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Rosenberg Treasure: Jack Johnson Cigarette Cards

Jack Johnson Cigarette Cards

Rosenberg Treasure of the Month

Last Updated: June 18, 2024 by Rosenberg Library | History


During the month of June, the Rosenberg Library is displaying newly acquired Jack Johnson Cigarette cards from around 1909/1910.

Jack Johnson Cigarette Card Front
Jack Johnson Cigarette Card Front Rosenberg Library and Museum
Jack Johnson Cigarette Card Back
Jack Johnson Cigarette Card Back Rosenberg Library and Museum

In honor of Juneteenth, our latest Treasure of the Month features one of the Rosenberg Library Museum’s newest acquisitions: a pair of cigarette cards featuring portraits of Jack Johnson, the first Black world heavyweight boxing champion.

 Juneteenth: A Galveston Tradition

On June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Union General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas and freeing all remaining enslaved people in the state. This event became the basis of an annual celebration of freedom and African-American culture, known as Juneteenth, and was officially declared a national holiday by President Biden in 2021.

Juneteenth has had a unique impact on Galveston both as a historical event and as a celebration of freedom and African-American culture. It created an environment in which Galveston institutions made advancements towards greater equality much earlier than many other cities in Texas. For example, the Rosenberg Library opened the Colored Branch of Rosenberg Library in 1905, and integrated the library in 1959, five years before any local public schools began to integrate in accordance with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The fact that the library took initiative in making these moves reflects Galvestonians’ attitude regarding equality and inequality in the 20th century.

Additionally, while the Emancipation Proclamation did not solve the problem of racial discrimination, it did allow formerly enslaved people to create new opportunities for themselves. The island has been home to countless talented Black individuals through the centuries, from politically well-known figures like Jessie McGuire Dent and Norris Wright Cuney, to notable athletes like Jack Johnson.

Jack Johnson: The Galveston Giant

Jack Johnson (1878-1946), nicknamed “The Galveston Giant,” was born in Galveston in 1878. He first learned to box when he traveled to Dallas and New York to find work as a young man. In 1898, Johnson returned to Galveston and made his professional debut by winning a match against Charley Brooks.

Johnson won the titles of World Colored Heavyweight Champion in 1903 and World Heavyweight Champion in 1908. He held the world championship title until 1915.

Johnson faced racist press throughout his career, but his defeat of Tommy Burns, a white man, for world heavyweight champion ignited extreme racial animosity. In 1910, former undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries came out of retirement to challenge Johnson. Johnson successfully defended his title in the “Fight of the Century,” knocking Jeffries down twice for the first time in his career. Race riots broke out after the fight in more than 25 states and 50 cities, killing at least twenty people and injuring hundreds more.

To learn more about Jack Johnson, visit our “Faces and Places of Galveston” exhibit, located on the 4th floor of the Library in Trustees Hall.

Jack Johnson Cigarette Card Front
Jack Johnson Cigarette Card Front Rosenberg Library and Museum

Why Cigarette Cards?

From the 1870s to the 1940s, cigarette companies often included cardboard trading cards in their products to stiffen the packaging and advertise their brand. The cards were often printed as sets of 25-50 unique cards and featured a variety of subjects, such as popular actresses and models, athletes, military figures, animals, and much more. Collecting cigarette cards quickly became a popular hobby, until World War II when they stopped being printed due to rationing and the high cost of supplies.

The cards in our museum collection date from 1910 and are part of the “Champion Athlete and Prize Fighter Series,” issued by two American companies, Hassan Cigarettes and Mecca Cigarettes. Both cards in our collection have a full-color illustration of Jack Johnson on the front, and a short biography with information about his most important boxing matches through 1909 on the back. The “Fight of the Century” is not included in the list, which tells us the cards were printed sometime between October 16, 1909 and July 4, 1910.

The Library purchased these cards at auction as part of its ongoing efforts to preserve and display diverse stories within Galveston’s history. The fact that our island has kickstarted so many stories of incredible success, including Jack Johnson’s undefeated talent, reflects the true meaning and influence of Juneteenth in Galveston’s culture—having the opportunity to excel and be the best human you can be.

The Treasure of the Month is located on the library’s historic second floor near the East Entrance. It can be viewed during regular library hours, 9:00 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9:00 a.m. – 8:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For more information, please contact Ivy Albright, Museum Curator at 409.763.8854 Ext. 125 or at museum@rosenberg-library.org.


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Rosenberg Library

Rosenberg Library has offered over a century of community service to the Galveston area, and is the oldest public library in Texas in continuous operation. The building itself was dedicated on June 22, 1904, the birthday of its patron, Henry Rosenberg. The Moody Memorial Wing opened in 1971, more than doubling the floor space and allowing for a children’s library, a history center, several galleries to showcase museum collections, and later, a computer lab. The Library accepted its first museum piece shortly after it opened in 1904. Since then, thousands of rare and interesting objects from around the world have been added to the collection. Each month they display a “Treasure of the Month”. Learn more by visiting the Rosenberg Library page and the Gifts of Henry Rosenberg section.

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2024-06-18T09:30:55-05:00

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