting fame followed his final contest against American champion John Heenan. The fight is considered boxing’s first world championship.

An estimated 100,000 people attended his funeral in Camden Town after which an auction was held of his personal effects. A catalogue for the sale on December 1, 1865, including Sayers’ “silver cups, vases, belts, valuable jewellery, paintings, and furniture, the well-known English mastiff Lion and the performing mule, Barney”.

The auctioneer commented that the proceeds from the sale of catalogues at one shilling each “will be presented to the late Tom Sayers’ aged father.”

This copy, with each lot annotated with the sold price and each page with the running total, is expected to bring £1000-1500.

Image above: Catalogue for the sale of Tom Sayers’ belongings

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