CHAMPION PUGILISTS (Fighters)
A Series of Pugilist Posters

There was a series pugilists (early fighters) that featured reprints of Currier & Ives lithographs from the 1800s. They were provided by the Bavarian Brewing Co. in Covington, KY, between approximately 1955 to 1957. The brewer used these items to promote their Bavarian's Old Style Beer, which sponsored "Monday Night Fights" on television over a regional area in and around Cincinnati.

 

The term pugilist, according to its Latin origins, can be divided with the first part "pugil" referring to a boxer or fighter and "ist" is related to pugnus or fist. Thus, a pugilist is a fighter / boxer using their fists. The earliest evidence of boxing begins in Egypt around 3000 B.C. Even though the contemporary use of the words boxer and pugilist are synonymous, the earlier use of the term pugilist in the second half of the 1700s and throughout the 1800s referred to the more ancient form of boxing literally with fists; not gloves. This explains why the men shown in these posters, who were pugilists, were barefisted. Since pugilists competed to win a purse, or a sum of money called a prize, they were also called prizefighters. Even though bare-knuckle fighting was normally illegal, rules were drafted and governed the conduct for this type of fighting for over 100 years by the Englishman Jack Broughton in 1743. It lead to the more formal London Prize Ring Rules in 1838, revised in 1853. Even though they were superseded by the Marquess of Queensberry Rules published n 1867, which required gloves and were the origins of modern boxing, bare-knuckle fighting under the previously noted rules was still commonplace, especially in America, England and its Commonwealth, until around 1890. 

 

All the posters below are cardboard. With exception of the first one on the left in the first column, all measure 17" high by 12.5" wide, and they included a wood frame printed around the borders. The back of the poster had a fold out prop that allowed the posters to stand, however, they were also hung or framed. The first print of Sullivan is different than the other posters, because it was likely a proof or prototype, and the first reprint in this series.

The first two pictures above are of John Sullivan, from Boston, MA, and the one on the far right is of Paddy Ryan, was an Irishman from Troy, NY, and known as the "Trojan Giant." Ryan was the proclaimed the American Heavyweight Champion under the London Prize Ring Rules (bare-knuckles) after defeating Joe Goss in 1880. In 1882, Ryan lost this title to John L. Sullivan.

Sullivan, who was the most famous prizefighter of his era, was depicted in a Bavarian's poster from a Currier and Ives lithograph published in 1883. It referred to him as the Champion Pugilist of the World - due to his victory over Ryan. As acknowledged in the noted print, Sullivan won an1880 bare-knuckles fight in Cincinnati, which was his first match outside of Boston. Sullivan would return to Cincinnati in 1885 to defeat Dominick McCaffery at Chester Driving Park (next to Spring Grove Cemetery.) This match was fought under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules and may have been the inaugural  Heavyweight Title of the World. However, most authorities indicate this title didn't occur until John Sullivan had his 51st fight, losing for the first time, to "Gentlemen Jim" James J. Corbet in 1892. This fight was Sullivan's last and ended his profitable career of fighting throughout he U.S., often in Madison Square Gardens in NYC, and also in a few other countries.

 

William Riedlin, who lived in Cincinnati in 1880, and became an owner of the Bavarian Brewery across from Cincinnati in Covington, KY, in 1882, likely knew of Sullivan's first fight. He assuredly was aware of his second visit to the Queen City in 1885. About 75 years afterwards, and a few decades after Riedlin's death, his descendants operating the brewery published this series of posters. It seems only fitting that the series included and likely began with Sullivan, who had one of his earliest fights, and may have become the first Heavyweight Champion of the World, in Cincinnati. (See the William Riedlin Family.)

Some notable pugilists before Sullivan are the bare-knuckle fighters shown in the above posters. They include John Heenan from West Troy, NY, known as the "Benicia Boy"who was touted as the Champion of the World. The other fighter was Tom Sayres, the Champion of England, know as "Johnny Bull" or the "Brighton Titch." These men fought in what was considered in the first "fight of the century" involving a "world championship." As depicted in the middle poster above, it was held in Farnborough, England, on April 17, 1860. lasted 2 hours and 20 minutes, and went 42 rounds. It caused both men to sustain numerous injuries. Interestingly, the lithograph made in America by Currier & Ives indicated the American John Heenan won. However, by other accounts, and as indicated in the poster for Sayers published by Hullmandel & Watson in England, it appears the prize money was split between the men and the fight was considered a draw.

 

Several years after this match, and possibly in response to it, the Marquees of Queensbury Rules were developed, requiring gloves and more standards. Still, it took a couple decades before these rules were more widely adopted. The first world title using these rules may have been in 1885 involving a match in Cincinnati with John Sullivan, and no later than in 1892. These rules helped transition boxing into the modern era, and helped boxing enjoy a great deal of popularity starting in the early 1900s.

There may be other fighting legends that were also featured by Bavarian's. Should you be aware of any of these, please let us know by contacting info@bavarianbrewery.org.

 
The Historic and Former
 
 
Bavarian Brewery

 
In Covington, Kentucky