Graham Budd, Graham Budd Auctions interview
Graham Budd discusses his upcoming Olympic auction and the sector's investment potential
Paul Fraser Collectibles, Wednesday 18 July 2012
Graham Budd presides over Graham Budd Auctions, a UK based specialist in sports memorabilia.
The company's Olympic memorabilia auction takes place on July 24, just three days before London 2012 begins.
Graham very kindly took time out from the lead up to the auction to discuss the investment potential of Olympic collectibles, as well as the perils of getting lost in Sotheby's.
PFC: Which items at your upcoming Olympic auction are you most excited by?
Graham Budd: The most exciting discovery was the typescript of an Olympic Report that was never published. Antwerp staged the first Games after the Great War, in 1920. However, times were still very difficult and the organising committee went bankrupt. They were therefore unable to publish the traditional Official Report, detailing all the results as well as putting on record all the organisational aspects.
Reports are a keystone to any collection and it is accepted that 1920 does not exist. However, we have discovered what appears to be a fully produced typescript of the report which they could not get published because of their financial difficulties. A unique opportunity.
PFC: I'm intrigued to see that you have a torch from the 1936 Berlin Games up for auction. The 1936 event was the first modern Games to feature a torch relay - will this boost prices, or will the Nazi connection put many buyers off?
GB: I don't believe anybody is put off by the Nazi connection, it's history that we cannot change. I'm not sure if it's a widely known fact but one of the finest collections of 1936 Berlin Olympic Games memorabilia is owned by the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.
PFC: How do you explain the growing demand for top Olympic pieces? (A torch from the 1952 Helsinki Games made €290,000 (£239,000) in April 2011 and the marathon winner's cup from 1896 set a new Olympic memorabilia world record of £541,250 against a mere £160,000 estimate in April). Is it simply Olympic fever ahead of London 2012 or an example of a growing trend in the market?
GB: They certainly are headline grabbing prices and indicative of the market at the very highest end. I think it reflects the auction market in general since the banking crisis, the very top end of all arts, antiques and collectibles markets are soaring away - whilst the middle and lower ends are patchy.
PFC: Which Olympics do you see the most demand for? Is the first modern Olympics of 1896 a prime collectors' market?
GB: The rarest material to find is for the first three Olympiads of Athens 1896, Paris 1900 and St Louis 1904. You can also include the so-called intercalated games of Athens in 1906. From 1908 things get easier to find, and 1928 Amsterdam is interesting as it was the first Games where commercial merchandising of souvenirs happened.
PFC: Which areas of the Olympic memorabilia sector are currently undervalued?
GB: I would say paper ephemera such as programmes and tickets. Dealing heavily in soccer memorabilia as I do this is particularly obvious as there is a thriving market for programmes in particular. I set a world record in my last sale of £23,500 for an early FA Cup Final programme [more on the sale below]. We are not expecting any early Olympic programme we are offering to make four figures.
PFC: Looking 50 years down the line, which recent and current Olympians do you envisage being the best investments?
GB: It will be the Olympians at the very tip of the pyramid. Usually each Games throws up an undisputed star or two that people will be interested in for generations to come. My own personal memories of the Olympic Games start at Munich, 1972, and I can still remember vividly the impact Olga Korbut and Mark Spitz made through their performances.
PFC: Away from the Olympics, you mentioned you recently sold the world record football programme (from the 1909 FA Cup Final). This is one of the most accessible areas of collecting for many football fans - are there any "entry-level" programmes that could prove good investments for the future?
GB: My advice would be England international programmes, FA Cup final programmes, European finals plus World Cup. From modern times you can still pick examples up for a few quid and quickly build up a collection, before perhaps dipping your toes in the deeper waters of the pre-war era where you still have to pay hundreds or thousands of pounds per programme.
PFC: How did your background lead to you becoming a sports memorabilia expert?
GB: Right place at the right time really. I had joined Sotheby's in 1979 and worked in administration and junior management. Sotheby's recognised the potential for sports memorabilia to take off during the 1990s and started a department to promote this area. They interviewed from within and I got the job. I was given a desk, a computer and a phone and asked to organise Sotheby's first football sale which I did in 1997. The big players like Sotheby's and Christie's have stepped out of the market largely now, going back to their core markets of fine art and antiques. But it should not be underestimated how important it was for the big houses to get involved when they did. It gives the market great gravitas and really helped accelerate interest and prices for sports memorabilia.
PFC: What makes your company different?
We're niche, an auction company specialising solely in sports memorabilia at the higher ends of the market.
PFC: What is the most valuable lot you have ever auctioned?
That would be the winner's enclosure gates from Ascot Racecourse that we sold in 2005, when the famous course closed for its major refurbishment. A 100 years of thoroughbred champions had passed through them and although we expected £20,000-30,000, two bidders locked horns and took it to £280,000. I did need a brandy after that one!
PFC: Which artefact would you most love to add to your own collection?
My favourite sport is horse racing. I would love to own anything connected with the 18th century racehorse and stallion Eclipse. He was never beaten on the racecourse but then became an enormously influential stallion. Over 90% of all racehorses running in the world today descend from this one stallion. His skeleton is preserved in the National Horseracing Museum at Newmarket. How amazing it would be to have one of his shoes, saddles or his jockey's silks. I wonder if they're out there somewhere?
PFC: Do you have any funny stories from your career in the auction business?
The funniest thing I ever saw was when the American owner of Sotheby's back in the 1980s was on a rare visit to us in London. Sotheby's New Bond Street saleroom is a very old Georgian building and an absolute rabbit warren of corridors. After visiting the gents our owner became disoriented and was struggling to find the route back to his office. I turned a sharp corner at the precise moment that he was entering what he believed to be an exit door - but was in fact a tightly packed cleaner's cupboard full of mops, buckets and brooms etc., which he managed to disturb quite spectacularly.
PFC: What is your most memorable highlight from your years in the business?
It would have to be selling Lester Piggott's collection. He was my sporting hero growing up and I never would have dreamed that one day I would have met him, let alone catalogue and sell his fantastic collection. We've stayed in touch since which is lovely.
PFC: What can we look forward to from Graham Budd Auctions in the rest of 2012?
After the Olympic sale we'll be straight into the organisation for the November 6 auction to conclude what has been an amazing year of sport. Some exciting prospects in the pipeline, all will be revealed in the fullness of time.
PFC: Finally, what is your best piece of advice for sports memorabilia collectors?
By the finest quality you can afford, it's the most likely to hold its value over the years.
Recent and related articles
· Muhammad Ali 'Thrilla' trunks will be re-offered at $100,000+ | 18 July 2012
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Images: Graham Budd Auctions