A silver medal in shooting from the 1900 Olympics in Paris recently sold for a whopping $ 1,283.
Then there was a 1956 Winter Games bronze medal in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, which grossed $ 3,750.
But it was a first place silver medal from the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 – there were no gold medals at the time – that commanded six figures on the eve of the Games in that time. year. It sold for $ 180,111, according to RR Auction, the Boston-based auction house that handled all three sales.
While their sentimental value may be invaluable to athletes who wear them around their necks, Olympic medals can be found in pawn shops and podium auction blocks, where collectors scavenge them like rare coins, comic books. and other sports artifacts. like baseball cards.
“It’s a niche collector’s item,” said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of RR Auction, which negotiated the sale of the three medals and 18 others on July 22, on Sunday. “Those who have entered the market in recent years, there is not a glut. “
You don’t have to be Caeleb Dressel, the American swimmer who won five gold medals in Tokyo, to collect medals.
Dozens of former Olympians have resorted to selling their medals over the years. Some spoke of financial hardship, while others said they were motivated by fundraising for charity.
Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell will auction his gold medal from the 1956 Olympics while captain of the US basketball team this fall.
“I have decided to sell most of my collection,” Russell said in a video on the website of Hunt Auctions, the auction house in Exton, Pa., Which will handle the sale of his medal, some of his NBA championship rings. , a warm-up jacket and other keepsakes.
Mr. Russell says a portion of the proceeds will go to MENTOR, a charity he co-founded that promotes mentoring opportunities for young people. A donation will also be made to a social justice initiative created by the Celtics.
Although the names of Olympians are not engraved on the medals, names matter, as do the circumstances associated with athletic achievements, auction experts said.
A gold medal won by an unidentified member of the 1984 US basketball team, a list that included Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin, sold for $ 83,188 on July 22. RR auction says.
It was a nice sum, but a mere fraction of the nearly $ 1.5 million a collector paid in 2019 for one of four gold medals Jesse Owens won at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. The sale price set a record for an Olympic memorabilia piece, according to SCP Auctions, the auction house in Laguna Niguel, Calif., Which handled the sale.
Owens, the black American track athlete, delivered a dominant performance at these games as Hitler watched.
In addition to the origin and ownership history of collectibles such as medals, known as provenance, their condition plays an important role in their price, auction experts said. Do they have their original ribbon? Did they come with a case?
Not all Olympic medals are engraved with the name of the sport for which they were awarded, which auctioneers say can reduce their value if it is not clear.
In Tokyo, the gold medals won by athletes contain overwhelmingly more silver than actual gold, which is about 6 grams of the total weight of 556 grams, according to the International Olympic Committee.
That’s about $ 800 in gold and silver in those medals, said Philip Newman, founding partner and managing director of Metals Focus, a London-based research firm, on Sunday.
“If you win, I think the value is probably irrelevant,” Mr. Newman said. “I would be surprised if anyone thought it was pure gold.”
The silver medals awarded at the Tokyo Games are pure silver and weigh 550 grams, which is about $ 450, according to Newman, who said the bronze medals would be worth much less. They contain red brass, which is 95% copper and 5% zinc.
Each medal comes with a wooden case and features the five Olympic rings, the official name of the games and Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, on them, an IOC requirement
Some collectors will happily settle for bronze, said Livingston.
“They are still Olympic medals,” he said. “Third place is still pretty damn good. As a collector, you can start with bronze if you don’t have a lot of money.