The annual Wimbledon Championships are the oldest in the world and were first held on June 9, 1877, advertised as a ‘lawn tennis meeting, open to all amateurs’. Women were not allowed to play in this initial meeting but 22 men turned up and paid ‘one pound, one shilling’ to take part.
Nowadays some 500,000 spectators are the norm but 145 years ago 200 people watched the first matches played with wooden rackets and hand-sewn flannel balls. Tennis antiques and ephemera has many collectors today and here we look at a couple of sources plus one dealer who creates stylish lamps from old rackets.
Within walking distance of the All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon is the Tennis Gallery co-owned by tennis historian and author Richard Jones with his wife Chris since 1999.
He has been a lover of lawn tennis memorabilia since first visiting the Lawn Tennis Museum in Wimbledon in 1977, for which he spent three years from 2016-18 on a project to catalogue the museum’s scrapbooks.
The gallery offers posters, books, almanacs, magazines, postcards and programmes, guides and yearbooks. “The lawn tennis almanacs are popular, as are the old official Wimbledon posters,” says Jones.
Well-known dealer Manfred Schotten has owned Sport Antiques, a specialist shop selling sporting antiques in Burford, Oxfordshire, for 40 years.
The shop is crammed with vintage decorative pieces including wooden tennis rackets, croquet, rugby, curling, skiing, hunting, shooting, golf, snooker, fishing and the rest.
The motto of former deep-sea diver Guy Chenevix-Trench’s company Antiques by Design is ‘Reclaim, Recycle, Reuse’. Those words are strongly embodied in the special one-off objects he creates from diving of a different sort: into skips, plus finds in scrapyards, fairs and markets and auctions.
Nothing seems to escape his inventive designer’s eye, especially when it comes to recycled lighting of which there are hundreds of examples on his website.
Lights made from old fairground speakers, clarinets, guns, snow shoes, skis, hunting boots, car jacks and chicken coops fill the pages. Sports items are a favourite. What about a cricket bat and ball standard lamp or a light attached to a rugby ball or canoe chandelier? Tennis gets some play, for example with rackets as loo-roll holders (£95) and mirrors (£65).
Usually a regular standholder at the Decorative Antiques and Textile Fair in Battersea, Chenevix-Trench has had to give this up temporarily because of back trouble but he does have an outlet at The Old Cinema antiques showroom in Chiswick, west London.