Tuesday - 02 September 2014

Estonian Olympic cycling medals strike gold

12 November 2013Written by Tom Derbyshire

It is not often that auctioneer Graham Budd finds his name splashed over the front pages of Estonian newspapers but when a particular group of cycling memorabilia came up at his November 4-5 sale it is exactly what happened.

The reason behind his new Baltic fame helps to explain why a cyclist's gold Olympic medals and 15 other varied lots from her career created a huge amount of interest back in her home country.

Erika Samulae is, it's fair to say, a national heroine. She not only became the first woman to win an Olympic gold for track cycling (Seoul 1988), representing the USSR, but she was also the first gold medal-winner for Estonia, winning in Barcelona 1992 just after the republic recovered the independence it lost in the Second World War.

Both gold medals sold for £25,000 (plus 17.5% buyer's premium) on £9000-12,000 estimates and the bicycle she used in that 1992 success went for £8000 (estimate £2500-3500). Mr Budd said: "She is an absolute celebrity there now, probably much more than I could ever have known." He has certainly sold Olympic golds before, usually for something like £5000, and was as bold as he could be on the estimates, but as soon as the news broke in Estonia it was obvious they would go way beyond that.

Every lot went back to Estonia, although with multiple buyers, some possibly bidding on behalf of institutions, it was unclear what the ultimate destinations were. Samulae, now living in Spain, was the vendor.

The sale was streamed back live to Estonia on TV and on the day, the-saleroom.com, used for the online bidding, remarkably had over 5,000 visits from Estonia alone, after a news website picked up the story.

Manchester United programme

Another sale highlight brought a feeling of déjà vu. In May last year Graham Budd scored an auction record when £20,000 was paid for a an official one penny match card from the 1909 FA Cup final between Manchester United and Bristol City - United's first FA Cup final win. It had quite rightly been catalogued as the only known example but when that sale received coverage in the Irish Times it flushed out another for the same match. Given that there were now two, this other programme was given a £15,000-20,000 estimate and it eventually sold for £16,000 to a UK collector; not one of purely Manchester United items but a buyer who appreciates "really high quality early memorabilia".

FA Cup winners

Also going for £16,000, just over the top estimate, was another excellent early football item with strong FA Cup interest: the 1930 winner's medal awarded to Arsenal's David Jack. This was a good price for an FA Cup medal, said Mr Budd, who hadn't seen many sell above that. He does have the record for an FA Cup medal: "We sold one for the very first final in 1872. That was a bit special, selling for about £60,000 in November 2010. The PFA [Professional Footballers' Association] bought that and it is way above anything else."

This 1930 medal had strong Arsenal appeal, from their first major competition win, and added interest came because Jack was the first player to score a goal in a Wembley FA Cup final - the first goal in that stadium in fact - when winning the competition with Bolton in 1923.  

A shirt consigned by the Gunners' Perry Groves (the vendor, who was in the room to see it sell) from the title-clinching win at Liverpool on May 26, 1989, shot past the £4000-6000 estimate to take £9000. Even though it was the sub's top, No.12, Groves was sent on with quarter of an hour to go and was on the pitch when Michael Thomas scored the last-gasp second Arsenal goal to achieve the 2-0 result needed.

Arsenal's great rivals Spurs also had a strong result in the Graham Budd sale. A selection of Cyril Knowles memorabilia made up lots 527-611 and this section contributed just shy of £60,000 to the overall total.

Knowles, who died at the age of just 50 in 1991, spent 11 seasons at Tottenham and until knee problems forced his retirement in 1975 he picked up an FA Cup, two League Cups and a UEFA Cup. His 1967 FA Cup winner's medal was the stand-out lot, going for £14,000 on a £7000-9000 estimate. His 1972 UEFA Cup winner's medal sold for £12,000 (estimate £6000-8000).

The memorabilia had passed to Knowles' widow and to her children when she died. Their son was in the room for the sale.

"That total is very typical of Spurs really; they are just an amazingly well-collected club," said Mr Budd. "As long as I've been in the business, you cannot go wrong with Spurs. The depth of collecting is quite staggering."

An Atlanta 1996 Olympic gold medal won by Nigeria's former Chelsea player Celestine Babyaro sold for £10,000 (estimate £5000-8000). Alex Stepney's 1977 Manchester United FA Cup final winner's medal took a mid-estimate £8500. Phil Neal's Liverpool 1984 European Cup winner's medal went just over mid estimate at £8500.

Schumacher racesuit

Outside cycling and football, a notable result was the mid-estimate £8500 paid for the Ferrari racesuit worn during the German GP when seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher won his 89th out of 91 Formula 1 races. A McLaren-Mercedes racesuit worn in the 2007 German Grand Prix by Lewis Hamilton went for a low-estimate £7000.

A 2012 London Olympic Games bearer's torch, numbered 11 out of 12 of the Kelly Holmes signed torches, sold for £6000 (£3000-5000 estimate). Desert Orchid's 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner's sheet made a just below mid-estimate £2800. An early international rugby programme for the Scotland v England match played at Academical Cricket Ground, Raeburn Place, Edinburgh, on March 19, 1881, for only the third game in Calcutta Cup history took £4000 (£2000-3000).

Encouraging signs

Mr Budd said the November 4-5 sale overall was his best for years and felt the signs at all levels of the market were very encouraging. Since the downturn began a typical hammer total had been £250,000-350,000 but this one climbed up to £454,000.

"There was a really strong feeling, not just from me but those I spoke to who came to the sale, that it was the best sporting sale anyone had seen for a number of years and if it's indicative of the market and the economy in general then we might have just turned the corner and there is a strong feeling we have seen the worst of it now," he added.

New bidders are appearing from all over the world, online and otherwise, and the attendance in the room was really good, he said. While previous recent sales held up very well at the top end, they were "difficult and patchy" for the lower and middle market, but all through the market is encouraging now: "I just get the feeling that people are bidding with confidence again - if they want something they are going to bid strongly for it."

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