World Olympic Collectors Flock to Warsaw

(ATR) 100 years for NOC of Poland...historic pins...a quest for young collectors...Karen Rosen reports from Olympic Collectors Fair in Warsaw. 

(ATR) Collectors from around the world gather in Warsaw to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Polish Olympic Committee.

Nearly 120 table-holders from 25 countries bought, sold and traded pins, medals, torches, stamps, coins and other memorabilia at the 25th World Olympic Collectors Fair.

The Polish Olympic Committee, founded in 1919, hosted the show at its headquarters, the magnificent Museum of Sport and Tourism, in conjunction with AICO (the Association Internationale des Collectioneurs Olympiques) and "The Olympian" Polish Club of Olympic and Sports Philately.

"Congratulations to the Polish Olympic Committee for achieving the 100 years and we’re really happy to be here to help them celebrate it," David Frome of Great Britain told Around the Rings. "We’ve been talking to each other and exchanging stories and views -- and obviously exchanging goods and memorabilia."

Collectors from other countries including the United States, Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Croatia, Romania, Czech Republic and Spain were pleased to see a lot of foot traffic that kept the large room bustling.

Piotr Debski, a Polish collector and one of the show organizers, estimated more than 1,000 visitors -- not including the exhibitors – on the first two days of the three-day show.

"We are surprised that we had a lot of visitors from Poland, making it much more popular than before," he said, comparing the fair to the edition held in Warsaw in 2009.

Some of those visitors Saturday came from the annual "Olympic Picnic" on the grounds, which featured more than 100 Olympians including Tomasz Majewski, a double Olympic gold medalist in the shot put.

"I couldn’t find anyone who was unhappy," Debski said. "Based on the impressions of participants, it’s one of the best shows ever."

C.K. Wu, chair of the IOC Culture and Olympic Heritage Commission, participated in the official opening and said IOC President Thomas Bach knew he was there. Wu said he hopes his commission will be able to collaborate more with the association of collectors.

"This is real value for the Olympic heritage," Wu said.

While he said he already has more than 30,000 items in his collection, Wu did take a look at the memorabilia offered on the tables. "If there is something to find, this is the place," he said.

Longtime U.S. collector Sid Marantz said the location for the show, as well as the sponsorship by an NOC, helped attract participants. Each paid 65 Euro for a table.

"When you’re in central Europe it’s easy for a lot of people in Europe to get here, so you see stuff you don’t see in other places, like material from the former Soviet bloc," Marantz said. "And I like the collegiality. I enjoy the people. I thought they did a very good job of organizing the show. I thought it was very user-friendly."

Another U.S. collector, Mike Rose, attended his first European show and appreciated the atmosphere. The Museum of Sport and Tourism includes a restaurant and health club in addition to the exhibits.

"It’s a very impressive building," Rose said. "I’m sure a lot of countries are very envious of that building."

A Hobby in Trouble?

However, he said he mainly saw the same faces he sees at shows and during the Games. "We need younger people, and I don’t know what the answer is for that," Rose said.

Stathis Douramakos of Greece agreed that the hobby needs an infusion of new blood to keep it afloat.

"Prices for very rare items are still going up, but the normal items are going to decline for the next years because we don’t have any newcomers except people from China, a country that is actively cultivating the culture of collecting," Douramakos said. "I think all the rest are falling behind. It’s been an issue we have been discussing since (the fair in) 2011 in Chicago, and so many years have passed, but still we haven’t done anything to really attract the younger crowd to our hobby.

"So I’m certain now that we’ve come to a point in our hobby when it is too late. We’re going to have a very big gap until newcomers come in."

Douramakos said now is a good time to start collecting common items, which have decreased in price over the last few years.

"Due to the fact that many collectors grow old and they want to enjoy other things in life, we have a huge amount of items going into the market, so the demand and supply has really changed nowadays," he said. "When someone wants to sell immediately, then the price will go down. I have a huge inventory of items and I prefer to keep it" until the market changes.

"Half of the people we know started by collecting a pin," Douramakos added, "or somebody maybe donated a pin to them and it started like a bug. We’re not doing anything towards that direction, because when a younger kid grows older and they have the opportunity, it’s already too late for that."

However, Frome, the British collector, and some of the other table holders tried to engage the children who wandered through the fair.

"I saw a lot of kids," Frome said, "and I was able to hand out things to them to encourage them to think about the Olympics and to learn. And that’s good for us because we’re in the learning profession."

POW Camp Olympics and Historic Pins

During the show, collectors were treated to presentations that delved into the history of the Games. Dr. Roman Babut, who was also one of the show organizers, spoke about the relics and heritage of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics in the World War II prisoner of war camps for Polish officers.

Ioannis Thomakos of Greece showed collectors what he believes is the first NOC pin from the 1896 Athens Olympic Games.

The small handmade round cloth pin features the Greek national emblem, a white cross on a blue background. It was given a few days before the 1896 Opening Ceremony to the 12 athletes who finished first in the Athens 1896 Preliminary Trials (first Panhellenic Games).

Charalampos Vasilakos inherited the pin from his grandfather, Charilaos Vasilakos, the winner of the very first marathon race (the preliminary trial) and the second-place finisher at the Olympic Games behind Spyros Louis.

Now the pin belongs to Thomakos, but Vasilakos, who attended the fair, has another pin to take its place.

He presented collectors with a pin made to honor his grandfather,.

Thomakos also provided evidence that Sweden brought the first metal NOC pin, in 1906, and he screened a documentary film of the 1906 Athens Games. He combined clips from the Games into a cohesive form and added music and identification of some of the historical figures.

Future Fairs

The small town of Monti Lepini, Italy, which is outside Rome, has bid to host the 2020 show from Sept. 4-6 at the Artena Rugby Museum. The IOC has proposed an alternate plan of holding the show as part of the Tokyo Olympic Games, a format which was not embraced by collectors.

Paris has already been selected to host the fair in May 2021 and Leipzig, Germany, has expressed interest in 2023.

Written and reported by Karen Rosen in Warsaw

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