This weekend, California-based Ingrid O’Neill Auctions Inc. closed their latest auction of Sports and Olympic Memorabilia. Last April, they held a similar auction that featured Olympic torches, medals, and IOC badges.
This year’s auction had similar items up for bid. Items included the Olympic torches from last year’s Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as the one from this year’s Winter Olympics. There were also plenty of Olympic medals, including one from the 1896 Games that sold for $80,000. The lot description does not include the event it was for, but notes its value is because at the 1896 Games, there were no gold medals. Winners received a silver medal, and runners-up got bronze.
Interestingly, that was not the item with the highest bid. Track and field star Harrison Dillard’s 100m gold medal from the 1948 Olympics sold for $120,000. That race was the first photo finish in Olympic history. Omega used their new photo-finish video technology to determine that Dillard beat Barney Ewell.
There were two swimming-related lots. The first was an official’s badge from the 1948 London Olympics, which sold for $260. The second item was a gold medal from the 1976 Olympics, which sold for $18,000. Like the 1896 medal, the lot description did not specify which event the medal was from.
While it might seem strange to auction off Olympic paraphernalia, it is becoming increasingly common. Last fall, Swimming Canada auctioned off suits worn at the Olympics to support athletes preparing for the 2024 Games. Polish javelin thrower Maria Andrejczyk auctioned her silver medal from Tokyo to pay for an infant’s heart surgery. In December, Bill Russell sold his gold medal from the 1956 Olympics for $587,000.
Another reason to auction off Olympic medals, especially the rare gold, is in hope that a museum will buy it and put it on public display. In an interview with the Guardian, Dillard and his family talked about their decision to put the medal up for auction. His daughter, Terri, said “it was a tough call but [she’s] hoping it will go to someone who will appreciate and honor it–hopefully a museum where it can be put on display.”
Ingrid O’Neill Auctions Inc. does not disclose on their site who won each bid, so there’s no way to tell if the buyers were individuals, companies, or museums. For a full list of what was for sale, click here.