World Coins

Cockfighting pass grouping in Baldwin’s of St. James’s auction

A cockpit pass or ticket from England in the 1700s sold at auction Dec. 9 for £468 ($624.72 U.S.), including the 20 percent buyer’s fee.

Images courtesy of Baldwin’s of St. James’s Auctions.

Cockfighting as a sport has become passe in recent decades, mostly out of concerns for animal welfare and the illegal gambling component that is often present.

But records of cockfighting, sparring matches set between two gamecocks, often armed, date back at least 6,000 years. Cockfighting was an acknowledged sport in English society in the 1700s, leading to the creation of interesting numismatic items, five of which were offered in Baldwin’s of St. James’s Dec. 9 auction No. 54.

Leading the group of oval passes, or tickets, to the fights was one likely named to (issued for) the Prince of Wales’s jockey, Samuel Chifney (who lived from 1753 to 1807). It realized £468 ($624.72 U.S.), including the 20 percent buyer’s fee (a Value Added Tax is also added to some purchases depending on bidder location).

A proud fighting cock is found on the obverse of this pass.

The reverse features the pass owner’s name engraved as “Saml Chifney,” a rare example of a cockpit pass featuring someone’s name on it. According to the auction firm, the British Museum has a silver pass issued for Lord Milton, Joseph Damer.

The piece’s obverse design is common, and found on many other examples, including the three lots following this one, and in a famous print of The Cock Fight by artist William Hogarth.

The location of the cockpit in the print is unknown, but research favors Newmarket over the Royal Cock Pit in St. James’s Park, London. Newmarket’s cockpit was in High Street.

The piece being named to one of Newmarket’s most famous jockeys of the late 18th century, as this example appears to be, points toward it being perhaps the local cockpit.

Chifney was a pioneer of professional race-riding, developing a trademark late surge to victory, known as the “Chifney rush.” During his career he won the Derby in 1789 and the Oaks four times, in 1782, 1783, 1789 and 1790. He invented a bit still in use today, but he died a debtor in the Fleet prison in London.

His son, another Samuel (born 1786), was also a jockey and is an alternative contender for ownership of the ticket.

Two other passes, unmarked, were sold individually for £276 ($368.42 U.S.) each with the buyer’s fee, and the final two passes sold together for £234 ($312.36 U.S.) including the fee.

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