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    1859 Tom Sayers Handwritten Signed Letter Accepting Heenan Fight. Though the prizefighting world has been populated with shady characters and dirty dealings throughout the entirely of its history, puritanical forces had rendered professional fisticuffs illegal and driven the sport deep underground in the mid-nineteenth century, where it was virtually ignored by "polite society." But the public imagination of both sides of the Atlantic was captured when word of a meeting between British Heavyweight Champion Tom Sayers and American Heavyweight Champion John C. Heenan caught wind. The Times in London reported, "this challenge has led to an amount of attention being bestowed on the prize ring which it has never received before," while The New York Clipper pronounced, "Whate'er we do, where'er we be, fight, fight, fight is the topic that engrosses all attention."

    Presented is one of the most historically significant pugilistic artifacts ever made available for public sale, the British Champion's handwritten acceptance to the terms of what boxing historians consider to be the sport's first World Championship. We see the evidence of Sayers' poverty-stricken upbringing in a Brighton slum in his childlike scrawl, transcribed without editing:

    Dear Sir, I aksep yor Chalang tue fite without gloves oktuber 24. Yrs. truly Thomas Sayers. staiks £500 a side, J.C. Heenan Esq.

    Vocal efforts to halt the lawless proceedings were overcome, and the feverishly anticipated contest was waged in a Farnborough meadow in Hampshire on the morning of April 17, 1860. Despite conceding forty pounds and five inches to the American, and injuring his right arm early in the bout, Sayers appeared to slowly gain traction, bloodying Heenan's face and closing his right eye. But after more than forty rounds, Heenan appeared to gain the upper hand as he choked Sayers against the top rope, causing the crowd (populated by the likes of Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Thomas Nast and various aristocrats and members of Parliament) to cut the ropes and spill into the ring as the police moved in to bring a halt to the contest. The English and the American spectators continued the battle in the form of heated debates over which fighter had held the advantage, though England's authoritative Saturday Review later let down its nationalistic guard when it wrote, "We are not without our suspicions that the ring would have been better kept if the English Champion had been fighting a manifestly winning battle."

    The 4.25x6" page is heavily creased with scattered stains and chipping, but the writing survives with remarkable boldness. Included with the letter is an August 14, 1965 clipped article from London's The Daily Telegraph which pictures the letter along with this letter to the editor:

    Sir--In view of your report of the theft of the Champion of England belt from the Sporting Club, Regent Street, the original letter (above) of acceptance of the challenge written to T.C. Heenan, Esq. may be of interest. The letter provokes a mental picture of the writer's tongue protruding with the effort of putting pen to paper. It was found among the papers left by Dr. Robert Clarke, of Settle, Yorkshire. Clarke was a collector of old letters of note and famous signatures. Yours faithfully, T.G.D. Burgess. Fairlight, Sussex.

    Also here is Mr. Burgess' copy of the letter mailed to The Daily Telegraph, and the August 11, 1965 reply from the editor's secretary which accompanied the Sayers letter when it was returned to the owner by mail. Both PSA/DNA and James Spence believe this piece to be authentic, but are unable to issue paperwork due to an absence of exemplars.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2011
    10th-11th Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
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