Auction preview: Olympic medals highlight upcoming Heritage sale

Auctioneers are calling it one of the most significant lifetime collections of Olympic Games memorabilia: highlighted by a “finely preserved relic of international sport,” an 1896 Athens Summer Olympics first place silver medal, the Harmer Johnson Collection is slated to offer an “extraordinary” assortment of medals and other collectibles in Heritage Auctions’ Sports Collectibles Auction this Nov. 17-19.

“Harmer Johnson is an internationally known collector and Olympic medallic art expert who attended every Summer Olympics from 1960 until this year, as well as many of the Winter Games. He was among the lucky ones watching the Miracle on Ice from a stadium seat in 1980,” said Nicholas Dawes, vice-president of Special Collections for Heritage Auctions. “His love for the pure sportsmanship the Olympics represents is reflected in his extraordinary collection, which has been on display time and again as an educational tool as well as an example of extraordinary taste.”

Based in New York City, Johnson is a prominent appraiser of ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, African, Oceanic, Native American, Pre-Columbian, and Olympic Games medallic art. A collector of both ancient sporting objects and those from the first 40 years of the Modern Olympic Games (1896-1936), he is also an avid Olympic attendee.

With a pre-sale estimate of nearly $134,000 Cdn., this 1896 first place medal (Lot 53217) was awarded during the first edition of the Modern Olympic Games in the city where the Olympics were born millennia earlier: the ancient city of Athens, Greece.


Fewer than 250 athletes participated in the 1896 Athens Games, and Lot 53217 offers a “key relic of that inaugural modern Olympics,” said auctioneers, adding it’s a true “Holy Grail” of Olympic collectibles and “one of the most significant awards of any format to be offered by Heritage Sports.”

“Gold was not always the top prize in the Olympics. In the very first games, silver went to the victorious athletes. Only 100 of these medals were ever struck, and this one is particularly well-preserved. It features a Jules-Clement Champlain design with a laurel-wreathed head of Zeus and winged Victory on obverse and a view of Acropolis and Parthenon between Olympic legend on back,” added Dawes.


This 1908 London Summer Olympics gold first place medal was presented to Sybil “Queenie” Newall, who remains the oldest female gold medalist in an individual event (she was almost 53 years old). It’s expected to bring nearly $26,800 Cdn.


Another highlight is described by auctioneers as one of the “rarest and most desirable” of all early 20th-century Olympic medals. Lot 53236, an historic 1908 London Summer Olympics gold first place medal, presented to Sybil “Queenie” Newall, has a pre-sale estimate of nearly $26,800 Cdn.

This medal sets itself apart from the other 250 that ever existed—as well as the tiny fraction of them that likely still exists today—owing to its recipient. Newall, who finished first in the Double National Round of female individual archery at age 52 years, 275 days, remains the oldest female gold medalist in an individual event. Created by Bertram Mackennal and minted by Vaughton & Sons, of Birmingham, the medal depicts a victorious athlete being crowned with a laurel on obverse and St. George slaying the dragon on the reverse.

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