English pugilist Charley Mitchell’s 1888 Silver and Gold Engraved Trophy Belt – bestowed by fans following a three-hour, rain-soaked illegal slugfest with champion John L. Sullivan at the Baron Rothschild’s chateau at Chantilly, France – is expected to sell for $30,000 as part of Heritage Auctions’ Platinum Night Sports Auction, held July 30, 2015 in conjunction with the 2015 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago. The 12-pound belt spent much of its life in the private collection of Nat Fleischer, founder of “The Ring” magazine after it was previously sold to raise funds for wounded World War I veterans.
Sullivan and Mitchell’s March 10, 1888 fight was actually a rematch between the two. Sullivan, who had soundly defeated Mitchell five years earlier in New York City, agreed to meet the fighter again however, it took a squad of armed French police to break up the fight, which left both men unrecognizable and locked in a French jail. Faced with charges for violating French laws banning boxing, the two jumped bail and fled.
“Few early boxing relics survive from this era and Mitchell’s belt is one of the most coveted,” said Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage Auctions. “Mitchell’s countrymen gifted this rather elaborate belt to him on his valor and effort in the ring. The belt is both a piece of sporting history as well as English history.”
Sullivan derided his opponent in the fight’s aftermath for his evasive tactics in the bout, reporting, “When the fight was over, a track like a sheep run was to be noticed all around the ring.” But the fight fans of England took a decidedly alternate opinion of their man’s exploits. His survival of the undefeated American, a man who outweighed Mitchell by forty pounds, was seen as a victory for David over Goliath, despite the official ruling of a draw.
Mitchell was presented with what is considered one of the most spectacular relics of 19th century pugilism ever to surface in the collecting hobby: The belt is crafted from British sterling and red velvet and sports portraits of Mitchell and Sullivan in relief framing a center plate that reads “Presented to Charles Mitchell to Commemorate His Gallant Fight with John L. Sullivan for the Championship of the World on March 10th 1888 near Paris Resulting in a Draw, 39 Rounds being Fought, in 3 Hours 11 Minutes.”
British and American flags topped by a figural lion and eagle accent the belt’s 44-inch length and two interior plates are engraved with the names of the gentlemen who funded this quite clearly expensive token of esteem. The belt derives from the personal collection of Nat Fleischer, founder of “The Ring” magazine, and appears within the inventory of memorabilia that was included when the publication was sold in 1979 to a group of investors.
Two display cards from the presentation case of Fleischer’s office are likewise included. They read: “This is the famous $10,000 Charley Mitchell vs. John L. Sullivan belt. It brought $1,200,000 in auction sales for war wounded from 1915-1921. It is owned by Nat Fleischer.” and “This is the famous solid silver [belt] that was awarded to Charley Mitchell by [Lorraine] sportsmen after he fought his 39 round draw at Chantilly, France with John L. Sullivan. This belt originally cost $10,000 and is the second most costly belt ever given to a fighter.”