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Running Memorabilia 101

"So what's available as running memorabilia?"

The answer is... plenty!  On this page we'll provide an overview of some of the running collectibles we've discovered. As with any sport, a multitude of interesting items have been produced through the years, but by focusing on running, you'll have to dig a little to find them.

The running collector has one major advantage over other sports... price! You'll find that since the market is a small, fringe interest as compared to the major sports (at least in the U.S.), prices are very reasonable.

New Cards | Vintage Cards | Magazines/Programs | Awards/Souvenirs | Autographs

New Cards

There have been new card sets produced in connection with the Olympics that include runners. The Centennial Olympic Games Collection was produced for the '96 Games. A beautiful set called U.S. Olympic Champions, released in '96 by Upper Deck, features Michael Johnson and a great Joan Benoit Samuelson card.  Awesome photography.  

In 1991 Impel Marketing issued the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame set. This attractive set contains some of great names in running history, including Jesse Owens, Frank Shorter, Billy Mills and Wilma Rudolph.

From 1983  comes the Greatest Olympians set by Finder Image International which includes Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, Wyomia Tyus and Rod Milburn.

*Buying Tip - It's best to purchase recent sets like these complete from a card shop or dealer. Buying and opening individual packs can be fun but in the long run you will have too many duplicates and still be trying to complete the set. It's much cheaper to purchase them as complete sets.


Vintage Cards

Here's where it gets interesting. Tobacco companys have used cards as inserts with their products for years. The most well known sets consist of baseball stars, but some have featured runners. Here are just two examples.

In 1911 Mecca/Hassan Cigarettes produced a set of running cards now known as T218's. Beautiful in their color and simplicity, the 2 1/2" x 2 7/8" cards featured long distance men as well as track stars.

The most notable runner included is Johnny Hayes, the 1908 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist in the marathon.

British tobacco companies have produced a variety of cards over the years.

Miler Jack Lovelock
on a British card from the 1930s.

A great set called Sportscasters was produced in the late 1970s. Made up of approximately 2,800 cards of many sports, 307 are running related in the U.S. edition. There were 4 editions printed in 9 different countries. Stars through the years appear, from Paavo Nurmi to Abebe Bikila to Ben Jipcho, and on and on!  The cards measure 4 3/4" x 6 1/4".

Steve Prefontaine

John Walker

Sportscasters were originally sold as part of mail order club. You subscribed and periodically received a shipment.  Many people did not continue their subscriptions, so the higher numbered cards are harder to find. Some dealers know this and price accordingly. Many dealers are less informed and wouldn't know Mike Boit from Marty Liquori, charging the same price for any track card except Jesse Owens.  Check out our Sportscasters Gallery for the cards we have available.

*Buying Tip - Sportscaster cards are not rare and dealers' prices can vary widely.  Shop around!  Buying in volume can enormously reduce the per card price.   

The best place to find vintage cards is at large regional sports memorabilia shows.  Small shows usually don't attract the vintage dealer.

*Condition is Crucia l- The best cards should look brand new regardless of age!  Damage such as blemishes, folds, tears or worn corners decrease a card's value.   TOC

Magazines and Programs

Sports magazines are becoming a common collectible. There are dealers who specialize in old Sports Illustrated issues. Running stars on covers are plentiful. Roger Bannister was featured as SI's 1954 "Sportsman of the Year" on the cover of the January 3, 1955 issue.  

Track and Field programs are far less common, but available. From local events to national meets, they appear in many varieties. There are no price guides. Negotiate and buy it when you see it, you probably won't see it again. Shows that focus on antique paper items such as "Papermania" are excellent hunting grounds.

A 1951 Penn Relays program.  

A 1927 University of Illinois track program.


Awards and Souvenirs

Medals from track meets and roadraces can be found, usually at reasonable prices.  Some medals are "generic" bearing no date or event description, simply showing an athlete or listing a finishing place, and are of limited value.  Some are inscribed with all pertinent information including the recipient's name and result.  Much better.

A 1907 New York Amateur Athletic Union track medal.


A 1922 Boston Marathon
finishers medal, missing the ribbon and clasp.

A great place to find medals is at antique shows. Some dealers will have cases filled with political buttons, small military items, etc. If you sift through the junk very often you can come up with a treasure.  

Souvenirs are endless in their variety. Olympic related items flood the market, from tacky ash trays to elegant posters. At some point you have to ask yourself, "Do I need to collect everything?" An attractive, nicely made piece cannot be ignored, but plastic Olympic keychains can.

Except for Olympic items, there are no price guides. Make your best deal.

A  souvenir postcard of the 1929 'Bunion Derby' featuring the winner John Salo. This was a race from New York to Los Angeles, a distance of 3,665 miles. Salo completed the race in 525 hours, 57 minutes, 20 seconds.  



Always a popular collectible, runners have been signing for years and dealers usually have them as a supplement to their main sports offerings. You must have trust in the dealer that an autograph is genuine. I don't think the limited running market is subject to the forgeries found in baseball, but you can't be sure of authenticity unless the dealer provides proof. (Or at least a good story.)

Prices seem arbitrary, depending on the knowledge of the dealer. As an example, I purchased the autograph of Mamo Wolde (1968 Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist) last year for $10.00 from a dealer. It has been known for a few years in the running community that Mamo is being unjustly held in prison. During the Atlanta Olympics Mamo Wolde's tragic story was broadcast. That dealer's price for Mamo's signature is now $45.00.

Autographs come in different forms with different values. A handwritten, signed letter with interesting content would be prized. See our feature on Clarence H. DeMar for a rare find! A plain card with just a signature is standard. Some autographs, known as "cuts," are clipped from documents. These are usually less valuable. Recently though, I saw a Paavo Nurmi "cut" autograph advertised for $200.00.

Emil Zatopek, triple Gold Medalist in the 1952 Helsinki Games.

Zola Budd, famous for her collision with Mary Decker Slaney.

Lists of mailing addresses of athletes are available for sale through some dealers. Many people enjoy the "sport" of writing to an athlete, requesting a signature. This is a very economical way to build a collection, with the added excitement of waiting for the return mail.  
In the end collecting is a very personal thing. The value you and I attach to an item will very greatly. At this point this is a great advantage to the running collector. The market is not dominated by price guides and bargains abound. Best of all, I keep discovering things from decades ago that I had no idea existed, but are wonderful pieces of running history.

*Our Final Buying Tip- Speak up! Antique dealers or even sportscard dealers very often do not prominently display running memorabilia because of the small demand. Ask, and very often a dealer will have something hidden away.


Article Date: December 1997

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