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When cricket really was great

Mar 26, 2018

Oh dear, oh dear! The Australian cricket scandal really is a blow to a sport whose greatest teams have more often than not hailed from Sydney and Melbourne. Ball tampering may not seem the gravest of sins to non-fans, but the scale of the outrage, humiliation and collective shame is indicative of the high passions that can rule what was once the most gentlemanly of sports.

Take all of this into consideration when looking at the collectables market surrounding cricket.

Let’s start at the relatively moderate level with Gary Sobers’ six sixes ball – so controversial there is even a book written about whether what sold was the real thing – which took £26,400 at Christie’s in 2006. Moving up a level, Don Bradman’s 1946-47 Ashes bat sold for almost £42,500 in December 2012, while Sachin Tendulkar’s bat made £58,480 two years earlier.

Bradman (the greatest batsman ever, with Tendulkar) appears again with a price of £175,375 for his 1948 Invincibles tour cap.

Sets of Wisden, the cricketer’s almanac, have reached as high as £90,000, but the biggest prize of all was the collection of cricket scorebooks by Samuel Britcher, the MCC’s first official scorer, whose 1795-1806 records, set down in four books, rose to a staggering £324,000, again at Christie’s, in 2005.

Time for a change of weather… and time

Don’t forget to put your clocks and watches forward an hour this weekend. Despite the wintry scenes outside my window as I write this – and further warnings of snow and ice on the radio – March 25 marks the beginning of British Summer Time. It’s important to me because we will be holding a viewing from 10am for our upcoming Fine Painting Auction on March 28.

Several people take the credit for coming up with the idea of changing the time to suit the seasons, from Benjamin Franklin to George Hudson, an entomologist from New Zealand, who wanted more time after work to look for insects. His efforts were recognised by the award of the YK Sidney Medal in 1933 after New Zealand introduced the Summer-Time Act 1927.

We also have a relatively local figure of significance in this. Farnham-born builder William Willett, having noted how people slept through the first part of summer sunlit mornings, wrote the pamphlet The Waste of Daylight in 1907, proposing the gradual moving forwards of the clocks during the summer, thereby saving £2.5 million in early evening lighting costs. Germany and Austria’s decision to move summer time to save on coal during the First World War prompted the British to follow suit in 1916… too late for Willett, who had died the year before, aged just 58, of influenza.

A snap at just €2.4 million

A new world auction record for a camera is the ideal opportunity for reminding ourselves about all the key factors that can come together to create the perfect lot for bidding on.

The lot in question was a 1923 Leica o-series no 122 camera, which sold in Vienna on March 10 for a whopping €2.4 million (around £2.13m). It had been expected to fetch at least €400,000, but the final bid was a triumph for the auctioneers… and obviously for the vendor.

What made it so special?

Firstly, rarity. It was one of only 25 prototypes made by Leica and dates to a period two years before they started retailing cameras. Secondly, it is even rarer because its pristine condition puts it ahead of other survivors from that first series; in fact, it is one of only three examples of this model that remain in original, unworn and undamaged condition. Third, Leica are the world’s most sought-after camera brand because of their rarity and pioneering engineering.

Leica stole a march on other brands in the early days because of its models’ compact size, which made them ideal for capturing news events on the move. Effectively, a Leica became the ultimate piece of kit for war correspondents and photographers, thereby attracting a romantic cachet that others couldn’t emulate. In this example, we see its apogee.

The big auction stars from Hollywood

By the time you read this, the winners of the 2018 Academy Awards will have been announced. Certainly, if Gary Oldman has not won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Churchill in the magnificent Darkest Hour, I would consider that there is something wrong with the system.

The glamorous world of Hollywood, the star system, awards and the films themselves have long provided a rich vein of collectables for auction houses and dealers to salivate over. Prices achieved are sometime eye-popping, and the opportunity for publicity is just as appealing for those who win consignments for sale. So how about a bit of fun on that score: What makes the big prices?

Let’s start with movie posters: $1.2 million for a one of only four known surviving posters for the 1927 film Metropolis, sold in Los Angeles in 2012. How about a Marilyn Monroe dress? $385,000 bought one from her film Something’s Gotta Give, while another from River of No Return took $516,000. Christie’s sold Charlie Chaplin’s famously bendy bamboo cane for £47,800, also in 2012. But the top pieces from the stars, in reverse order, are Orson Welles’ director’s Oscar for Citizen Kane ($861,000); The Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz ($3m); The Casablanca piano ($3.4m); James Bond’s 1964 Aston Martin from Goldfinger and Thunderball ($4.1m); and the fabulous dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the Ascot scene from May Fair Lady ($4.5m).