Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction at the Oscar’s was modest compared to the strip act that made TV history at London 2012. Hundreds of fanatic Olympic art and memorabilia collectors crowded the Kensington showroom of Bonhams on July 25 for a chance to own an icon of Olympic history.
Many collectors simply could not wait to take their collector trophies home with them. Accommodating staff undressed models of vintage swimsuits and sports uniforms in front of bidders while the auctioned continued. This rare exception to the often staid atmosphere of traditional auction houses was recorded for posterity by TV Tokyo for its documentary on the Olympic visitor experience. Of course, nudity is nothing new in the world of the Olympics. Competitors in track and field events at the ancient Olympics competed almost naked, wearing only sandals. Excellent examples were shown in the catalogs of the 1936 and 1948 Olympic art exhibitions, which sold for about $500 each after friendly rounds of bidding.
Several rounds of bidding were not so friendly and confirmed that rarity still drives most of the auction rounds with hectic multiple bidding. Lot 56 A was a unique collection of manufacturer’s models for a bronze medal at the 1908 Olympic Games. While the finished model is a work of art on its own, the collection presented 16 steps in the production process used to transform a disc of bronze into a work of beauty. Each one of these samples has no counterpart in any coin collection. The bidding exploded and ticks jumped from twenty pound, to hundred pound and finally thousand pound increments. The rare collection ultimately sold for just under $10,000, including the buyer’s premium of 25%. The coveted collection of Australian rower Bobby Pearce and his gold medals sold for UKL 50,000 (about $80,000) including buyer’s premium of 25%, reflecting the value many collectors place on museum quality icons.
The auction also showed that avid collectors will pay a premium for colorful illustration art. Most historic reports of early 20th Century Olympic Games sold for around one-hundred pounds. But the reports from the 1924 Paris and 1928 Amsterdam Olympics with art deco illustrations on the covers sold for price two to three times higher.
By every measure, the Olympic auction was a great success. The auction was almost sold out, with the exceptions being boring text only documents that are available in PDF format at no cost from the International Olympic Museum. The additional visibility of reaching television audiences as an important news item is a good sign for avid Olympic collectors as they continue to pursue their passion.