Collecting sporting memorabilia is a popular pastime that provides great pleasure for many people. There is the fun of searching for and finding a new artefact the pride of possession associated with owning something unique, a genuine admiration for the beauty and craftsmanship of an item. A vicarious connection with a favourite athlete or sports team, a real desire to have ties with the past and the related feelings of nostalgia for sport in another time and place; or more pragmatically, the personal satisfaction of knowing that what one has acquired is a good financial investment. But pleasure aside, collecting sporting memorabilia is a sporting pastime that is old, social, diverse, and consequential.
Collecting sport memorabilia is likely as old as sport itself but acquiring sporting memorabilia for personal pleasure was initiated in earnest by sporting gentlemen of Victorian and Edwardian England. The majority of our modern sports were formally developed in England during the nineteenth century and it was during the Victorian and Edwardian periods when now-famous artists produced what have become classic sporting drawings, paintings, prints and watercolours; when many of the first sporting books were written, especially those about boxing, field sports, fishing, golf, and horse racing; and when new sporting technology such as cricket bats, golf clubs, fishing rods and reels, tennis racquets, sporting firearms, and new types of sportswear were introduced.
The twenty-third annual National Sports Collectors Convention held in Rosemont, Illinois, in August 2002 had 900 dealer booths and attracted 40,000 collectors and perfectly illustrates the social nature of collecting sporting memorabilia. Individuals interested in sporting collections are attracted to art museums and sporting halls of fame. Those especially keen on acquiring sporting artifact’s are drawn to auctions, estate sales and major sporting events where memorabilia are sold.
There are collect or clubs for one and all, whether collectors of duck decoys or sport stamps. In addition, one can actively interact with fellow sport collectors via the internet or vicariously identify with fellow sport collectors while watching television shows like the Antiques Roadshow (both American and British versions), Attic Finds and The Incurable Collector.
There is great diversity in specialization among sporting collectors. For example, some collect only one kind of sporting object, others collect a variety of items related to a single sport still others collect only memorabilia related to a specific sports team.
The consequential nature of collecting sporting memorabilia is reflected in the ever growing number of sport collectors across all age, ethnic, and gender groups; the growth of sporting halls of fame; the development of new sporting archives and sporting and the enormous prices paid for sporting memorabilia.
Examples of the economic value of sporting memorabilia are given in two articles in the 9 December 2002 issue of Forbes magazine. One article notes that Marshall Fogel, a Denver attorney, possesses a sporting collection worth £12 million, including Ty Cobbs passport, costing £16,000, and a baseball signed by Lou Gehrig costing £40,000. Another article reports that Christie’s auction house produced a 150-page catalog of Gary Player’s collection of personal golf memorabilia, which was to be auctioned off through a private sale that mandated a minimum bid of £5 million and required that the buyer must buy the entire collection and maintain it intact.