THERE is less than a year to go before the Olympic Games return to Britain for the third time and, rest assured, a number of themed auction sales are already in the pipeline.
But clearly there are vendors for whom 2012 still seems a long
way away and perhaps others who believe that the glut of material
produced by such 'anniversary' sales does not always make for the
Special Auction Services (15% buyer's premium)
of Greenham Common, near Newbury were first out of the blocks with
a fine selection of Olympic memorabilia in their sporting sale of
In chronological terms the offering began in Shepherds Bush.
Although it was held just two years after an event in Athens (one
that the International Olympic Committee has since downgraded), the
London Olympics of 1908 have officially become the fourth Olympiad.
In all, 22 nations participated.
Among the occasionally encountered souvenirs of the games are
the silver-plated and blue enamel badges worn by stewards at the
White City stadium. There were two in this sale and one was a
rarity - a badge by Vaughton of Birmingham worn by an official on
the marathon course. In addition to the inscription Marathon,
1908, London, Steward was a rendering of St George and
the Dragon within a laurel surround.
Above: a 1908 Olympic Games marathon steward's badge - £4200
at Special Auction Services.
The 1908 marathon was the first to cover the now accepted
distance of 26 miles 385 yards. Initially planned as a 26 mile
course, the distance was extended twice: first at the request of
Princess Mary who asked that the race start beneath the windows of
the Royal Nursery at Windsor Castle, and later by British officials
who insisted the race finish in front of the Royal Box at the
stadium. That the US flagbearer had cause a furore by refusing to
lower the Stars and Stripes to Edward VII during the opening
ceremony, only added to the need to restore the importance of the
monarchy at the games.
The race itself provided some of the most enduring images of
Olympic competition - the 5ft 2in Italian athlete Dorando Pietri
entered the stadium in the lead but was so exhausted he collapsed
several times and ran the wrong way around the track. Not far from
the finish, two officials took the disorientated athlete by the
arms and brought him to the line.
Following a complaint by the American team, Pietri was
disqualified (the gold medal was given instead to Johnny Hayes of
the Irish American Athletic Club), but the images of his suffering
would make him an international celebrity and (upon the suggestion
of writer Arthur Conan Doyle) earn him a silver-gilt cup presented
by Queen Alexandra.
A programme titled Marathon Race, Friday 24 July 1908,
starting at Windsor Castle & finishing at The Great Stadium,
Shepherds Bush,sold at £480. The marathon steward's badge
quadrupled hopes at £4200.
General stewards' badges from the Shepherds Bush games are more
common visitors to specialist sales, but always desirable as they
were made in relatively small quantities. The example here, cast
with the helmeted head of Athena and a laurel branch (the medals of
the British Olympic Council share the same design) sold at
The Stockholm games of 1912 were represented by a silver medal
won by Harold R. Humby of Great Britain in the Team Clay Pigeon
Shooting event. The front of the medal shows a statue of Ling,
founder of Swedish gymnastics, and to the reverse a victorious
athlete being crowned by two seated females. Estimated at
£1200-1600, it made £1500.
A more enigmatic souvenir of the Stockholm Olympics was a gold
and blue enamel badge worked with the logo of the Amateur Athletic
Association and surrounded by the legend Olympic Games of
Stockholm, 1912.It may have been a GB competitor's badge.
Estimated at £60-80, it sold for £1700.
A rarity from the controversial Berlin games of 1936 was a
gold-plated and white enamel Olympic Order, First Class worked with
a design combining the Olympic rings with Nazi insignia. It was a
metaphor for what the games became. Complete with its original red
and white striped ribbon and the white leather case of issue with
Olympic Rings decoration, it sold at £1000.
The 1500m gold medallist in 1936 was Jack Lovelock (1910-49).
Remembered as being among the greatest of all New Zealand
sportsmen, he was the first middle distance runner to specialise in
the 'kick', the sudden turn of pace in the final sprint home which
proved key to his victory over Glen Cunningham of the USA.
He died tragically, falling under a subway train in Brooklyn
eight days before his 40th birthday.
Included in this sale was a rolled gold stopwatch with back
panel inscribed Princeton University Athletic Association
Second Annual Invitation Track Meet, Palmer Stadium, June 15 1935,
One Mile run won by J.E. Lovelock, 4.11s.
At the time, the race was known as the 'Mile of the Century'. It
would appear that this watch was given by Lovelock to the New
Zealand physician, military surgeon and statesman Arthur Porritt
An athlete himself, Porritt represented New Zealand at the 1924
Summer Olympics in Paris, winning a bronze medal in the famed
Chariots of Fire race won by Harold Abrahams.
Estimated at £5000-6000, the watch sold for £4800.
An imperfect parallel is provided by the stopwatch that timed
the first four-minute mile (Roger Bannister's famous run in 1954)
that sold for £97,250 as part of the Jeffrey Archer collection at
Christie's in June.
One of the lasting novelties of the Berlin games was the
spectacle of the torch relay - repeated in the post-War London
games of 1948.
It was no 70-day extravaganza and it involved nothing like the
8000 torchbearers who will carry the Olympic flame around the UK in
2012, but as only the second torch relay of the modern Olympic
Games, it was greeted with wild enthusiasm.
The torchbearer was frequently mobbed, even when he (and they
were all 'hes') ran by in the dead of night.
About 1700 aluminium torches running on solid fuel tablets were
made for use across Europe and England. In keeping with the
penny-pinching philosophy of the 'Austerity Games', their designer
Ralph Lavers was tasked to create something "inexpensive and easy
to make but still of pleasing appearance and a good example of
They come up for sale occasionally (sales of Olympic memorabilia
are relatively common on the continent) and the double-estimate
£5000 achieved here was par for the course.