Ever since the first Modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896, people have been collecting Olympic Memorabilia. While collecting at the inaugural Olympic Games probably consisted of only an exchange or two of souvenirs between athletes or officials, the hobby would soon grow by leaps and bounds.

There are several main categories of Olympic Memorabilia. Each has its own group of collectors, and many collectors cross over and have many different types of items in their collections. So what are the main areas of interest in Olympic Memorabilia?

Olympic Pins and Badges: This is the category in which most people start out in and is by far the most popular Olympic collectable. Olympic pins have been around since the early part of the 20th Century. What began as a pin used to identify what country an athlete was from has grown to be the largest segment of the hobby. Pins are a great way to be involved in the Olympics. Many are very inexpensive, and there are thousands of pins to choose from. Olympic pins are usually divided into several main categories including Souvenir, National Olympic Team, and Sponsor, and Official Badges. Team Pins (pins given to athletes for trading) usually sell in the $5-$25 range, but rarer ones can go for $100?s. Sponsor Pins typically go in the $3-$10 range, and Souvenir Pins are in the $5-$10 range. Official Badges are those given to participants (many older one have attached ribbons and are very ornate) and can sell for $50 on up.

Olympic Medals: Collecting Olympic Medals has become vary popular. This category includes Prize Medals (those medals awarded to athletes), Participation Medals (medals given to all athletes and officials who participate in an Olympics), and Souvenir Medals (medals sold to the general public). Souvenir Medals are typically the least expensive, starting at about $5.00. Participation Medals are priced from around $100 to $1,000?s, and the Prize Medals start around$1500 and can go up to over $20,000!

Olympic Tickets: Olympic Tickets are available from every Olympic Games since 1896. The rarest tickets are worth $1000?s, while common, recent tickets can be purchased for as little as $5.00.

Olympic Posters: The first Olympic poster appeared for the 1908 London Olympics, and while posters for the earlier Games were printed to help advertise the Olympics and are very rare, today?s posters are produced in very large quantities as fund raisers. Early Olympic Posters can command prices in the $2000-$20,000, while modern posters can be bought for as little as $5.00.

Olympic Paper: This category includes daily and souvenir programs, books, official printed material, etc. Prices can range from a few dollars to thousands.

Olympic Torches: These are the torches used in the Olympic Torch Relay and are highly prized. The first Olympic Torch Relay was held in conjunction with the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Earlier Torches (such as a 1936 Berlin Torch) can sell in the $3,000+ range, while newer, more common torches can sell for as little as $600-$700.

Olympic Mascots: These adorable creatures first officially appeared in 1972 and have a huge following. Mascots are found in plush versions, on pins, medals, posters, and more. The plush versions sell anywhere from $5.00 on up.

Olympic Souvenir Items: This category includes items that are usually produced by third parties to sell. They can include cups, pens, patches, paperweights, plates, and a lot more. Some sell for as little as $5.00, while others can cost $100?s.

Of course there are other Olympic collectables as well, but these categories cover most areas of interest.

So where might you find Olympic Memorabilia? How much, if at all, does condition effect value? Let us explore these issues as it concerns the Olympic collector.

Sports and specifically Olympic memorabilia can be obtained or sold by various means; each with their own special nuances.

– Flea markets/garage sales/antique shops: These avenues are the old guard of collecting. Although the search at these venues can be fun it is hardly ever rewarding. Olympic memorabilia just does not appear at these places anymore. This is not to say you can?t pick up a trinket here or there. Just don?t expect to be successful building a serious collection using this tactic. Sports and Olympic memorabilia have ?dried up? here.

– Trade shows: There are numerous generic sports memorabilia and antique shows throughout the country every year. They include The National Sports Convention held annually in a major U.S. city; the huge antique show ?Atlantique? held biannually in Atlantic City and countless local shows held throughout the country. Olympic memorabilia shows up at these events on a limited basis. Baseball, football, basketball and hockey offerings will be more prevalent. You will be better served attending trade shows specific to the Olympics. A good example would be the annual Olympic show held in picturesque Lake Placid, NY every year( this year?s event takes place the weekend of September 10th). Tables of items will be available at this festival all dealing with the Olympic Games. While in Lake Placid visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum for a look back at the 1980 Winter Games and ?The Miracle on Ice.? The Olympic Collectors World?s Fair is held periodically in Lusanne, Switzerland by the International Olympic Committee at the Olympic Museum. This is a wonderful opportunity to view the museum and meet other collectors and enthusiasts while taking an international vacation. There are also Olympic pin and memorabilia shows held in conjunction with upcoming Olympic Games. These are usually held in or near the host cities. Attend a trade show catering to the Olympic Games and you will have a good opportunity to purchase or sell Olympic memorabilia.

Sports memorabilia dealers will sell and buy Olympic memorabilia. Dealers can be found at trade shows mentioned in the last paragraph. You can subscribe to The Sports Collectors Digest commonly known as the SCD. Dealers advertise heavily in this weekly publication. To find local dealers just check your yellow pages or local newspaper. When selling shop around your item. Make your best deal. But remember a dealer needs to resell your item at a mark up to stay in business. Don?t get frustrated if you don?t get full retail value.

– Auctions are a fine source to buy and sell Olympic ware. There are numerous reputable auction houses selling sports memorabilia including Olympic items. As baseball, football, basketball and hockey memorabilia begins to ?dry up? or become recycled Olympic memorabilia will become more prevalent. This trend is already beginning to take place. We are seeing more and more Olympic Games lots being offered by the major sports auction houses every year. As with trade shows there are auctions specific to Olympic memorabilia. Again these auctions will yield the better opportunities to purchase your Olympic treasure.

– We live in a computer world. The internet has become the newest and the largest source for Olympic and sports memorabilia in general. E Bay has literally thousands of Olympic pins and memorabilia for sale every week. The options to buy and sell are endless.

Flea markets, garage sales, antique shops, trade shows, auctions, the internet they?re all at your disposal to add to or liquidate your collection. A warning when buying; always buy from a reputable source. Use this guide as a reference not just for value but also for authenticity. Remember buyer beware! Also buy within your means. Don?t be a victim of ?buyer regret.? Follow those rules and enjoy your collection.

Value is in the eye of the beholder. Value is a matter of supply and demand. Value is condition, condition, condition! All true but how does this pertain to Olympic memorabilia?

– Eye of the beholder: I like it therefore I?m going to buy it at
any cost. I?m never going to sell it so I don?t care what its worth. It is true liking an item is a key reason to buy, but maybe not at any cost. Remember there may come a time when you must sell your treasure. Also people?s interests and taste in collecting change. By all means purchase your item! But do keep resale value in mind.

– Supply vs. demand: Supply and demand can and will determine the value of a piece of memorabilia. Remember only the potential buyer and seller can determine the worth of a piece. If a collector needs a rare piece to complete a collection he or she may be willing to pay ?top dollar.? A unique piece will be of special interest to collectors. If there is only one known to exist how much is it worth? There is no real way to tell as it falls under the category of how badly a person or persons want the piece. Regional interests also affect the demand and, therefore, the value of merchandise. For example 1980 ?Miracle on Ice? memorabilia will bring a premium to American Olympic and hockey collectors.

– Condition, condition, condition: Memorabilia in mint condition will sell at a premium. Unless unique, even a rare item will be a tough sell if it is in bad condition. Naturally, Olympic items from an early Olympics such as the 1904 St. Louis Games cannot be expected to be in as good condition as an item from the 2004 Athens Games. Take age into consideration but resist collecting off grade material. Many collectors will buy an ?off grade? item as a filler to complete a set. The same collector will then look to ?upgrade? by purchasing a better condition piece at a later date. This is fine but generally this collector will lose money on the transactions either because he bought retail and has to sell wholesale or he pays a buyer and sellers premium at auction. As a rule purchase the best condition piece you can afford and you will be a happier collector!

Authenticity is vital. Obviously an otherwise item of value is worthless if it is not real. Think about protecting yourself and your Olympic collection. Have your valuable pieces authenticated by an expert in the Olympic field. It can save you dollars and piece of mind.
Collecting Olympic Memorabilia is fun and rewarding. There are thousands of items available to buy and sell. Pick and choose your treasures wisely and enjoy the hobby. HAPPY COLLECTING!!!

Jonathan Becker

Gregory J. Gallacher