Awarded to Four-Mile Men's Relay Winner George B. Underwood1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics Gold Medal. It was the very first Olympic Games to institute the policy of issuing Gold, Silver and Bronze medals for first, second and third place finishes respectively, a historical relevance that plays only a partial role in the extraordinary desirability of this shimmering relic of international competition. These first Games to be contested outside the boundaries of the continent of Europe featured twelve nations fielding 651 athletes in total (six of them women) in ninety-one events derived from seventeen sports. Like the 1900 Paris Games that preceded them, the St. Louis Games proved to be something of a sideshow to the World's Fair, blurring the lines between what was considered an actual "Olympic" event, and what was merely an offshoot of the Fair.
Educated Olympics collectors are aware of the distinction, however, and understand the significant premium that medals presented for the "official" Olympic events carry. This is just such a piece, awarded to George B. Underwood, a member of the Four-Mile Men's Relay team. Just two teams of five men competed, nine Americans and one Frenchman, with the winning time of 21:17.8 for the New York Athletic Club, besting the Chicago Athletic Association.
Just seventy-eight Gold Medals were issued at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, and from the few that have surfaced in the hobby experts have learned that only a portion are engraved with the winners' names. This example is not engraved, but comes to us from a direct family descendant of Underwood, and his letter of provenance will attend. The metal survives in essentially pristine condition, though lacking the original colored ribbon as is typical of the few specimens that have surfaced.
Obverse announces "Olympiad 1904" with an image of a victorious athlete holding a wreath in the foreground, and ancient Greek athletes and the Acropolis in the background. Tiny "Dieges & Clust" imprint from maker appears below the wreath. Reverse holds a standing Nike with palm branch and laurel wreath, with a bust of Jupiter at left. Text states, "Universal Exposition, St. Louis U.S.A."
Heritage was fortunate to offer a participation medal from these games in our August 2012 Platinum Night auction, an important relic that garnered $17,925 in spirited bidding. Winner's medals, of course, are considerably more scarce, almost never made available in the collecting hobby. In short, if there was ever a time to go for the Gold, that time is now.
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