AT AUCTION: 1852 HARVARD-YALE REGATTA TROPHY OARS
Sotheby’s, the world-renowned purveyor of fine art and antiquities, is auctioning one of the oldest and most significant pieces of American collegiate and sporting history: the Trophy Oars from 1852’s inaugural Harvard-Yale Regatta.
The oars’ importance can hardly be overstated. Awarded to the winning Harvard crew by then-presidential candidate (and future U.S. President) General Franklin Pierce, they effectively marked both the birth of American intercollegiate sports (the inaugural rowing match between Harvard and Yale was the first of its kind in the country, predating both the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 and the first basketball game in 1895) and, more specifically, the beginning of one of college sports’ greatest rivalries and its longest-running annual competition.
The Harvard-Yale rowing match was the idea of Yale oarsman James Whiton, who subsequently struck a marketing deal with the superintendent of the Boston, Concord, and Montreal Railroad; the fledgling railroad, in turn, transported spectators to the destination event on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee. Harvard won the inaugural installment of the continuing tradition, which took place on August 3rd, 1852, and the race was held sporadically over the next several years until becoming an annual fixture in 1864. With a few war- and pandemic-related exceptions, the regatta has taken place every year since, today held on the Thames River outside of New London, Connecticut. Harvard has won 95 times, while Yale has prevailed in 58 of the races.
“These trophy oars mark the beginning of American intercollegiate sports, and stand as a significant relic of American History,” explains Richard Austin, Sotheby’s Global Head of Books & Manuscripts. “These icons of sport predate the Civil War, and their incredible chance rediscovery four decades ago saved them from being lost forever.”
The chance rediscovery occurred in the basement of a rooming house in Medford, Massachusetts, when the property owner’s children recognized the oars’ potential value and saved them from being unceremoniously thrown out. They’ve been in the family’s private collection ever since, and this auction marks the first time the oars have ever been made publicly available.
“THESE TROPHY OARS MARK THE BEGINNING OF AMERICAN INTERCOLLEGIATE SPORTS, AND STAND AS A SIGNIFICANT RELIC OF AMERICAN HISTORY. THESE ICONS OF SPORT PREDATE THE CIVIL WAR, AND THEIR INCREDIBLE CHANCE REDISCOVERY FOUR DECADES AGO SAVED THEM FROM BEING LOST FOREVER.”
“Sotheby’s holds a longstanding track record of offering the most important sports artifacts, and we’re thrilled to once again present for sale a landmark piece of American sports history,” says Austin. Indeed, past sales have included the Olympic Manifesto - the foundational document outlining the birth of the modern Olympic Games - for $8.8 million, a record for any piece of sports memorabilia; James Naismith’s The Founding Rules of Basketball for $4.3 million; and a pair of Michael Jordan’s game-worn Nike Air Ships for $1.47 million, an all-time high for a pair of sneakers at auction. Made of black walnut with engraved silver plaques, the 1852 Harvard-Yale Regatta Trophy Oars are expected to sell for between $3-$5 million.
Through a partnership with The Armoury of St. James’s, which specializes in unusual ceremonial and royal presentation items dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Rowing Blazers offers our own collection of rowing-related prize oars and medals.
Sotheby’s auction of the 1852 Trophy Oars ends tomorrow, May 24th.