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Winter Games souvenirs valuable … until TV era
By Marty Steiner

The Winter Olympics have a unique history. The first Winter Olympics, in 1924, was not even designated as such until two years after they were held in Chamonix, France. It was almost an afterthought. They were officially called the “International Winter Sports Week” but were “associated with” the 1924 summer Olympics in Paris.

The first few winter games were held the same years as the summer Olympics. It wasn’t until 1994 that the Winter Olympics moved to the two-year offset from the summer games. And at least one winter Olympics had to change venues (cities) after the originally selected city developed problems and withdrew. Each of these occurrences has created unusual collecting opportunities.

The mix, quantity and values vary widely over the history of the Olympic Winter Games. As one would expect, collectibles from the earlier Olympics are more scarce than recent games. This is due to the much smaller scope of the games and also the usual loss of items over time. An analysis of online sources, sports memorabilia dealers and auctions has indicated the availability and approximate prices for these items. This is a short history of the winter Olympics with a sampling of currently available or recently sold items and their prices.

The 1924 event saw 16 nations compete in 16 events. Items from these games are scarce with only an occasional original press photo seen for $17-$35. However, an original bronze medal did sell recently for $10,165.

The 1928 games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, officially the second Winter Olympiad, also have very few items available. An extremely rare athlete’s participation medal in bronze is offered at $1,560. A group of three-color trading cards (similar to cigarette cards) with ski athletes pictured was $9. There are many reprints and fantasy items seen for these earliest games.

The 1932 games were held in Lake Placid, N.Y. Lake Placid also would later host the 1980 games. As a result of these later games, some 1932 “collectibles” currently offered are actually reissues from these later games.

Original 1932 collectibles include a U.S.-issued commemorative stamp picturing a downhill skier in flight. These stamps are not expensive, but First Day Covers (FDC) range from $25 or more, depending on cachet. One First Day envelope including a couple of newspaper clippings is $50, and FDC’s with photo cachets by Beazell are $450. An advertising (i.e. not official postage) poster image stamp is $25. A few admission tickets are offered at $150 each. Post cards range from $9 to $19, with a few real photo post cards (RPPC) at $40. Various team snapshot photos that have been removed from a scrapbook are $35. A rare color Sammelwerk trading card of the U.S. gold medal bobsled team is $125, and a black/white speed skater is $65.

The 1936 games were held in Garmisch, Germany. The German government produced a number of items as a form of prewar propaganda. Among the more unusual 1936 Garmisch items is an enamel lapel pin with a mountain peak and Olympic rings at $220, a tree branch walking cane with applied metal “plaques” for $200, and a pressed tin enameled plaque for $127. A “Mid-Week Pictorial” photogravure special from the New York Times with the results of the games is offered for $34, a 50mm bronze souvenir medal is priced at $325, and a pair of hardbound volumes of 175 tipped in photo-cards for $120. Daily program booklets are currently available at $85 for several of the individual days of these Olympics. Nazi Germany issued three special commemorative stamps. An envelope with this complete three-stamp set that was carried on the Zeppelin Hindenburg is $170.

Because of World War II, there were no 1940 or 1944 winter games. The fifth Winter Olympics eventually took place in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1948. Switzerland’s neutrality during the war had left their 1928 venues virtually intact. A report of the U.S. Olympic Committee containing 388 pages about the U.S. participation in both the summer (London, England) and the winter games is $22.45. A Newsweek magazine featuring U.S. skier Georgette Miller on the cover is $25. A 16mm film of games highlights is $35, and a Life magazine with Olympics coverage is $15.

The sixth Olympic Winter Games were held in Oslo, Norway, in 1952. They featured the first athletes village, which housed athletes from the 30 nations participating in 22 sports. Although other games had sports cards associated, these games had an extensive set by a German maker. Many are offered online for as little as a dollar. An unusual cotton scarf sold for $29. Few items are available from these games.

The seventh winter games held in Cortina, Italy, in 1956, were the first winter games to be televised. Ornate participation medals are seen for $1,500 in silver and $210 for bronze.

No one expected Squaw Valley, Calif., to win the nod for the 1960 games. It was then an unfinished ski resort in the middle of nowhere. There were no bobsled events for the only time in winter games history because the sponsoring committee would not build the necessary facilities.

A sampling of the more than 200 currently available 1960 collectibles includes a 1 3/4-inch pinback with stylized red, white and blue star $40; an Olympics Museum poster (reprint) of the original poster, $40; a mint doll of Anne Heggtveit, gold medalist, with original tags for $175; street display welcome pennants for various countries, $150; and a cross street banners for $1,000.

Various manufacturers of collectibles had begun producing special editions of their products to capitalize on the Olympics. Corgi miniature cars produced a Citroen Safari Sports Wagon with the 1964 Innsbruck, Austria, ninth winter Olympics logo, ski rack and skis, now selling for $100. A participant medal in the original presentation box is available at $140.

The 10th winter games were held in Grenoble, France, in 1968. An original poster for these games, one of only a few originals from any of the games, is currently available for $650. A plastic mascot “Schuss,” a stylized skier, on a key ring is $35. This was the first winter Olympics to adopt a mascot. Other collectibles include a participant medal for $300 and a printed invitation to the opening ceremonies for $75.

The volume of items available increases dramatically in the 1970s. A 1972 Sapporo, Japan, participant medal in original box is $400. These 11th games drew broad coverage from magazines, with a number of covers illustrating the games. These are moderately priced from $5 and up. A set of three plastic Olympic mascot bears is offered at $500, and a 118-page color photo book of all the events is $68.

Perhaps it is no surprise that among the scarcest winter Olympic items are those prepared for the 1976 winter games in Denver, Colo. These games never took place in Denver. Denver was awarded the games in 1970, but residents voted down bond offerings and expressed environmental concerns in 1972. The International Olympics Committee reopened the bidding and awarded the 12th games to Innsbruck, Austria, in 1973, in part because their venues from 1964 were still in place.

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