Going for the Gold

Athens, Greece hosted the first modern Summer Olympic Games in 1896. What started as a small competition for 14 nations has turned in to the world’s largest global sporting event. This August an estimated 10,500 athletes from more than 200 nations are competing in 302 events at 37 venues in and near Beijing. As international attention focuses on the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, interest in Olympics collectibles is also increasing.

Mary Lou Retton and Ronald ReganWhile advanced collectors covet rare (and pricey) posters, medals won by Olympic athletes and sports equipment used in Olympic winning performances, those of us with smaller budgets still have a myriad of choices for our collections.

Many people consider pins the most popular Olympic collectible. A Google search of “Olympic pins” yields more than 139,000 sites. Collectors can definitely get stuck deciding which ones to add to their collections. All athletes and coaches have pins to trade or give away. In Beijing there will be an estimated 22,000 members of the media from television networks and print outlets; many have pins. Law enforcement agencies who protect athletes, facilities and the public have pins, as does the National Olympic Committee. The easiest pins to find, and the most affordable, are those issued by sponsors such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.

The Olympic bidding process is so competitive that it’s almost like another Olympic event. Each city in contention has pins they circulate to promote awareness of their efforts. These pins are among the most difficult to obtain. Some collectors limit their collection to a specific Olympic sport or a certain year while others enjoy a variety of types.

Commemorative Coke cans and bottles are valued according to their graphics and scarcity. Those with images of winning athletes or Olympic scenes are the most valuable. Again, it’s necessary to be a discriminating collector because the vast number of selections is overwhelming.

Paper ephemera collectors are not left out of Olympic collecting. Stamps, posters, postcards, programs, unused tickets, prepaid phone cards with Olympic images, media badges, magazines, newspaper supplements featuring Olympic news, photographs and ticket stubs are all collectible. The official Beijing 2008 Web site has a wealth of information. Time will tell whether printouts from this site will have monetary value to collectors.

1988 summer olympics sports illustrated preview issueA creative (and less expensive) way to build an Olympic collection is to start years in advance. For example, it’s still possible to get newspapers from a few months ago with headlines announcing London as the choice for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. With a little searching, newspapers with headlines announcing Vancouver as the choice for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are also affordable.

This Sports Illustrated Special Edition was priced $3 at Exit 76 Antique Mall in Edinburgh, Ind.

Whether it’s a small souvenir or a more expensive piece of Olympic history, take care of what you purchase. Damage destroys the value of any collectible. Properly store the item so that it avoids temperature extremes and possible damage by sunlight, water or rodents.

Two museums are dedicated to Olympic history. The Olympic Museum Lausanne is located in Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva. Sponsored by the International Olympic Committee, its exhibits include Carl Lewis’ golden shoes, the Montreal torch, a Swiss crew bobsleigh, Jean Claude Kelly’s modified ski boots and an extensive philatelic and numismatic exhibition. If a trip to Switzerland isn’t in your future, take time for a virtual tour online.

The 1932 & 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum is the only U.S. Olympic Museum. Opened by New York State in 1994, its exhibits include video highlights plus athletes’ uniforms and equipment.

winter olympic gamesWhat’s It Worth?

The following items recently sold on eBay:

1920 Report of Olympics Committee Book    $185.50

1956 Melbourne Official Yachting Program    $84.60

1960 Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali) boxing ticket    $204.10

1976 Montreal Bronze Medal    $51.00

Wheaties Box with 1980 Olympic Hockey Legends     $7.00

1984 ABC Wide World of Sports Olympics Guest Pin    $32.00

1996 Atlanta U.S. Media Guide    $9.00

1998 Olympic Participation Pin    $46.00

Olympic Fast Facts

The U.S. has hosted the Summer Olympic Games four times:

1904 – St. Louis
1932 and 1984 – Los Angeles
1996 – Atlanta

The U.S. has hosted the Winter Olympic Games four times:

1932 and 1980 – Lake Placid, New York
1960 – Squaw Valley, Idaho
2002 – Salt Lake City, Utah

Beijing is China’s largest international tourist destination. Its major attractions are the Great Wall and Forbidden City.

For More Information:

Olympic Museum Lausanne

1932 & 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum