It's money for old rope

 

Business Of Sport/Daire Whelan: Among the record prices achieved from the Lissadell collection that went under the hammer last Tuesday, there was Lot No. 50, an early Victorian mahogany billiards table, circa 1838, which sold for €3,600.

The historical context of Lissadell obviously helped the auctioneers realise the total price of 2 million from the sale, but 3,600 for a billiards table?

Whether the buyer was a collector of sporting memorabilia or a more general collector one can't say, but it does raise the question of what the sporting memorabilia industry is like in this country - how much interest is there and how valuable are sporting collectibles?

Think sporting memorabilia and you probably think dusty programmes and cigarette cards being bought and sold at fairs throughout the year.

But there has also arisen a new, more savvy, wealthier buyer who is looking at sports collectibles from a long-term investment point of view.

David Convery, head of Sporting Memorabilia at Christies in London, says that the industry in the UK is worth about £5 million per annum, but describes the majority of collectors as being "anoraks".

"The top end of our market would see investors spending for instance £160,000 on Pele's 1970 World Cup shirt, but most of the people I would deal with are specialists interested in a particular sport or item such as medals or jerseys. FA Cup medals are very popular and would go for anything between £3,000-£5,000.

"For a long time golf was the main market, but that has been overtaken by football and each year we have two football sales in March and September while having one for golf in July and one for cricket, tennis, boxing and other sports in June.

"But with England winning the Rugby World Cup there has been a lot of interest in the last week in rugby memorabilia. Already people are looking to get hold of the childhood rugby jerseys from the players' team or school. And, as for Johnny Wilkinson's boots from the final, well, if you can get your hands on them best of luck to you."

In Ireland, the market for sports memorabilia, according to Peter Geoffroy of Collectibles Corner, has limited international appeal.

"The likes of George Best, Bobby Moore or Pele have obvious global interest," says Geoffroy, "but how many people worldwide would be interested in a Christy Ring All-Ireland medal?"

Irish people collect sports memorabilia out of a sense of nostalgia, as a means of collecting memories from the past, says Geoffroy. The main interest is in soccer collectibles with particular emphasis on programmes. And it is Irish international programmes that are worth money.

"International programmes from the 1930s and 1940s are very scarce," he explains, "and when they do come on the market, can fetch good prices. For instance, a 1936 programme of the Ireland v Germany game at Dalymount Park would be worth 500 upwards."

But it has only been in the last four-five years that the Irish sports memorabilia market has expanded beyond soccer and now GAA and rugby are generating more interest.

"I suppose with the Celtic Tiger and people having more money to spend, 50 on a piece of sporting history doesn't seem that outlandish to pay for," says Geoffroy. "If I was to say what I thought would be worth collecting, I would tell people to try and get hold of GAA and Rugby programmes, both of these sports - and GAA in particular - are getting more interested buyers."

There is surprisingly little old GAA memorabilia on the market, most of it is still either in people's homes or in the GAA museum which has an extensive collection that was donated or loaned by players and their families.

Programmes from the 1950s and 1960s will gain in value reckons Geoffroy as will older books, tickets, magazines on the GAA. For instance, one of the most sought-after items are ticket stubs from the 1921 All-Ireland football final between Dublin and Tipperary when 13 people were killed by the Black and Tans at Croke Park. Tickets for that game would fetch upwards of €1,000.

Other rare items would be old All-Ireland winning medals, one from the 1960s fetched £1,000 in the 1990s, while, more recently, Geoffroy sold a programme of the 1947 All-Ireland football final held at the Polo Grounds in New York for 720.