If you want to complete a collection of Olympic participation medals, then one in particular – that made for the 1904 Games in St Louis – is going to cost you a lot of money.
The Summer Games held at Francis Field
on the campus of Washington University in St Louis from August 29
until September 3, 1904, are officially known as the third Olympiad
- but it was hardly an auspicious occasion. It was the first time
the Olympic Games were held outside Europe. It was also the first
where outstanding athletic achievement was rewarded by gold, silver
and bronze medals for first, second and third place (in Athens in
1896 and Paris in 1900 the winner had received a silver medal and
an olive branch).
And, from George Eyser, a gymnast with
a wooden left leg who won six medals, to the Milwaukee Meteor,
Archie Hahn, who ran the 200m in 21.6 seconds (a record that would
stand for 28 years) there were memorable performances.
But, wrested away from the original
hosts, Chicago, and held as a sporting adjunct to the St Louis
World's Fair in the centenary year of the Louisiana
Purchase, it was poorly attended.
With limited funding made available,
and tensions in Europe running high with the onset of the
Russo-Japanese War, even the International Olympic Committee
founder, Pierre de Coubertin, opted to stay at home in Paris (and
US President Theodore Roosevelt didn't attend either).
Precise figures vary among sources
(some of official records have been lost), but it is thought that
the participants totalled 651 (645 men and six women) with just 52
athletes, representing only 12 countries, competing from outside of
Needless to say, with more than half
of the events including only US athletes, the host nation took 78
of the 96 gold medals on offer.
This all goes a long way to explaining
why memorabilia from the 1904 games is extremely scarce and why the
participation medal is missing from most 21st century
Participants' medals (not to be
mistaken for the trio of winners' medals) have been given to
athletes and officials since the very first modern games.
Half-a-dozen medals are identified as rarities, including Chamonix
1924, Lake Placid 1932 and Stockholm 1956, but St Louis is
undoubtedly the most desirable.
Original Medal and
Just how desirable was seen at
Freeman's sale of American Furniture, Folk & Decorative
Arts in Philadelphia on April 18, 2013 where a 1904 medal rubbed
shoulders with a more typical selection of painted chests, fraktur
and weathervanes. The octagonal design made by New York jewellers
Dieges & Clust is well known from the collecting literature and
from replicas that, on their own, can command something in the
region of $500.
The obverse is a nude male,
mid-stride, clutching a laurel branch, the sun rising over his
shoulder. To the reverse are the Olympic legend and the crests of
St Louis, France and the United States against a background of
Adding further appeal to this example
was an original ribbon inscribed, Aug. 29-31, Sept. 1-3,
1904 and a bar impressed, Hon. Official.
According to the consignor, it probably belonged to Samuel Morse
Felton, Jr (1853-1930), who graduated from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in 1873 and went on to become president of
various railroads, including the Alton and St Louis Railroad and
the Chicago Great Western Railway. He is listed as a member of the
Transportation Committee for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and
in this capacity received his medal.
Estimated at $3000-5000, it took
The buyer's premium was