Rugby Union Antiques & Sporting Apparel
Rugby has been a professional sport for 25 years this year. But whether a quarter of a century should be marked with a celebration or not is a matter of opinion - the sport has certainly changed, enormously.
Professional rugby players can now train full-time without the necessity of plying a trade for some company or organisation who pay their wages. Consequently, players have become more powerful, and with the game now demanding size and strength above anything else, player selection and tactics have changed too.
We see fewer of the light-footed side-steps, clever running and audacious ball skills as we did in the amateur era. The ‘greatest try every scored’ is still thought of as Gareth Edwards’ ‘dramatic start’ for the Barbarians in 1973, long before the game went professional. The diminutive winger, the twinkle-toed tenacious Shane Williams, capped 87 times for Wales, was a throw-back to the amateur game and those golden years but it is questionable whether we are going to see his like again.
With the professional era came other changes; many clubs particularly in Wales are struggling to make ends meet and some historic community clubs are in danger of disappearing altogether. Meanwhile International and elite rugby is meeting the demands of professional sport in every detail; this includes the jerseys which are now of high-tech design with prominent sponsorship logos, and at this top level they are usually presented to the player at each individual match. Such jerseys are frequently signed, framed and sold in various charity events.
So, when it comes to rugby antiques, it is the romance of the amateur period that creates drama in the saleroom. The serious collectors are not generally interested in the professional sponsored jerseys. But the simple cotton or wool jerseys from the amateur era can realise thrilling prices.
We found this out for the first time, one Wednesday, in 2015 when an elderly lady from Cardiff came to one of our in-house valuation sessions. In a plastic bag was a tatty torn black bundle of cotton. The lady held it out and the item took its form; long black sleeves, white hoop collar with lace-holes and canvas quilting to the shoulders, then there was a large embroidered white fern. I remember thinking ‘All Blacks….probably The Original All Blacks… this could be quite exciting!’
Little did we know how exciting it was going to be.
The lady explained that it belonged to her late husband, who had recently passed away. The provenance as to how the elderly lady came to now own the jersey was a fabulous story yet all the details rang true. She had been instructed to have it valued for probate by her solicitor at a local company. Their valuer had appraised it as a 1905 New Zealand touring jersey belonging to the Captain Dave Gallaher with a figure of £15,000 - which considered the several tears and overall condition of the jersey.
But they missed a trick - the reputation of Dave Gallaher. Luckily Ben Rogers Jones was aware of the extent of Gallaher’s importance, the extent of his heroism and his acclaim and by coincidence he had only two years prior, been to Eden Park in Auckland and sat next to the statue of Gallaher. He was also aware that France and New Zealand compete in the Dave Gallaher Trophy, and that Gallaher died in a battle of the First World War.
The lady vendor was happy to leave it with us for research and consideration on how much we think it might make if she sold it. She agreed to a marketing plan and we advised a wide estimate of £20-40,000 which would arouse collector’s interests. The plan was to offer the jersey during the 2015 Rugby World Cup being held in England later that year, as the interest in the sport would be at fever-pitch and the Southern Hemisphere media would be pointing their cameras at the Northern Hemisphere. It was Lot 1, on October 9th and it sold on the phone for £180,000.
It remains the highest price paid at auction in the UK for sporting clothing and it is currently the highest price paid for a lot at a Fine Art auction house in Wales.
Since then we have sold many rugby jerseys, caps and an important rugby union rule book and many of these rugby antiques have commanded thousands of pounds. Some of the vendors are descendants of players but other consignments have come from rugby clubs who are fearful of the high values that they may have on club-house walls, often worried about the deteriorating condition, the insurance implications, and the overall vulnerability of these prized sporting antiques.
The highest prices have been for the match-worn jerseys where we are able to determine the player, and the match the jersey was played in. The more notorious the match, the more famous the player or famous the team then the higher the prices. Also, the age of the jersey can contribute hugely to the final price, Victorian period jerseys are exceptionally rare.
Below are images of some of the jerseys and other related items we have sold with captions and prices. Historic sporting antiques is one of the most buoyant areas of the collecting market and here is Ben Rogers Jones discussing rugby antiques on the WRU podcast
If you have sporting items that you would like appraising, then we can help. The key to our successes in this genre of antiques is our enthusiasm for the subject, our attention to detail in marketing items, our extensive research and storytelling around the history of items. These skills translate to all sporting antiques whether it be rugby, football, golf, cricket, cycling…..
Should you wish to have a sporting item appraised without obligation or charge, please email:
Ben Rogers Jones firstname.lastname@example.org