15-10-13-2213NE08A All Black shirt auction.jpg
The New Zealand rugby shirt worn by captain Dave Gallaher on their 1905-06 British tour which made £180,000 at Rogers Jones.

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The New Zealand rugby shirt worn by captain Dave Gallaher on their 1905-06 British tour made £180,000 (20% buyer's premium including VAT) on October 9, shattering the previous £22,000 high set by a jersey from the same tour sold by Graham Budd in May this year.

It was bought through a phone bid by a figure who is well known in the rugby and sport memorabilia worlds: Nigel Wray, the chairman of Saracens rugby club and owner of a private collection of sporting memorabilia, the Priory Collection.

Wray also paid a record sum of £420,000 at Graham Budd's sale on May 18 this year for a  Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games torch. That price established a record for an Olympic torch at auction and also a house record for the saleroom set up 11 years ago by Budd, the former Sotheby's head of sporting memorabilia.

At that Budd sale, a sum of £22,000 was paid for another of the 1905-06 shirts, which set the previous world record fora rugby jersey. Estimated at £15,000-20,000, it was sold by Mumbles rugby club in Wales to raise funds and was bought by English private collector John McDermott.

Winning Streak

Nine 1905-06 New Zealand jerseys are thought to now exist, including examples at the New Zealand and Welsh rugby museums. One was put up for sale by another cash-strapped Welsh rugby club, Tycroes, in March 2012. The South Wales Evening Post reported that the club was offered £15,000, but it is not known if this was accepted.

The 1905-06 tour was the first for a New Zealand rugby union team outside Australasia, to the British Isles, France and the US. In a set of results familiar to rugby fans today, they played 35 matches, winning 34 of them, scoring 976 points and conceding only 59.

The touring side became known as 'The Originals' and for the first time the nickname 'The All Blacks' was used by the British Press.

Estimated at £20,000-40,000, the shirt sold by Rogers Jones was exchanged by Gallaher after the Wales v New Zealand test game with opposing captain Gwyn Nicholls.

Auctioneer Ben Rogers Jones said the sale day - which coincided with the current All Blacks playing Tonga in the rugby world cup - brought "confident bidding".

He added: "There wasn't a huge amount of interest but it was very precise - five or six people you knew were going to be very keen to acquire it. It was straight down to business, the people in the know and the people with the money, and certain organisations you would want to be on the phone."

A New Zealand collector based in Europe had flown in specially for the sale but dropped out at £125,000 as bidding in the room gave way to a phone battle. Rogers Jones said of this unsuccessful room bidder: "He's a very nice guy who was smiling all the way through and when the hammer went down he was still smiling."

Rogers Jones added: "Our previous house record was £50,000 for a Kyffin Williams painting. It's quite apt really. We are Welsh auctioneers with salerooms in north and south Wales and our two best prices are for two iconic Welsh things: Kyffin and rugby.

"It's good for rugby. I'm a keen rugby supporter and I think, because of rule changes and the way it is marketed in the professional era, over the years rugby has become more accessible and a bit more mainstream and commercial. This result is an indication of that."

Auction Comparisons

Early British Lions rugby shirts are the most sought-after among European collectors but rugby shirts overall usually sell at lower levels than football shirts.

The £180,000 for Gallaher's shirt, however, surpasses the auction record for a football shirt at auction, set in 2002 by Pelé's 1970 World Cup Final top. That sold to a private collector at Christie's South Kensington for £140,000 (plus 17.5% buyer's premium).