One of the most interesting things about auctions is how unusual objects from one side of the world come to be sold on the other, often with no apparent link.
A great example was a signed photograph of
boxing's first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, which took
£2200 atPlymouth Auction Roomson September 4 (estimate:
The lot also featured a collection of five
original postcards showing Johnson before and after he lost his
title to Jess Willard in April 1915, in a fight actually held in
So how did these items end up being sold in
the West Country?
Well, for a start it was consigned by
Christopher Nickols, who lives in Oreston, part of south-west
Plymouth across the river Plym. It turns out that his grandfather's
sister - a dancer formerly from Plymouth - was present at many of
The 14 x 10½in (36 x 27cm) photo was given
to her and her husband by Johnson after they became personal
friends of his, and she sent the postcards to her family back
"The key figure in establishing the
provenance is my grandfather's sister, Kitty (or Kathleen)
Zanazzi," said Mr Nickols. "She was a dancer in the former Palace
Theatre who, at 18, ran away to Paris to dance - we think at the
Folies Bergère. Kitty then decided to seek fame and fortune in
America and sailed by liner to New York. During the voyage, she met
and fell in love with wealthy, dashing Mexican Miguel Guiterias,
who was a perfumer and chemist.
"They married and settled in Havana, in
Cuba. Miguel was a friend, mentor and benefactor to Jack Johnson,
and the photograph was taken for him. It is signed 'To my friend MG
(Miguel Guiterias)'. As we understand it, Miguel and Kitty were
present at each of Johnson's bouts, and Kitty used to send
postcards home to my grandfather featuring images of the
One postcard, dated April 8, 1915 - three
days after Johnson's defeat - reads: "The knockout of Johnson. Him
and Willard are good friends now. Jack Welsh was referee.
Mr Nickols said his grandfather, Herbert
'Ted' Zanazzi, was well known in Plymouth and a major figure in the
Plymouth boxing scene. "Much of what was sent home from Kitty was
given to local boxing clubs and the British Boxing Board of
Control. We are left with the photo and the postcards," he
Auctioneer Paul Keen said: "A commission bid
of £1100 allowed us to start the sale at the reserve of £1000. Most
of the bidding was from local collectors sitting in the room,
inlcuding a Plymouth family who are keen boxing enthusiasts and in
fact bought the gold boxing belt at our last auction for £7500.
However, they were soon outbid around the £1800 mark when two of
three phone lines battled it out to take the lot to £2200."
It was bought by a London-based Asian art
dealer, who personally collects items of Americana.
Johnson fought professionally from 1897 to
1928, and had 114 bouts, winning 80 - 45 of them knock-outs. In
1908 he became the first African American to win the world
heavyweight crown when he knocked out reigning champion Tommy
The signed portrait had a narrow escape
during the Second World War. Mr Nickols said: "The photo used to be
on the wall in gran's parlour, but during the Blitz a bomb went off
nearby. It fell off the wall and broke the glass, causing slight
damage. But it is a wonderful image."
The buyer's premium was 16.66%.
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