Before us, there were these guys!
Bill Schutte came down from frosty Wisconsin to hot as Hell Texas the other day and we had a nice visit. I was excited for Bill to see my collection of pre-1920 photos. Bill is the world expert on fighters from that period and has a near photographic memory. We old-timers joke that we may have heard of some of these guys but Bill knows whether they were married, to whom and who they were messing around with. Listening to his stories about guys I just have photos of was a rare privilege.
A seminal collection from which the hobby virtually sprang was Al Nelson’s collection that was housed in Jim Jeffries barn back in the ‘50’s-‘60’s. When Al passed away, his collection was sold off for Al’s widow, once piece at a time, by none other than Bill Schutte.
Through the years Bill has performed this service for lots of widows and surviving children as well as buying material at flea markets and antique stores all over the US, especially, these days those on the byroads of the Midwest.
Bill has a story about all those finds and all those interesting folks he has dealt with. I have notes on about 40 of my pieces that I have now entered into my database. But at one point we began talking about the old time collectors. Bill and I are both 72 and I figure either we talk about these guys and I write it down or no one will ever remember. As collectors, we have a history, too.
When Bill got back to Whitewater he sent me the following…
Hi Don. I have a couple of names for you that should be on your list of collectors.
Will Cereghin. Born in 1906, died in 1984. Lived in Defiance, Ohio. He collected boxing from about 1919-1984. He was an active member in the old C.O.B.L.A. organization of boxing collectors. (Collectors Of Boxing Lore Association). Dating back to the late 1950’s I believe, this group preceded the World Boxing Historians Association which came along during the 1960’s.
Barefoot Post, Hank Kaplan, Al Nelson, Harold Triem, Hersch Powell, Red Taylor, Bill Frietas and Harry Winkler were among the better well-known members. Cereghin did a little bit of boxing himself in the mid-1920’s but it was said that brittle hands kept him from going anywhere in the game. As a collector the building of scrapbooks was his main focus. Shown is a c.1950’s photo of Will with some of his boxing scrapbooks. He glued everything into the scrapbooks that would fit…. tickets, programs, smaller posters, photos, autographs and especially newspaper and magazine clippings. After retiring he moved into a trailer and sold off many things especially his large boxing book collection. Guys like Floyd Red Taylor and Bill Frietas and Al Nelson bought many nice things from Will at that time. (Late 1960’s or so).
I had corresponded with Will over the years but since I lived in California and he in Ohio we never met. After I moved back to Wisconsin we arranged for me to drive over to visit with him. Before I could go I got a letter from his daughter Barbara saying that he had passed away. She wanted to keep the collection as she thought that maybe she could answer boxing questions from boxing collectors with the help of the collection.
I really did not think that much of that would actually happened but I did not even ask her if she was interested in selling it but I would always be willing to give her advice about it. About 7 or 8 years later she wrote me a letter asking me if I would be interested in buying the collection. I drove over to Ohio with a truck and trailer and hauled it all home. There was a ton of stuff…I wondered how he had managed to keep it all within the walls of his trailer during those last years. Barbara had one room of her house crammed full of boxing memorabilia.
He was a real pioneer among the early boxing collectors in America. Everybody within the hobby knew him. Bits and pieces of his collection have found their way into the hands of many boxing collectors today whether they know it or not. Attached are copies of some info on Will from my file on him.
Tommy Farmer. In the world of boxing history Tommy Farmer is surely most widely known as the manager and/or trainer of top fighters like Manuel Ortiz, Jackie Jurich, Lloyd Marshall, Jack Roper, Chalky Wright, Charlie Burley and Holman Williams but to me he is thought of as being one of the great boxing collectors. Tommy was born in Boston during the 1890’s and had quite a life before he died in 1976. He started out as a youngster working as a water boy in various Boston fight clubs. In the 1920’s he moved to Hollywood, CA and worked at various behind the scene jobs at the studios. He was a cameraman, a grip, an electrician, etc.
By the time
that the 1930’s rolled around, he had begun to train and manage fighters in Southern California. In 1935 he opened a billiards parlor in downtown Los Angeles the walls of which were covered with old time fight memorabilia. It was said that on almost every evening the place was filled with old fighters like Tommy Ryan and Bud Taylor who would gather there to talk about boxing while surrounded by walls of museum quality boxing photographs. I remember that Al Nelson told me that Farmer had gotten many nice boxing pieces from the old Miah J. Murray pool room and bowling alley which had been located in Farmer’s old home town of Boston. Gloves that had been worn by John L. Sullivan were among the more notable items that Farmer had latched on to along with some super Sam Langford photos matted in a large frame. (Some of the nice old Miah Murray pieces were later given by Farmer to Al Nelson to be displayed at the Jeffries Barn Boxing Museum at Knott’s Berry Farm).
During the 1960’s, after Farmer had stopped working as a boxing manager, his home in Hollywood, which was nick-named “The Beautiful House Of Mugs” became a weekly gathering place for old fighters and collectors to hang out and listen to stories of boxing lore. Los Angeles fight men like manager Suey Welch, promoter George Parnassus, old boxers Kid Mexico and Sid Marks were known to make Farmer’s house a regular stop on their Saturday rounds. Farmer, by then a member of the Collectors Of Boxing Lore Association, had most of his house crammed with rare boxing memorabilia of all types. An interesting, unusual boxing piece…the front door to his house was autographed by the various old fight men that gathered there over the years. Different, and cool for sure. Farmer, in later life, sold his collection to Joel Platt. I remember that old time boxing collectors in California at the time (Al Nelson, Floyd “Red” Taylor, and Bill Freitas) were saddened to find that Farmer’s fine collection was headed back East. This man was surely one of the top collectors in the earlier days of American boxing collecting.
To make my earlier point about possibly losing track of the roots of the hobby, as long as I have known Bill, he had never mentioned COBLA. I guess that makes all of us descendants of that organization!
Check back periodically for more old time collectors’ stories.