The ticket for seat No B250 for the Tommy Burns v Jack Johnson showdown.
Two of the rarest items of Australian sporting memorabilia are being auctioned this week. A ticket and a souvenir programme from the world heavyweight boxing title held in Sydney in 1908 are available online through Michael Fahey's Sports Memorabilia website.
This sporting event is especially significant because the winner was Jack Johnson, the first African-American to be allowed to contest the title. He beat reigning champion Tommy Burns so convincingly that police entered the ring to stop the fight. Johnson's extraordinary life has since been the subject of several books and documentaries, most notably Ken Burns' Unforgivable Blackness, which won an Emmy Award in 2005. Johnson's voice was supplied by Hollywood actor Samuel L.Jackson.
"A lady approached us with this material, plus a cricket bat from 1863," says the auctioneer, Michael Fahey. "She says it was handed down by her grandfather who was a lifetime sports fan."
The Tommy Burns v Jack Johnson world heavyweight title contest at the Sydney Stadium on December 26, 1908.
The lady suspected the items were special but it was only after Fahey did his research that he realised just how rare they were. This ticket is only the second to be sold here, to his knowledge. Even in America, where Johnson is considered a pioneer of the civil rights movement, only a handful have appeared.
The ticket being offered by Fahey on his site (sportsmem.com.au) cost £2, a small fortune in its day. Few were kept because they were supposed to be given up at the door. It's in reasonable condition for its age, but has been folded.
Also on offer is a souvenir programme from the fight, again showing its age, plus an invitation to a 1908 reception featuring Australian champion Bill Squires at the Bateman's Hotel in Sydney. This is thought to have been where promoter Hugh D.McIntosh announced that the title fight would be held that December, appropriately on Boxing Day.
The booklet Famous Fights at the Stadium (1914), issued by R.L. Baker.
There's also a copy of a 1914 booklet, Famous Fights at the Stadium, by R.L.''Snowy'' Baker, the man who took over the promotion from McIntosh in 1913.
Leski Auctions in Melbourne (now part of Mossgreen) sold a mint-condition programme in September 2008 for $3500, part of a lot that included a flyer promoting the film of the fight and a postcard. Pre-sale estimates were $1000 to $2000.
Other programmes have sold overseas for £600 ($1000) and $US1800 ($1950).
Tickets are much harder to find. One was sold in Australia in 2010 for $2200. No others have been recorded in recent times. Images of a £5 ticket are sometimes included in old sporting history books, but the source of this is a mystery.
Australia's foremost boxing collector, Jack Stitt, said he'd never seen a ticket for sale and he'd been looking for one for 70 years. David Bergin, of American boxing memorabilia website pugilistica.com, says he's only heard of one ticket coming on to the US market. That was the one he sold for $US5200 on eBay.
Fahey has put conservative reserves of $1500 each for the programme and ticket, although he and the vendor are hoping for much more. This could happen if American collectors, especially those who specialise in African-American history, decide to get involved.
The stadium mentioned on the ticket was later given a roof and transformed into the Sydney Stadium, where The Beatles and Frank Sinatra performed. There are several known collectors of memorabilia connected with this venue. The building was demolished in the early '70s to make way for the Eastern Suburbs railway and, according to rumours, everything inside was sent to the tip.
After graduating with an economics degree from the University of Sydney, Michael Fahey worked in the finance industry before deciding in 1993 that there was an opportunity in the emerging sporting memorabilia market. He initially concentrated on selling baggy green caps and wrote the definitive book on this subject in 2008. As an indication of the volatile nature of this market he notes that values of these caps have since gone down by 42 per cent.
Bids for the 1908 world heavyweight boxing title items will be accepted until 10am AEST on Thursday, April 10, through Fahey's memorabilia website, sportsmem.com.au.