Take Home the Gold: How to Invest in Olympic Collectibles

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Olympic MoneyThe Olympics are a magical time, when people from around the world gather to celebrate togetherness, fellowship and competition. And, amid the tidal wave of nationalism and internationalism, striving and admiring, Olympic watchers around the world will also join in another biennial ritual: the purchase of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of limited-edition, Olympic-branded pins, stuffed animals, T-shirts, medallions, and Wheaties boxes. Yes, that's right: Olympics souvenir season is upon us.

In theory, at least, Olympic mementos seem like a good investment. After all, there will be only one 2012 London Olympics, and the special souvenirs created for the occasion will never be made again. But how much of this Olympic swag is truly limited edition, and more importantly, how much of it will actually increase in value over the years?

Not much, says Ingrid O'Neil, a California-based sports memorabilia dealer who specializes in Olympic collectibles. "If you are at the games, you want to get souvenirs," she says. "But because so many are made, they're not a good investment."

An Olympic Markup

One of the biggest culprits is Olympic pins. The colorful enamel pendants may seem like an inexpensive investment, but O'Neil warns that a full set of pins can cost upwards of $20,000. Worse, their values drop sharply after the games end. For example, the official Olympic Shop for Team USA is charging between $7 and $12 for London Olympics pins. By comparison, the same site is selling pins for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for as little as 79 cents -- 90% off their pre-Olympics price.

As an added problem, there's the fact that Olympic souvenirs don't hold their value, at least not initially. "The prices on Olympic memorabilia are highest during the games, but go down soon afterward," O'Neil explains. "If you're looking for an investment, don't buy now -- prices will hit bottom six to 12 months after the games."

The Best Things to Buy

Assuming you can curb your Olympic fever until 2013, O'Neil cautions that the best investments are not mass-marketed items like pins and stuffed mascot toys, but rather things that aren't sold in stores, like Olympic torches and winners' medals. These items, while rare, are not impossible to find, and are likely to rise quickly in value.

Olympic torches, for example, seem particularly valued -- and there isn't just one torch for each Olympic games: There are thousands. This year, people who are participating in the torch relay before the games have been given the opportunity to buy their torches for $340, less than half the price that it cost to manufacture them. Many have already turned around and put them up for sale. For a brief period, bids on torches topped $170,000, but they have recently come down to earth -- as of this writing, eBay's top price for a London torch is $19,448.75.

Then again, as with anything else from the games, the price of torches is sure to come down, at least in the short term. Still, they with prices starting at $1,099 for a torch from the Vancouver Games or $4,000 for a 2008 Beijing Games torch, it looks like Olympic torches are likely to be worthwhile investments in the long term.

Olympic Gold

Of course, the ultimate prize for any collector -- or competitor, for that matter -- is Olympic gold. But, in terms of their base value, Olympic medals aren't worth all that much: the "gold" medal is mostly silver, with about six grams of gold plating added on. All told, the top prize has a paper value of $494. The silver medal's composition is almost exactly the same as the gold, minus the plating, and is worth $260. A bronze medal, melted down, is only worth about $3.

Gold Medals

Those are the basic scrap metal prices. But new medals are designed for each game, which makes them limited edition artworks. And after they're awarded, their prices begin to vary wildly. To begin with, gold medal winners are generally loath to sell their hard-won awards -- in fact, according to one expert, there are only about 20 Olympic gold medals on the open market. So, not surprisingly, when they go up for sale, the price is high. For example, in 2004, Polish swimmer Otylia Jedrzejczak decided to sell her gold medal to help a charity that worked with children who have leukemia. The sale netted over $82,000.

Sale prices go even higher when the medal has a story. For example, when Mark Wells, a member of the 1980 U.S. hockey "Miracle on Ice" team, sold his gold medal, it fetched over $310,000. Then again, the story doesn't always sell: When Tommie Smith -- the 1968 Olympian who got in trouble for flashing the "black power" salute on the awards dais -- tried to auction his medal in 2010, he set the minimum bid at $250,000. He didn't have any takers.

Ultimately, O'Neil says, the key to investing in Olympic memorabilia lies in figuring out a specific area that you love and learning as much as you can about it. Twenty years ago, she notes, Olympic collectors often didn't distinguish between common items and those with real value. Today, however, collectors have become more educated. On the down side, this means that the chances happening upon a lucky find are infinitesimal. On the bright side, it means that items of real value are likely to maintain their value for the long haul. And, who knows -- with a little bit of luck, you might be able to chance upon an under-priced torch or rare medal.





Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at@bruce1971.

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ilm9p

How to invest in Olympic collectibles? Wow, Bruce, you actually get paid for this tripe?

July 02 2012 at 3:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cmitzinc

OK, after seeing the price of Olypmic items I can't help but wonder what the price of a real piece of Olympic glory would be. I have a 1960 Winter Olympics clock (the real deal) that used in the Figure Skating rink. We took the gold in the Womens figure skating that year. The VIII Olympic winter games were held in Squaw Valley California. This is stated on the clock. Longines is the name on the clock, but they didn't make the clock, just sponsered it. Still, it WAS used in the games. As far as I know it is the only one that was used in the Figure Skating rink. The VIII Olympic games were the first to be televised in the US. Could anybody out there tell me what this clock might be worth. Thank you.

July 02 2012 at 1:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cmitzinc's comment
ntersmikem

do you have paperwork or any photograph to document the history, if not proving so would be difficult, not unless the manufacturer or sponser has paper work stating yes thats a clock that we put our name on or yes that is the clock that we made for the olympics,

July 03 2012 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to ntersmikem's comment
cmitzinc

Yes. It has been proven to be from the VIII Squaw Valley Olympic Games. However, getting the pictures of it have been tricky. And the old arenas have been torn down. A photographer by the name of Don Dondero was the official photographer of the games and I'm not sure if he is still alive. I am from the Reno/Tahoe area, I grew up there, so I do know that this clock is the real thing. I did get in touch with Longines, but they did not make the clock, only sponsered the Olympic games, so that wasn't of much help. But Longines name is on the face of the clock. As well as the five Olympic rings and five Olympic coins, which I found interesting. Are the Olympic coins still used on official Olympic collectibles? If need be I can send you a picture. Thank you.

July 25 2012 at 4:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
cmitzinc

ntersmikem - Also in reply to the clock, feel free to email me. cmitzinc@aol.com. Thank you.

July 25 2012 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down