The Memoirs of Daniel Mendoza
and
Their Numismatic Interest

by Peter S. Horvitz

Daniel Mendoza, one of England's greatest boxers during the period of the late eighteenth century, is probably best known to those interested in Jewish numismatics for the series of handsome tokens that were struck in his honor in 1790 by the well known medallist Thomas Spence. Spence, himself should also be remembered as the issuer of most of the tokens of Lord George Gordon and those of the Cabbage Society. Another issue, a! medal, was struck in 1791, to mark the match between Mendoza and William Ward. This piece shows facing portraits of the boxers on the obverse.


Mendoza was a popular figure at this time and his likeness also decorated pottery and engravings. When, in 1787, Mendoza published his first book, a discussion of the art of boxing, it was the lead story in the newspapers of the day.

It is Mendoza's second book, which is the subject of this present paper, Memoirs of the Life of Daniel Mendosa; Containing a Faithful Narrative of the Various Vicissitudes of His Life and an Account of the Numerous Contests in Which He Has Been Engaged, with Observations of Each; Comprising also Genuine Anecdotes of Many Distinguished Characters, to Which Are Added, Observations on the Art of Pugilism; Rules to be Observed with Regard to Training & c. The copy of the "New Edition" which was used as the copy text for the 1951 edition was printed in 1816.

The memoirs of Daniel Mendoza are a unique document in Jewish history. Not only have boxers rarely been of contemplative enough natures to tell of their own careers, but Mendoza also holds a unique position in Jewish history. Though essentially a middleweight, he worked out a series of techniques which enabled him to take on heavier opponents. His continued successes were noticed by the Prince of Wales, and he was the first boxer to be accorded royal patronage. He was the first Jew to hold a conversation with a king of England. He was honored in his lifetime beyond any other English Jew. With his fists, he won a degree of respect for his people that they had never held before in the English capital, both in its boulevards and in its back alleys.

In these memoirs, there appear two passages of special interest to the history of Jewish numismatics. The edition I have used is the 1975 ARNO Press edition, which is identical to the 1951 Bastford edition. The first of these passages deals with Mendoza's tour of Scotland: "Before my return to London, I went accompanied by Mr. Fewterell, to Edinburgh, and had there the honor of being introduced to the Gymnastic Society, and of sparring with several of the members, who possessed considerable knowledge of the theory and practice of the pugilistic art...." While in Edinburgh, Mendoza, having out boxed the president of the club, was made the honorary president of the Gymnastic Society. "This was an honor I by no means aspired to, and endeavored to decline; but this gentleman, as well as the other members of the society, so strenuously urged my acceptance of it, that I was obliged to yield to their solicitations. I had afterwards the honor of being presented with a gold medal, by these gentlemen, as a testimonial of the opinion they unanimously held of me." (P. 68)

This incident took place sometime late in the year 1790, or possibly very early in the year 1791. Mendoza makes no farther reference to this gold medal in his memoirs. Later in his life, he faced a number of periods of grave financial difficulties and it is quite possible that this unique medal may have found its way to the smelters.

The second passage relates to just such a period in his life of financial embarrassment, in late 1799 or early in 1800: "I was reduced to great inconvenience and distress for want of money, when I fortunately discovered another expedient for ameliorating my condition.

"The Bank of England had, some short time previous to this, stopped payment in specie, and were consequently obliged to issue notes for the small sums of one and two pounds. The measure was regarded by many as a very disgraceful one, and to ridicule and burlesque such conduct, notes were issued by some persons for* two pence. It occurred to me that, being a very public character, I had a fair chance of disposing of a quantity of such; I therefore caused a plate to be engraved, and had a number of impressions taken, which were quickly disposed of. So great was the demand for them, that two persons besides myself were constantly employed in filling them up, and signing them. I sometimes jocosely told my customers, these notes would pass for their value at all public houses and chandler shops in the neighborhood. Some few persons actually tried to pass them, and on being refused payment brought them back to me, upon which occasions I was obliged to put them off with the best excuses in my power; and my general answer was, "I should follow the example of the bank, and pay in notes of my own." Surely, if a public company could make their payments, for pounds, in this way, an individual might be allowed to make his, for pence, in like manner." (Pp. 101-2)

I am not aware if any of these notes issued in the name of Mendoza for the value of two pence has survived to our time. I have never seen or heard of any. If such do exist, it is clear from Mendoza's testimony that they would have a one in three chance of bearing an authentic signature of the great pugilist.

A little known fact concerning Daniel Mendoza is that at one time there were plans afoot to produce a motion picture based on his life. The main mover in this project was the well-known Hollywood director Herbert Kline (The Kid from Cleveland, Heart of Spain, Five Were Chosen, The Fighter, etc.) Kline described his project as a "British Jewish Rocky." This description was written in 1983 and Kline proposed to use Mendoza's own memoirs as the major source for his screenplay. Kline is dead now and the project, apparently, never got too far, which is a pity. The background of Regency England and the colorful, teeming London Ghetto would have made a wonderful frame for the remarkable career of one of the greatest boxers that England and the Jewish people have ever produced.


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