History Is Bunk

By Clarence George on May 6, 2013
History Is Bunk
"I have no dreams of great rewards," Hank Kaplan said. "My love of boxing comes first."

So said Henry Ford. But another Henry—Hank Kaplan—knew better.

I’m still bitter. Seidman Productions used to hold the most fantastic auctions for boxing memorabilia. I was very friendly with Wendy Seidman, and that was partly because of my avid participation. I was no end pleased, for example, when I got my hands on a copy of Joseph G. Donovan’s Galento the Great. But I’ve always regretted losing out on Gene Tunney’s engraved sterling silver cigarette case. So much for my dream of nonchalantly removing it from the breast pocket of my double-breasted tuxedo and offering a bevy of beauties my filterless Turkish ovals. Following their cooing, and oohing and aahing, I’d remark with irresistible charm and my patented suave arching of the eyebrows: “Yes, the champ gave this to me himself. ‘Clarence,’ he said to me, ‘I like you and I like what you’re doing. What you’re doing is good.’” 

But I’m slightly mollified by the knowledge that I can always see the gold cigarette case Max Baer gave his trainer, Izzy Kline—it’s part of the massive Hank Kaplan Boxing Archive, housed at the Brooklyn College Library.

A veritable boon for the boxing historian and writer, as well as the ardent fan, the collection consists of 500,000 prints and negatives, 2,600 books, 300 audio and video tapes, and some 800 boxes of newspaper clippings from 1890 to 2007, though some of the material dates as far back as 1814. Included, as well, are the scissors Kaplan used to cut out those very clippings.

The collection reflects Kaplan’s friendship with Angelo and Chris Dundee, Kid Gavilan, and Muhammad Ali, and includes the heavy bag Ali used while still Cassius Clay.

The archive is divided among several categories, including photographs, autographs, art, posters, and what Kaplan was pleased to call “Fistic Arcana,” and was valued at almost $3 million in 2008.

Perhaps the most devoted of boxing historians, Kaplan was the founder and editor of the now-defunct Boxing Digest, a frequent contributor to The Ring (indeed, he was the publication’s Florida correspondent), and served as consultant for ESPN, HBO, and Showtime. With characteristic modesty, he refused for many years to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, but finally agreed to the honor in 2005.

Kaplan kept his collection in his home and garage in Florida (one imagines to the dismay and displeasure of Mrs. Kaplan), and came close to losing much of it when Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992. It ripped off the garage roof, but thanks to the intercession of Nicholas, the patron saint of boxing, there was little to no damage. Kaplan bequeathed the entire collection to the Brooklyn College Library’s Department of Archives and Special Collections shortly before his death on December 14, 2007.

If you ever visit Brooklyn—“where the men are men and love it, and the gals are sure glad of it”—and wish to cast your eyes upon this treasure trove, you should first make an appointment by calling the very helpful Jahongir Usmanov (“Jhon of the Boxing Archive”) at 718-951-5346 or emailing him at jusmanov@brooklyn.cuny.edu. You’re well advised to visit when Jhon is on duty, which is usually Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

“None of this is for my own glory,” said Kaplan. “I have no dreams of great rewards. My love of boxing comes first.”

May that be said of all of us. Still, if the guy who outbid me lo these many years on the Tunney cigarette case reads this: My tuxedo breast pocket is very lonely…as is the bevy of beauties.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. Clarence George 04:34am, 05/08/2013

    Much obliged!

  2. Mike Casey 04:28am, 05/08/2013

    I’ll track her down and try and get you a personal audience, my dear fellow.

  3. Clarence George 04:13am, 05/08/2013

    Mike:  I want you to put together a list of the boxing luminaries you don’t know.  Shouldn’t take more than a second or two of your time.

    Oh, and don’t forget to tell me when that redheaded ring girl from Tyson-‘pon-Leeds will be visiting New York.

  4. Mike Casey 03:35am, 05/08/2013

    Hank was delightfully old fashioned Clarence. I spoke to him on the phone a couple of times, and that’s the way you had to do it. He had no time for email! One of his favorites was Eddie Booker, the wonderful middleweight whose career was cut short by failing eyesight.

  5. Clarence George 05:00pm, 05/06/2013

    My pleasure, Peter.  Enjoy.

  6. peter 04:45pm, 05/06/2013

    As a young boy, I remember the thrill of seeing the memoribilia up at the offices in Ring Magaine. Now there’s no excuse. I gotta go see this stuff in Brooklyn. Thanks for the phone number—you made it easier.

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