DescriptionFinest Known 1904 Olympic Games Participation Medal.
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the 1896 Olympic Games were the first in over fifteen centuries. Held in Athens, Greece, the site of the ancient Olympics, this inaugural Modern Olympiad met with great success. Plans for future Games followed, to be held every four years in a hosting country different than the previous.
Organizers of the 1900 Paris World Exposition (also referred to as the 1900 World's Fair) secured the rights to host the ensuing Olympiad in conjunction with The Fair. Though a fine idea on paper, Exposition organizers focused on a successful Fair, treating The Olympics as a sideshow. Doing so proved disastrous to The Games' reputation and hopes for the future.
On the shakiest of legs, Olympic committeemen wisely looked past the bid of St. Louis World's Fair organizers and accepted that of Chicago, Illinois to host the 1904 Olympics. The city of Chicago has successfully hosted the great Columbian Exposition of 1893, and pledged to commit similar effort in hosting the 1904 Games. Ironically, like a page out of soon-to-be Chicago mobster Al Capone's handbook, St Louis organizers made a "paid visit" to Olympic committeemen following the announcement of Chicago's winning bid, threatening to host an even greater world athletic event at their 1904 World's Fair should Chicago indeed retain rights to the 1904 Olympiad. Such an event was presented as The Games' "final nail."
Keenly aware of their tenuous position, the Olympic committee buckled and reversed their decision in favor of St. Louis. The result was even more disastrous, as The 1904 Games lacked any semblance of an Olympiad. Treated irreverently from planning to completion, The Modern Olympics were all but dead!
In an effort to once again wake the Phoenix, passionate supporters of The Games chose to bring the Olympics back to Greece. In honoring the 10th Anniversary of The Modern Olympic Games, the multi-country, multi-sport Games of 1906 proved to be another hugely successful Olympiad. The 1906 Games not only revived world interest in The Olympics, but also paved the way for the ensuing success of the 1908 London Olympiad. The Games have never looked back, having become the world sport spectacle that it is today.
The failures of the 1904 St. Louis Games are felt today in both record and relic. Perhaps the greatest testament to its failure is that only 12 countries were represented at the 1904 Olympics, with a mere 651 athletes competing in total. Even the elaborate winner's medals received by the competitors in 1896 were reduced to a generic track medal format in St. Louis for '04.
Perhaps the one bright spot would be the participation medal presented to all competing athletes that year. Unlike the aforementioned 1904 winner's medals, the design of the '04 participation medal is more in keeping with the majesty and tradition of The Olympics. Consistent with the now-infamously frugal approach to the 1904 Games, however, is the medal's composition (typically bronze, it is made of a cheaper, soft copper) and flat appearance aesthetically & physically (most likely the result of a single strike, an attempt to simplify packaging, reduce shipping costs & minimize storage requirements).
We offer what is believed to be the finest example of this important medal extant. Recently unearthed by descendants of a 1904 World's Fair executive, included in these family holdings were pristine examples of the ribboned winner's medal presented at the 1904 Olympiad. While the condition of the winner's medals is remarkable, it is the offered participation medal that leads us to believe they are among the first ever produced for the 1904 Games.
So striking is the offered medal that perhaps its significance goes beyond its place in the production sequence. Upon recently viewing this medal, a widely respected Olympic medal specialist and author states it is the finest he's seen, with emphasis on quality of detail. In virtually all areas of collecting, beautifully preserved, aesthetically appealing examples command premium prices. In the field of numismatics, coins with like, standout traits, have often proved to be special presentation pieces, generating substantial premiums at auction (especially with premier, museum quality issues). Its technical and aesthetic merits prompt us to suspect this medal is indeed a special presentation piece, or, possibly, THE first medal received by Fair organizers for approval from manufacturer Dieges & Clust.
Its strike (raised design detail) is unsurpassed by any 1904 Olympic participation medal known. Its elevated design and definition certainly gives it the appearance of having been struck more than once (as more costly presentation pieces often are). The lettering and design on the reverse is incredibly crisp, wonderfully complemented by the remarkable detail of the victorious athlete on the obverse. Enhancing these technical attributes are shimmering, original surfaces (as originally struck over a century ago), beautifully highlighted by an elegant patina. Aside from a tiny surface speck virtually hidden on the lower rim of the obverse, this important medal is unimprovable. It is the jewel of jewels!
Unquestionably the rarest and most sought after Olympic participation medal, even the most veteran collectors regard the 1904 St. Louis as the Holy Grail of OPMs. In the baseball memorabilia hobby, its significance would be likened to the legendary T206 Honus Wagner.
Even "higher-grade" specimens, when found, display the "flat," worn look of a pocket piece. Our first and only opportunity to offer a 1904 St. Louis Olympic participation medal occurred in 2008. A higher-grade specimen for the issue, the 2008 specimen possessed the typical "flat" strike, a non-lustrous surface and minor wear, yet realized over $17,000.00 in auction!
Thanks to the efforts of many, The Modern Olympic Games continue. In honor of those, both celebrated and now, lost to time, we offer this Olympic Crown jewel.
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