Oar-some auction: Historic college sports prize up for bid

Apr 21, 2022, 7:05 AM | Updated: 7:16 am

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The 170-year-old prize awarded in the first U.S. intercollegiate sports competition is going up for auction next month.

Sotheby’s estimates the trophy oars from the inaugural Harvard-Yale Regatta will fetch $3-to-$5 million in online bidding May 17-24. Made of black walnut with engraved silver plaques, the oars were presented to the winning Harvard crew on Aug. 3, 1852, 17 years before the first intercollegiate football game and 43 years before the first such basketball game.

“It’s about Harvard and Yale on the surface, but what I think is truly interesting is it’s the real beginning and genesis of the rivalries in college sports that we sort of take for granted today,” said Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts. “It’s just part of America’s cultural fabric.”

The inaugural race between the Ivy League schools was held on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire after a Yale oarsman from the state struck a marketing deal with a regional railroad line looking to boost ridership. New Hampshire’s own Franklin Pierce, who was elected president three months later, presented the prize.

“The story is so American,” Austin said in an interview Wednesday. “Why it started there was just sort of luck, but it was luck interspersed with commerce and then layered with this political campaign.”

Never before auctioned, the oars were discovered decades ago by a family cleaning out the basement of a Medford, Massachusetts, rooming house they had purchased.

“They’ve been with the family for the last 40 years,” Austin said. “How they ended up in that building and where they were in the interim is sort of a mystery lost to the ages, but I think it is great that they were rediscovered.”

With a few exceptions, the regatta has been an annual event since 1859. It’s currently held on the Thames River in Connecticut. The 155th regatta, set for June 11, will be the first since 2019.

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Oar-some auction: Historic college sports prize up for bid