Christie’s of London is planning a major auction of Olympic Games memorabilia next month including a Bréal’s Silver Cup, presented to Spyros Louis, the winner of the first ever competitive marathon race, run at the first Modern Olympic Games, in Athens in 1896. Offered for sale for the first time by the grandson, and namesake of the famous athlete, the cup stands at only 6 inches high, and leads the Vintage Posters & Olympic Icons sale which will be held ahead of the 2012 Games, which return to London this summer.
Officially known as The Games of the I Olympiad, the first international Olympic Games held in the Modern era took place in April of 1896. The Games had the largest international participation of any sporting event to that date, including competitors from fourteen nations. The Panathinaiko Stadium – the only ancient Olympic stadium used in the 19th century – overflowed with the largest ever crowd to watch a sporting event, amounting to more than 80,000 spectators.
The highlight for the host nation, Greece was the final race of the Games – the marathon victory by their compatriot Spyros Louis. A previously unrecognized water carrier, Louis allegedly sipped cognac on his way round the track, and having originally qualified in fifth place in his heat, he took the lead only a couple of miles from the finish line after two competitors ahead of him collapsed. He went on to become a national hero as the only Greek athletics champion at the inaugural Olympic Games.
The sale will feature 168 vintage posters, of which 26 relate to the Olympic Games through the decades, spanning London to Los Angeles, Melbourne to Berlin, and almost every host city in between.
The earliest, and most valuable original poster from the Olympic Games on offer within Christie’s April auction is the design used to advertise travel to the first London Olympic Games – the IVth Olympiad, in 1908. Originally scheduled to take place in Rome, the Games were relocated due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906.
A poster dating from the only other London Olympics, in 1948, is also on the block.
Further poster highlights also include the Chinese version of the first official Olympic poster– designed by Olle Hjortzberg of the Royal Academy for the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912, only 350 copies of the Chinese version were printed, however it was banned from display in China for being “offensive to Chinese ideas of decency”; and a poster advertising the equestrian portion of the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, which, due to quarantine restrictions in Australia, were re-scheduled to take place in Stockholm.