Historic Owens medal to be auctioned
One of the most famous Olympic medals is hitting the auction block.
SCP Auctions president David Kohler says his company has acquired one of the four gold medals won by Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and will sell it to the highest bidder on Dec. 7.
"If you could dream up items that you'd want to find and sell, this would be on the bucket list," Kohler said.
Kohler believes the medal could sell for more than $1 million, especially since he said the Owens family is unclear about the whereabouts of the other three gold medals.
"We think this is a seven-figure piece," Kohler said. "We expect to see a good deal of international interest and could see some institutions bidding. This is so much bigger than a piece of sports memorabilia. It's a piece of history."
Kohler said it is not clear which medal he is auctioning off. The medal, or what it was stored in, does not show markings that would indicate a particular event. No historical record seems to suggest which medal Owens gave to Robinson, either.
The highest price ever paid for a piece of Olympic memorabilia was the $865,000 paid last April for a silver cup won by the winner of the first modern-day Olympic marathon in 1896. The highest price paid for U.S. Olympic items include the gold medal won by Mark Wells from the 1980 Olympic ice hockey team, sold for $310,700 in 2010, and the jersey from the famous "Miracle on Ice" game worn by team captain Mike Eruzione, which sold for $657,250 in February.
The Owens gold medal was consigned to SCP by the estate of Elaine Plaines-Robinson, the wife of entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, a close friend of Owens who died in 1949.
The fact that Robinson was given one of Owens' original medals is documented in the biography "Mr. Bojangles," and the auction house has documentation from the book's author, N.R. Mitgang, that he saw it in Robinson's house in the late 1970s. To further test the authenticity of the medal, SCP Auctions said it brought in Olympics medal expert James Greenfelder, who certified it was the genuine article.
Owens, who was 23 at the time, famously won the four medals in the 100- and 200-meter dash, the long jump and as a member of the 4x100 meter relay team with Hitler looking on as the host of the Games. While a parade was thrown for him in both New York and Cleveland, his hometown for much of his childhood, Owens still returned to a segregated America and was not offered the same invitation to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt like so many of his fellow white Olympic medalists.
Four gold meals from the 1936 Olympics reside at Ohio State, where Owens attended colleges, though the library that hosts the collection says these particular medals were replaced by the German government after Owens lost his originals.
The auction, which begins on Nov. 20 and closes Dec. 7, also includes numerous Jackie Robinson items, including two bats -- one he used during his 1949 MVP season and another which the auction company says he used during the 1955 World Series, the only title the Dodgers won in Brooklyn.
In May 2012, SCP Auctions sold a Babe Ruth New York Yankees jersey, believed to have been worn around 1920, for $4,415,658, the highest price ever paid for a piece of sports memorabilia.