Home Valuable stamps “It’s all about the torches”: Olympic memorabilia are expensive for collectors

“It’s all about the torches”: Olympic memorabilia are expensive for collectors


Olympic torches can sell for over $300,000

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Somewhere, and exactly where Corey Hirsch can’t tell, is a series of postcards the retired NHL goaltender wrote to friends and family from Gavle, Sweden. in the spring of 1995.


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Each postcard featured a famous Swedish engraved limited edition postage stamp, issued to coincide with the start of that year’s Ice Hockey World Championship tournament. Hirsch, now a Vancouver Canucks broadcaster, was playing for Canada at the time. The stamp, however, depicted an event that hockey aficionados, especially those with Swedish ties, referred to then and now: the Forsberg Goal.

He was scored the previous winter at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, by Sweden’s Peter Forsberg, who pulled a sprawling Hirsch out of his metaphorical jockstrap in a shootout win over Canada, giving gold to the Swedes. It also gave the goalkeeper something to write home about a year later, as the Swedish Postal Service produced a stamp featuring the famous deke the day after the Olympic victory.

“I have some of the stamps somewhere in storage,” said Hirsch, who initially protested the stamp but eventually warmed to the philatelic tribute. “And I sent a bunch of postcards to my buddies and my mom and dad, but who knows where they are now.”

Olympic philatelists approach Hirsch “all the time”, he said, asking him to sign envelopes with the Swedish stamp attached. He always obliges, understanding that on the market for Olympic souvenirs, stamps, even signed ones, do not have any particular value. (A used Hirsch can be yours for less than $50 on eBay.)

An envelope with a branded Corery Hirsch on Peter Forsberg during the 1994 Winter Olympics stamp affixed to it.
An envelope with a branded Corery Hirsch on Peter Forsberg during the 1994 Winter Olympics stamp affixed to it. The envelope is signed by Gary Hershorn, a photojournalist whose photograph capturing the moment of the Olympics was adapted by the Swedish Postal Service to help render the famous stamp. Photo by an Ottawa area philatelist

But stamps are just one corner of a much larger market for Olympic collectibles. Souvenir hunters really do shell out big bucks for gold medals, as one might have guessed – a Jesse Owens gold medal from 1936 would have sold for $1.47 million a decade ago – and torches, as one probably wouldn’t.


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“Torches can sell for over US$300,000,” said Ingrid O’Neil, universally recognized among collectors as the oldest Olympic auction, which has held three a year, every year, since 1990.

Ingrid O’Neil Auctions, Sports and Olympic Memorabilia has buyers around the world, and she has worked with the United States Olympic Committee, as well as the Brazilian Olympic Committee, an experience that has led to a fight with the Brazilian customs regarding incoming Olympic artifacts that won her over. stop holding live auctions.

“I don’t even want to go into what happened in Rio,” she said.

Torches can sell for over US$300,000

Ingrid O’Neil

Explaining the appeal of torch collecting is a much less difficult subject for the California-based grandmother. Unbeknownst to many, more than one torch is produced for an Olympic Torch Relay. In other words, the torch you see lighting the Olympic cauldron to open the Games is not the same one that lit months earlier and emanated from Olympia, Greece.

Serious collectors generally covet torches, but particularly those that are less plentiful, such as the 23 made for the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.

Canadians, O’Neil notes, are generally more interested in collecting hockey memorabilia, and so the market for torches, medals and the like tends to be quite thin here, beyond a select group of buyers. high-end, including Usman Tahir Jutt, a Calgary restaurateur and philanthropist.

“For me, it’s all about torches,” the 37-year-old said. “Everyone knows the Olympic flame. It’s steeped in tradition, and you get these torch design briefs that I think represent the best in art, design – these things are marvels – because they have to look cool , and they must not weigh anything, because people have run with them.


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Everyone knows the Olympic flame. It is steeped in tradition

Usman Tahir Jutt

Jutt was an art collector when his interest in torches first arose seven years ago. Several thousand dollars later, he amassed a large collection of torches. He won’t say how many torches he owns, but his collection started with a 1988 Calgary Olympic torch, of which about 100 were produced, which he purchased from Kijiji.

“It’s heavier than most torches, so you can’t really go long distances with it, and it looks clunky – it literally looks like the Calgary Tower – but I’m from Calgary, so… .”

And so he bought the torch. Today, he sits in a booth behind his desk at his Calgary office. Kids are known to play with it, and adults often ask about its origins, creating an opening for a torch story that Jutt never tires of telling.

Alongside the Calgary torch is a larger Montreal 1976 torch designed to project a futuristic vibe, as well as a Vancouver 2010 torch, a streamlined number created by Bombardier Inc., to complement its Canadian Olympic set.

“I’m looking to collect all the torches,” Jutt said. “But it’s the effort of a lifetime. Really, it is an impossible task.

I seek to collect all the torches

Usman Tahir Jutt

Well, maybe not entirely impossible, depending on how much money someone is willing to spend and how much time someone has to invest in the hunt. With two young children at home, Jutt currently has no time, but maybe one day.

It’s worth being prepared because it’s impossible to predict when a torch will go on sale, especially rare ones, O’Neil said. She has some crazy stories, including one about a European matriarch and the strange candlestick on the dining room table that her kids didn’t pay much attention to.


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“His children didn’t find out until later that the candlestick was actually a torch from Stockholm,” O’Neil said.

It was a lucrative discovery: only a handful of torches from Stockholm are known, and two of them are already kept in a Swedish museum. The candleholder/torch sold at auction for just under US$500,000, about 10,000 times more than a “used” Corey Hirsch postage stamp goes these days.

But Hirsch’s Olympic memorabilia are worth far more than the cost of an actual stamp. The nostalgia, the history, participating in a fleeting Olympic moment that doesn’t seem to age, even as former hockey players do, is priceless. Imagine: no Forsberg, no Hirsch, no Lillehammer, no postcards for a retired keeper to ponder 28 years later.

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The pads that Hirsch wore when Forsberg performed the deke are in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. His daughter keeps his silver medal, which he brings to events when he talks about mental health and living, like him, with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Hirsch also held on to his gloves and mask. If he had known, he might also have considered getting an Lillehammer torch, because buying one today costs around $60,000.

“I should have collected more at the Olympics, but I was just a kid back then,” he said. “You don’t think how important those Olympic moments can still be to people, even years later.”

Most people don’t think of collecting stamps or torches, or a grandmother in California who holds world-class Olympic auctions three times a year, only by mail – thanks to Rio.

“You could specialize in Canada,” O’Neil said, offering a helpful collection tip. “There are so many possibilities with the Olympics; it all depends on what you want and how much money you are willing to spend.

• Email: joconnor@nationalpost.com | Twitter: oconnorecrit



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