The first modern Olympic games were held in Athens in 1896 and looked significantly different from the sporting event we know today. Swimming events were held in the Mediterranean Sea, female athletes were banned and only fourteen nations were included in the games. Perhaps most striking, however, was the lack of gold medals. First-place winners received silver and runners-up were given bronze, with third-place athletes left empty-handed.
Earlier this month, one of these first-place silver medals fetched nearly $112,000 at an auction dedicated to Olympic memorabilia held by Boston-based RR Auction. Depicting a relief portrait of Zeus on the front and an image of the Acropolis of Athens on the back, 1896 medals are exceedingly rare. This isn’t the first time the historic award has realized high sums—in 2021, RR Auction sold another first-place silver medallion for $180,000.
The 127-year-old medal is “a magnificent and historic artifact that captures the essence of the birth of the modern Olympic Games,” said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction, in a statement. “The impressive price achieved reflects the immense significance collectors place on these rare and iconic pieces of sporting history.”
Another award from the first modern Olympic games, one of 150 bronze second-place medals originally manufactured for the event, also sold for $55,000. And a silver winner’s medal from the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, one of only 48 and among the rarest of all silver Olympic medals, brought in $47,000. Other highlights from the sale included gold medals from the 1924 Paris Olympics, the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the 1924 London Olympics.
The Olympic memorabilia auction included items like relay torches, tickets and safety lamps
From a ticket to the 1908 London games to a safety lamp used in the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, RR Auction offered up a treasure trove of memorabilia spanning iconic moments in Olympic history that brought in a total of $1.28 million. A torch used in the Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympics—the site of the famed “Miracle on Ice” hockey game between the U.S. and Soviet Union—realized $55,000, while a porcelain vase awarded to first-place winners at the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics sold for more than $11,000.
Meanwhile, a first-place gold medal awarded to soccer player Kalman Ihasz in 1964 sold for more than $67,000. The award was won by Hungary’s national soccer team during its heyday, in a period characterized by the team’s fluid and tactical approach known as “Total Football.”
Yet another gold medal, this one won by Cuban boxer Roniel Iglesias at the 2012 games, brought in more than $83,000. The medallion “is a testament to the global appeal of Olympic memorabilia,” according to Livingston. “It’s not just a piece of metal; it’s a symbol of dedication, skill, and the pursuit of excellence.”