Bréals Silver Cup, the winners cup from the first ever competitive Marathon race, held at the first Modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, broke the world record price for an item of Olympic memorabilia sold at auction, selling today within the Vintage Posters & Olympic Icons auction at Christies
South Kensington for £541,250 / $861,129 / 655,454 (estimate: £120,000-160,000). Presented at auction for the first time, the unique cup, which stands at only six inches high (15 cm), was offered for sale by the grandson, and namesake of the famous Greek athlete who won it Spyros Louis. It was bought by The Stavros Niarchos Foundation and will be shared with the Greek people by being permanently displayed for public view at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center upon its completion in 2015. In the interim, the Foundation will work to find a suitable and temporary location for display.
The auction as a whole realized a total of £1,260,275 / $2,005,098 / 1,524,933. Further Olympic highlights from the sale included a vintage poster advertising travel to the first London Olympics in 1908, which sold for £15,000; The Harold Abrahams Collection of memorabilia dating from 1911-1924, which sold for £39,650; and an Olympic Torch from the 1948 London Olympics, which sold for £6,250.
Nicolette Tomkinson, Director and Sophie Churcher, Specialist, Christies commented, As the excitement builds with this years London Olympic Games drawing ever nearer, we are very proud to have held an event to celebrate the history and legacy of the Olympics! Christies is honoured to have been entrusted with the historic sale of Bréals Silver Cup, and we are delighted that its importance has clearly been recognized by collectors around the world, and that it will return to be on public display in Greece. It is hard to believe that such a small trophy represents so much in sporting and Olympic history. Since it was unveiled, it has attained universal appreciation, resulting in a total of six bidders competing for it today two on the telephone, two in the room, two on the book. The cup was sold for £541,250 to The Stavros Niarchos Foundation via telephone. Until recently the Cup had been on Private display in the Louis family home for over a century, and we have taken great pleasure in acting as temporary custodians and telling the story behind this extraordinary object. I cant think of a better way for Christies to have marked the start of the 100-day countdown to London 2012.
The grandson of Marathon winner Spyros Louis, also named Spyros, commented after the auction, I could never have imagined the auction of my grandfathers marathon winners cup would generate such international interest, and raise such significant funds to secure the future of my family. It is credit to Christies, their expertise and their dedication that it has sold for this world record price. I am overwhelmed by the global admiration felt for my grandfather and his Olympic victory for Greece in 1896, and I am proud to have witnessed another historical Olympic event today as my children and I watched the auction unfold live online. I am delighted that the cup will soon be on permanent public display at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center for the whole of Greece, and the world to see.
Bréals Silver Cup will be shared with the public and serve as a reminder of our history, heritage and resilient spirit, said Andreas C. Dracopoulos, co-President and Member of the Board at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Our hope is that the cup inspires and rekindles Greek pride, just as Louis victory did on the last day of what would become the Modern Olympic Games.
THE HISTORY OF BRÉALS SILVER CUP
Officially known as The Games of the I Olympiad, the first international Olympic Games held in the Modern era took place in Athens, Greece, on 6-15 April 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 illustrated left. 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 kilometres 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 mens marathon race was invented by French philologist Michel Bréal as part of the Athletics at the 1896 Olympic Games. Inspired by the legend of the messenger Pheidippides, Bréal had the idea to stage a race from the city of Marathon to Athens a distance of twenty-five miles (40 kilometres), and promised a silver cup to the winner. Of the seventeen athletes who began the race, only ten completed the course, one of whom was later disqualified for having travelled by carriage for part of the race. Spyros Louis finished in just under three hours eight minutes ahead of second place and was presented with Bréals Silver Cup, along with a silver medal, an antique vase, an olive branch and a diploma by King George.
* The previous world record price for Olympic memorabilia sold at auction was achieved in April 2011, when an Olympic Torch from the 1952 Olympic Games held in Helsinki was sold at auction in Paris for 290,000 / $400,000.