Bidding Clears $300K for Owens Medal

(ATR) How much to own a piece of history? One auction house is taking bids until Saturday on a gold medal won by Jesse Owens in 1936.

Close-up of US champion "Jesse" (James Cleveland) Owens during Olympic Games in Berlin, August 1936, where he captured 4 gold medals, 100m, 200m, 4x100m and long jump. Grandson of a slave and legendary athlet, Jesse Owens established 6 world records in 1935. "Jesse" Owens retained his 100m world record for 20 years and his long jump world record for 25 years (until 1960). (Photo credit should read CORR/AFP/Getty Images)
Close-up of US champion "Jesse" (James Cleveland) Owens during Olympic Games in Berlin, August 1936, where he captured 4 gold medals, 100m, 200m, 4x100m and long jump. Grandson of a slave and legendary athlet, Jesse Owens established 6 world records in 1935. "Jesse" Owens retained his 100m world record for 20 years and his long jump world record for 25 years (until 1960). (Photo credit should read CORR/AFP/Getty Images)

(ATR) How much does it cost to own a piece of history? One of the gold medals won by Jesse Owens in 1936 and other rare Olympic memorabilia are taking bids until Saturday.

With about two and a half days to go, bidding had reached $336,387 for the iconic Owens medal, but had not met the undisclosed reserve. However, last day – even last hour bidding – is common for auctions of this magnitude.

Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions in Laguna Niguel, Calif., said the medal is a candidate to "eclipse the million dollar mark." Bidding started at $50,000 and there have been 20 bids. The auction closes at 10 p.m. Eastern time Saturday.

Owens gave the medal to his friend, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, an actor and dancer who helped him find work when he struggled financially following the Olympics. The fate of the other three medals won by Owens is unknown.

When the IOC learned that he no longer possessed his original medals, Owens was given a replacement set that are now on view at Ohio State University.

The sale of the medal is disagreeable to some. Even IOC president Thomas Bach has weighed in. He told the Associated Press that it has "an importance far beyond the sporting achievements of Jesse Owens, which is part of world history. To put this up for an auction is for me a very difficult decision [to accept]."

In July 2012, an historical artifact of similar prominence – the silver cup given to 1896 marathon winner Spiridon Louis of Greece – was auctioned in London. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation won the Breal Cup for a record $861,000 and pledged to put it on public display.

Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, told reporters Tuesday that his organization is not structured in such a way that it could swoop in and buy the Owens medal.

"Other things being equal, we’d love to see that medal with his family or be in a place where people can see it," Blackmun said. "If not…our hope would obviously be that somebody who has the means and wants to preserve peoples’ access to that medal will end up being the buyer."

Douramakos Auction Has Rare Artifacts

One of seven replicas of the Breal Cup is being offered by Douramakos Auctions and already has a bid at the starting price of $18,000.

The replicas were produced by the 2004 Athens Organizing Committee. Only one other copy is in private hands and the other five are in the collections of the IOC Museum; the Pope at the Vatican; the Hellenic Olympic Committee; Gianna Angelopoulos, president of the 2004 Athens Organizing Committee; and the President of the Republic of Cyprus.

"Since now the original belongs to the Greek family Niarchos, it seems that no other such replica will ever be produced again," Stathis Douramakos tells Around the Rings.

Seldom-seen torches from 1980 Lake Placid (starting price of $39,000) and 1992 Albertville (starting price of $29,000) are other rare items in the 188-lot mail bid auction held by the first family of Greek collecting.

Click here for more information. The auction closes at 3 p.m. Eastern time Saturday.

Douramakos says both rare torches will sell. "They were actually two of the first bids we received," he says. "These are very rare items, specifically the Albertville one was made in 100 numbered pieces, and was designed by Philippe Starck."

He went on to say the torches make great investments, as such pieces have only increased in value in recent years.

Douramakos says the paper material from 1896, including rare programs in Greek from the opening and closing ceremonies ($3,000 starting bid apiece) are the most interesting part of auction.

"Especially this time, the items we present are extremely rare -- I would easily call them museum items," he says.

"Most paper 1896 items in our current auction come from a very old collection in Greece. The paper 1896 material in our auction gather much attention from collectors and museums, as not only do they have collectible, but historical value as well."

An official sterling silver carrier/lantern of the flame from the 1956 Melbourne Olympics has also attracted a lot of attention, Douramakos says. It stands just 14 cm (5.51 inches) tall and weighs about 13 ounces with a starting bid of $3,500.

"This one was consigned to us by the family of a former member of the organizing committee of the 1956 Games," Douramakos says. "It is the first time we see this item. It is different from the official lantern they used to carry the flame. Since it is silver we assume it was used in a special ceremony. It is numbered 01, but we don't know if more existed. This may be the only one we will ever see."

Written by Karen Rosen

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