Spotlight on: Sporting memorabilia at auction

22 August 2011
imports_CCGB_mullocks-medal_69729.jpg Spotlight on: Sporting memorabilia at auction
The variety of sports-related items offered for sale at auction is as broad as the types of different games themselves. Recent items that were seen at auction included a signed photograph of Henry Cooper and a collection of Birmingham City Football programmes. ...
Spotlight on: Sporting memorabilia at auction Images


We all know the joke about explaining the offside rule using salt and pepper pots on the table, but few of us would go to the ultimate expense when it comes to seeking out the definite rules of the game of football. However, some people obviously would!

At the Sotheby’s sale on Thursday 14th July, an anonymous telephone bidder paid £881,250 for ‘The First Rules of Club Football’, part of the archive of the world's oldest football club, Sheffield FC, setting a record at auction for any item of football memorabilia.

This fascinating piece of football history is the earliest set of rules ever to come up for sale at auction and includes both the handwritten draft rules of 1858 and the only known surviving copy of the printed Rules, Regulations & Laws of the Sheffield Foot-Ball Club from 1859. It is recognised as an important step in the development and history of the modern game.

Commenting on the sale, Richard Tims, Chairman of Sheffield Football Club, said: “In the run up to Sotheby’s sale of Sheffield FC’s archive there was huge international interest, reflecting the truly global appeal of both the game itself and its remarkable evolution.

 “We are delighted with the sale of this extraordinary piece of sporting history, the proceeds of which will allow Sheffield Football Club to develop its facilities and secure its future as the home of grass-roots football.”

By contrast, many of us begin our collection of sport-related items by bringing home a humble programme from a football match – a move that has started off some subsequently extensive collections!

There are a number of specialist auction houses, such as Sportingold Limited, which holds up to eight football and sports memorabilia auctions per year at Northampton Rugby Club with occasional additional sales at different venues.

Its most recent sale, on Friday 15th July, produced a wide range of items including some fascinating individual and collections of match programmes. As ever, scarcity and the celebrity factor plays a role in determining prices realised. For example, a 4-page programme for the Plymouth v Nottingham Forest exhibition match on 26th April 1902 at Home Park, one of the oldest Plymouth issues known to survive and descibed as “rather delicate around the edges”, sold for £2,700!

Sportingold Limited’s next sale is on 4th November and details can be found on its website:

Away from the specialist auction houses, some interesting sporting items appear from time to time among general auctions. For example, a small collection of various football programmes including the FA Cup Replay at Goodison Park on 2nd April 1949 Manchester United v Wolverhampton Wanderers, First Division 1947-1948, sold for £80 at Biddle and Webb’s 15th July auction at Birmingham.

A collection of 14 Birmingham City programmes 1935/36-1938/39, together with one Aston Villa example 1937/38, sold for £430 at its April sale.

Anything connected with the 1966 World Cup will obviously carry a premium and a wide range of football-related items from shirts, medals, cups and signed footballs themselves will be sought-after. In recent years a number of items connected with the legendary George Best have created broad interest and high prices.

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While football reigns supreme there are, of course, other sports – such as cricket! Again, variety is the key with everything from cherished cricket bats through to a cap belonging to W G Grace guaranteed to set the relevant paces racing.

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks regularly fetch premium prices. For example, at the Tuesday 12th July Sport sale at Dreweatts, Bristol, an 1899, 36th edition, original cloth hardback edition in excellent condition, sold for a hammer price of £6,200, with an 1898 36th edition running not far behind at £6,000.

The Sporting and Golfing Memorabilia sale at Bonhams, Chester, on Wednesday 5th October contains some items to delight fans of both football and cricket with the collection of former Manchester United players Tony Dunne and Busby Babe Ray Wood, including medals, shirts and ephemera, together with a large collection of rare cricket books including Wisden Cricket Almanacks that will include two full collections for every year up to the 2000s. Details can be found on its website:

Just about all sports have their own sections of collecting including angling, athletics, boxing, cycling, golf, horse racing, racing cars, rugby, shooting, taxidermy etc and it is fascinating to look through the catalogue of a mixed sporting memorabilia auction and see just what is offered for sale.

John Mullock, founder of sporting auction specialists Mullocks, said: “It is a fabulous market to be in and very rewarding looking for rare items. When you break down exactly what people collect it is quite amazing.”

John’s own interest in vintage fishing tackle and sporting guns saw him set up the specialist sporting auction company at a time when livestock markets, which he'd previously been involved with as an auctioneer, were on the decline. He’s never looked back.

Mullocks will hold a two-day Sporting Memorabilia Auction at Ludlow Racecourse on 28th and 29th September.

There are also some borderline areas of wider interest where the sporting connection is only part of the appeal. As we’ve seen with railwayana, a BR totem sign for a station which also serves a famous football club’s ground will be battled for by a bigger than usual fan base. Another area is posters and prints, as the railway companies often advertised, for example, the wonders of playing golf in Scotland.

As for sport-related prints, a work by Cyril Power, ‘The Eight’, showing a racing crew during trials for the Head of the River race on the Thames, sold for £59,520 at the Bonhams Print sale on Tuesday 12th July. This was a new record for the artist and a new highest price for any member of the famous Grosvenor School of print making.

Whatever sport you are interested in, the chances are there items out there that you might want to display on your wall or in a cabinet but, like the sports themselves, you might find that the competition is tough!

1. A 1984 Official Olympic Games Participants Medal, large embossed medal issued for the Los Angeles Olympic Games was estimated at £120-150 at Mullocks.
2. A brass-bound oak and leather cartridge magazine by Boss & Co. of London, with four internal dividers creating five compartments, labelled inside lid, complete with a pair of leather retaining straps, 40cm x 30cm. Sold for £550 at Dreweatts.
3. Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935), Twelve ornithological prints, the subjects including pheasant and grouse, published by A. Baird Carter, 1903, each signed in pencil, average size 22cm x 32cm, uniformly framed and glazed. Sold for £750 at Dreweatts.

4. A work by British master printmaker, Cyril Power, set a new record for the artist at the Bonhams Print sale on 12 July when ‘The Eight’ sold for £59,520.

This feature was first published in Collectors Gazette's September issue. To see which issues of Collectors Gazette are available to buy, click here.