Follow the Stories | Baton Rouge, Louisiana (2014)
Winter Olympics Collecting: Stuff of Champions
This autographed photo of snowboarding champion Shaun White at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is currently offered for sale online from a sports memorabilia retailer for about $300.
Lipman says many articles of Winter Olympics memorabilia ca be surprisingly affordable. Participant patches, like this one from the 1980 Lake Placid Games, can sell in the $100 range.
This autographed photo of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team celebrating after their win over the Soviet Union is worth around $700 to $800 today.
If you've followed the Olympic games in Sochi, Russia, part of the cyclical four-year competition over snow and ice, and are also a sports collector, you might wonder: What's the market like for Winter Olympics memorabilia?
To find out, we talked with two ANTIQUES ROADSHOW appraisers, Simeon Lipman and Philip Weiss, who both specialize in the sports memorabilia market.
The value of Winter Olympics memorabilia is based on how iconic the piece is. What sport, who won it, and the meaning of the event.
Simeon begins by putting the Winter Olympics in perspective in the United States sports memorabilia market, noting it doesn't compare with football, baseball, basketball, or even tennis, and is also a distant second to the value of objects from that other four-year Olympic competition.
"The summer Olympics must have twice as many events, the sports are more well-known, and the athletes are more international figures," Lipman says. "In the Winter Olympics, you're dealing with specialty athletes in sports like ski-jumping or the luge. They're almost an addendum to the summer Olympics, where you're dealing with the greatest runners and swimmers in the world."
In general, both appraisers advise collectors to avoid unembellished mass-produced collectibles generated in Sochi or any other modern winter games — ticket stubs, embossed glasses, programs, pins, or anything sold as a "collectible" — as their value is depreciated by their vast supply.
"Value is based on how iconic the piece is," Weiss says. "What sport, who won it, and the meaning of the event." Objects most likely to have value, and hold it, are ones in which a well-known athlete has "signed it, worn it, or won it," Weiss says. Many of the sports featured in the Winter Olympics — dependent on snow and ice — are not as closely followed in the U.S. as they are in colder countries where these sports are popular, such as Canada, Russia, the Scandinavian countries, or Alpine countries such as Switzerland. That's why the market for memorabilia for cross-country skiing or even skating is much more lively on the other side of the Atlantic.
"Europeans are hot for European stuff," Weiss says. "And Americans are hot for American stuff. There's not much cross-over." That's why one of the rare torches carried in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 sold for $360,000 — in a 2011 Vassy-Jalenques SARL auction in Paris.
But even memorabilia associated with the best American athletes in Winter Olympics sports history — Apollo Ono, America's greatest short-track speed skater who has won eight Olympic medals, for example — isn't in high demand in the U.S. market, Lipman notes. Paraphernalia associated with figure skaters such as Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton, Peggy Fleming, Janet Lynn, Michelle Kwan, and Dorothy Hamill also doesn't sit on the top shelf of sports memorabilia.
"It's one of those niche markets," Lipman says of figure skating. "A lot of people that follow it closely don't seem to have a vested interest in collecting it."
Relatively speaking, pieces from Winter Olympics before the 1950s are less sought-after because most collectors today didn't live through them, and earlier athletes aren't nearly as famous today as those who have been marketed by equipment companies and celebrated on international television.
"There's a generational consciousness," says Weiss. "People will go after what they remember seeing as kids, and who they saw."
In the United States, the holy grail of Winter Olympics collecting is the "Miracle on Ice," the 1980 Lake Placid semi-final game in which the U.S. American hockey team beat the seemingly invincible Soviet hockey team, which had won virtually every international tournament, including Olympic competitions, since 1964 (Sports Illustrated ranked the event the Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century.) The U.S. team went on to beat Finland, winning the gold medal.
Prices of objects connected to the U.S.-Soviet game are inflated by the large fan base for U.S. ice hockey, one of the few professional sports that are part of the Winter Olympics. In 2009, Mark Wells, who played on the American team, sold his gold medal for over $300,000. Mike Eruzione, the captain of the American team who also scored the winning goal with 10 minutes left in the iconic Soviet-U.S. game, recently sold the No. 21 hockey jersey he wore in the game for $657,250. The stick Eruzione used to slap in the winning goal sold for $262,900. Although ephemera from most Winter Olympic games goes for cheap, an unused ticket from that game can sell for between $1,500 to $2,000, Lipman says.
Will Sochi produce collectibles desirable to Americans? Probably. Both appraisers suspect that a new category of Winter Olympic collectibles could be emerging out of Russia's first Winter Olympics — that around the snowboarding competitions.
"There are young people today who do it, and have competed in it," Lipman says of snowboarding. The snowboards and other gear associated with Sean White, the American godfather of snowboarding, will probably become a hot commodity in the sports collectible market, although it might take two or three decades before they realize their peak value.
Because that's about how long it takes for a teenage fan of any athlete to earn enough money to become a fanatic collector of their youth.
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.
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