Collector's Corner: Winter sports memorabilia

Demand for winter sports memorabilia is booming so get your skates on, says Gwyn Jones

The Winter Olympics began in spectacular fashion last night, with the stage set in Turin for two weeks' of snow-bound sport. And while the winter games do not attract the same attention as the summer tournaments, there is a burgeoning market in snow-sports memorabilia.

At last month's ninth annual Winter Sports sale at Christie's, the auction was dominated by posters. "There are always new people coming into the market. We're finding new buyers all the time and there are a lot of young collectors," says Nicolette Tomkinson, a specialist. "They are mostly ski enthusiasts who don't necessarily buy other posters but collect by resort so that they can put the poster in their chalet or home."

These posters hark back to the first era of mass ski tourism when resorts commissioned some of the finest artists to create posters that would attract holidaymakers to their areas - most date from the 1920s and 1930s.

The most popular resorts are St Moritz for Switzerland, then Davos, Cloisters and Chamonix in France. Areas such as the Jungfrau region are also popular, as is Murren.

Some collectors are keen on certain artists such as Roger Broders or Carl Moos, or the world record-holding ski poster artist Emil Cardinaux, who designed the St Moritz Palace Hotel poster that made £23,900 in 2004. Often, posters are bought because they are from the venue where the collector skis.

Prices have risen dramatically over the past 10 years. The world record Palace Hotel poster could have been snapped up for a mere £2,000 to £3,000 in the Nineties. Even though the group of collectors with the necessary money to be able to afford to buy these posters today is relatively small compared to some sports, the dearth of good items available ensures that prices remain high.

"It takes us a whole year to get in the material for our sale - there's simply not much around," explains Tomkinson. This is good news for anyone with a poster to sell, while a lack of good-quality material should ensure prices will rise steadily in the long term.

Despite the popularity of this market, there are some posters that keen-eyed investors might do well to look at. "The art nouveau period is currently less sought-after," adds Tomkinson. "Some of the earlier examples of skiing posters from around 1910 are generally undervalued. We had a Winter in Bayern poster dated 1905 in our last sale which was estimated to make £700-900. It came in under estimate at £650, but it's an early example of winter sports posters, so they're a good thing to look out for at the moment.

"There's no explanation why art nouveau is less popular at present but things can change round again."

Even some relatively modern posters are on the up. In the last Christie's sale, a Verbier poster from 1960 fetched £600 against an estimate of £250-350. It's a popular resort but a relatively young one.

The posters are the high end of the winter sports market, but there are other collectables. A few years ago Christie's carried some skis in one of its early sales, though this has been dropped because the auction house was swamped with people wanting to sell their skis.

In fact, only the old examples from the 1890s up to the 1920s and 1930s make good money and as Sean Arnold, a sporting antiques dealer, explains, they have to be in very good condition.

"They must also have their poles in good condition and it's the poles which are harder to find intact than the skis themselves," Arnold says. "We also sell snow shoes and the like, and even ice axes, but they have to be early examples."

Manfred Schotten, an Oxfordshire specialist in sporting memorabilia, also sells skis from the Twenties and Thirties for around £140 a pair, whilst Norwegian skis from the 1890s will fetch up to £1,400.

Both dealers have found a rising market in old photographs, an area that is generally booming at present. Original photographs from the early 1900s sell well but because they are very small, modern handmade reprints are produced from them. These reprints are unlikely to be an investment, but they are decoratively very popular.

Quality and rarity are the key words in this market. A very good condition early child's wooden sledge would fetch around £60 at most - and don't forget that's only if you're selling directly to a collector. If a dealer is buying, you can cut that amount quite considerably as they need to make their profit.

Away from the specialist auction and shops, there are very few places to buy and sell winter sports memorabilia. Even eBay, the world's biggest online auction site, has just a handful of items and most are recent or reproductions.

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