Fifty items from the athletic career and life of Jesse Owens are bringing one of sports’ most famous stories to life this month. SCP Auctions is offering a variety of pieces from the late Olympic hero’s estate in its current catalog, including items from his triumphs in Hitler’s Germany at the 1936 Summer Games and his Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Our family has cherished the items in this collection for many years,” stated Owens’ daughter Marlene Owens Rankin. “In the interest of fairness to our families and because of the number of items in the collection, we made the decision to put the memorabilia up for auction. We hope that the majority of the items will end up with collectors who wish to share them with the public so that the collection will be a source of enjoyment and inspiration for as many people as possible for generations to come.”
Owens died of lung cancer at age 66 in 1980.
Among the most important athletes of the 20th century, Owens’ accomplishments at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin are generally considered the greatest individual performance in the history sports. Owens dealt a blow to Adolph Hitler by winning gold in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, the 4×100 relay and the long jump in Berlin 82 years ago. Three years earlier, he set three world records and tied another at the Big Ten Track & Field Championships, a feat once called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sports.”
In 2013 SCP Auctions sold one of Jesse Owens original 1936 Olympic gold medals for a record $1.46 million.
Former President Jimmy Carter said of Owens, “Perhaps no athlete better symbolized the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry. His personal triumphs as a world-class athlete and record holder were the prelude to a career devoted to helping others. His work with young athletes, as an unofficial ambassador overseas, and a spokesman for freedom are a rich legacy to his fellow Americans.”
The Jesse Owens Estate collection is highlighted by the 1976 Presidential Medal of Freedom presented to Jesse Owens by then-President Gerald Ford (est. $200,000-$300,000). The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest award the United States can bestow upon a civilian, and in the words of John F. Kennedy who established the honor in 1963, the award recognizes “an especially meritorious contribution to the security of national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public and private endeavors.”
While Owens helped the U.S. triumph at the 1936 Olympic Games, his return home was not met with the kind of fanfare one might expect. President Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to meet with Owens and congratulate him, as was typical for champions. Owens famously stated, “When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus,” he said. “I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the president, either.”
“Astonishingly, it took forty years before the United States properly recognized Jesse Owens,” said SCP Auctions Vice-President Dan Imler. “In 1976, when President Gerald Ford awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he finally received the ultimate and long overdue recognition he so richly deserved from his country he so profoundly impacted. The gold medals he received in Berlin are undeniably historic, but this medal recognizes the totality of Jesse Owens ultimate victory.”
Bidding for the medal is currently at $60,500.
Among the other items offered in the auction are Owens’ 1936 Olympic Gold Medal Winner’s Diplomas for both the Long Jump and 200 Meter Dash. The diplomas, issue in accompaniment to his Gold Medals for these respective events are touted as the two most significant and valuable Olympic diplomas ever offered publicly. Bidding had topped $13,000 for each diploma as of late Tuesday and SCP believes they could go for $50,000 or more.
Another significant highlight in the collection is the 1990 Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Owens posthumously President George H.W. Bush. Along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal is the highest award the United States can bestow upon a civilian. Crafted in solid 22-karat gold, the medal measures three inches in diameter and weighs a hefty 18.2 ounces. The award was created in 1776 by the Continental Congress, with George Washington as its first recipient. As its title suggests, Congress awards the medal to persons “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.” The medal is estimated to sell between $100,000 and $150,000.
Bidding ends on Saturday, March 24. For more information on how to participate in SCP Auctions 2018 Spring Premier auction, visit www.scpauctions.com or call (949) 831-3700.