Antique Detective: Presentation Trophies, A Piece of History

trophy horseBy Anne Gilbert


      All kinds of presentation objects await your discovery. By the time they are discovered by an antique dealer or auction house prices zoom. Their historical importance determines their value. Yet, many trophies go unrecognized and undervalued simply because they are inscribed with the name of some long forgotten or unimportant event. Or they are not carefully examined. To the many collectors of inscribed trophies just about any kind of object that was presented to someone for an accomplishment qualified. Most common are in the sports category such as horse racing and sports medals. You’d be surprised at what turns up in pawn shops and estate sales. Would you believe an academy award statue?

      Consider something as humble as a silver-plate cup, inscribed, “To Alice for her years of service with the telephone Company?”  Not worth a second glance ? But what if on the other side it was inscribed, “from her friend Alexander Graham Bell?”  What about a presentation ironstone pitcher, made by a New Jersey pottery company and inscribed “Hudson Democratic Society 1891?”
baby trophy cup
On the other side it was decorated with “Liberty and Prosperity” showing women figures dancing around the Great Seal of the state of New Jersey. When it came to auction several years ago it sold for over $1,500.


Several factors determine value. If the piece was given to an important person it may have historical significance. It can have collector interest if it represents a type of activity or function no longer in existence. An example would be the silver trumpets used by 19th century fire fighters. They were engraved and presented for heroic deeds.


      Another example would be  the silver peace medals given to Native Americans, politicians, military men and even school-patrol boys.


CLUES: Some of the most valuable pieces are small. One lucky collector discovered a rare Native American Peace medal at a house sale in Chicago. It was priced at $25 and nobody seemed to know or care what it was. Another collector found a small engraved loving cup commemorating a forgotten woman’s work in the Suffragette movement. It was in scribed “Presented by the New York City Suffrage League, December 4, 1885.


      To get an idea of the scope, visit one of the finest collections of American Presentation Pieces housed in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of History and Technology in Washington, D.C. Scroll the internet for sale items.


PHOTO CAPTIONS: (1) Baby marathon trophy cup. 1st prize. Silverplate. PHOTO CREDIT: (1) EBAY (2) “The Croston Longton Cup. “  Trophy. Sterling silver.

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