Wimbledon Tennis Memorabilia: 10 Smashing Items
Established in 1877, the Wimbledon Tennis Championships is the world's most famous tennis tournament and an integral part of the British summertime. Here are ten items of memorabilia spanning more than a century of tennis history, from some of the greatest players ever to swing a racquet...
10) Helen Wills' 1927 winner's medal
Helen Wills is regarded as perhaps the first American woman to become an internationally famous athlete. During her 16-year career, from 1922 until 1938, she won a remarkable 31 Grand Slam tournament titles including seven singles titles at the U.S Open and eight at Wimbledon. Charlie Chaplin once stated that "the movement of Helen Wills playing tennis" was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.
Wills' final title came at Wimbledon in 1938, and she finished her career with a remarkable record of 63 wins and just 2 losses at the All England Club. Having retired from tennis altogether during WWII, due to suffering a serious dog bite on her finger, she lived to the age of 92 and found success as an artist in her later years.
In 2013, Heritage Auctioneers in Dallas sold a collection of Wills' numerous tennis trophies and medals for a total of more than $175,000. Amongst the collection was her first Wimbledon Ladies Singles title medal dating from 1927, which sold for $10,157.
9) Blanche Bingley’s 1886 winner's bracelet
The oldest item on our list dates from 1886, and the earliest days of the tournament. This gold bracelet was awarded to Blanche Bingley, the British player who won only the third Ladies Singles title after it was introduced in 1884.
Bingley was one of the finest female players of her day, with a career that included six Wimbledon singles titles and a record 13 appearances in the final. Her tennis career lasted an impressive 28 years, and she made her final Wimbledon appearance in 1912 at the age of 48. She was also married to George Hillyard, one of the most successful male tennis stars of his day, who also served as the director of The Championships at Wimbledon between 1907 and 1925.
Bingley's gold winner's bracelet from the 1886 championships sold during a Guernsey's auction in 2009 for $18,000 (approx. £11,277).
8) Bjorn Borg’s 1981 final racquet
Bjorn Borg is one of the most prolific players in tennis history, the first man to win 11 Grand Slam titles and a five-time Wimbledon champion. He remains one of the most iconic figures in the sport, and was voted as the greatest sportsman in Swedish history. As fellow Grand Slam champion Ilie Năstase once said, "We're playing tennis, and he's playing something else".
In June 2006 Borg announced he would sell his Wimbledon trophies and two rackets used in winning finals at auction through Bonhams. Upon hearing the news, friends and fellow professionals such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi called Borg to dissuade him and offered to buy the collection to keep it together. Having reconsidered, Borg eventually bought the items back for an undisclosed fee.
Amongst the few pieces of Bjorg memorabilia to ever come to auction is this racquet, used during the 1981 men's singles final against John McEnroe. The match saw Borg's incredible 41-match winning streak at Wimbledon come to an end, and he lost the final after winning the past five tournaments. The racquet sold at Christie’s in 2007 for £13,200 ($26,638).
7) Arthur Ashe’s 1971 runner's up medal
Arthur Ashe remains the only black player to have won the men's singles titles at Wimbledon, the U.S Open and the Australian Open, and was the first African-American selected for the U.S Davis Cup team. His three Grand Slam titles rank him amongst the most successful players in US history, and he retired in 1980 with a record of 818 wins, 260 losses and 51 titles.
In 1988 Ashe was diagnosed as HIV positive, having contracted the virus from blood transfusions during a heart bypass operation in 1983. Having publically announced his illness in 1992, he became an advocate for HIV and AIDS charities and founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, prior to his death in 1993. A few months after his death, Ashe was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.
Ashe's first appearance in a Wimbledon final came in 1971 when, along with partner Dennis Ralston, he lost the Men's Doubles final to the Australian pairing of Rod Laver and Roy Emerson. In 2013 Ashe's runner-up medal from the final was sold through Nate D. Sanders auctioneers, fetching a price of $21,013 (approx. £13,540).
6) Fred Perry’s 1934 final racquet
Fred Perry is the most successful British player in tennis history, with a record of eight Grand Slam victories, and was also the first player in history to complete a career Grand Slam, having won each of the four major open titles by the age of 26.
A year later, following his third triumph at Wimbledon, Perry turned professional and was immediately ostracised by the upper-class British tennis establishment. He moved to the US, became a US citizen, and embarked on a series of tours playing exhibition matches against the former Wimbledon champion Ellsworth Vines, before being drafted into the US Air Force during WWII. After the war he helped design the now-iconic Fred Perry tennis shirt, which formed the basis of an international clothing label.
This wooden Slazenger racquet was used by Perry during his first Wimbledon title victory in 1934, in which he beat Australian Jack Crawford in straight sets. Bearing the personalized monogram “F.J.P”, it sold for £23,000 ($38.035) at a Christie’s auction in 1997.
5) 1933 Wimbledon tournament poster
This poster for the 1933 tournament was designed by the celebrated British printmaker Sybil Andrews, working under the pseudonym Andrew Power. Andrews was renowned for her modernist lino cut prints, and she helped establish The Grosvenor School of Modern Art in 1925, before returning to her former profession as a welder at the outbreak of WWII.
Following the war she moved to Canada with her husband Walter Morgan, and was elected to the Society of Canadian Painters, Etchers and Engravers. Today her works are popular with Canadian collectors, with more than 1,000 of her prints housed at the Glenbow Museum.
Andrews' poster for the 1933 tournament was displayed prominently throughout the London Underground system, offering directions to the event for visitors, and was voted as one of the greatest poster designs in the history of the Underground. An original copy of the poster sold at Christie’s in October 2012 for £25,000 ($40,250).
4) Bjorn Borg's miniature 1976 winner's trophy
In 1976 Bjorn Borg began an incredible run which saw him win the Wimbledon men's singles title for five consecutive years, breaking Fred Perry's record of three consecutive wins which had stood since 1936. The Swedish superstar saw off challenges from Ilie Năstase, Jimmy Conners, Roscoe Tanner and John McEnroe, before finally losing to McEnroe in the 1981 final – the last Wimbledon tournament Borg played in before his early retirement at the age of just 26.
This miniature version of the President’s Cup, awarded to Borg for his historic first title in 1976, is the most valuable item of his Wimbledon memorabilia to ever end up on the auction block. It sold for £26,400 at Christie’s in 2007.
3) Fred Perry’s 1936 winner's trophy
From 1905 until 1949, the winner of the Wimbledon men's singles title was awarded the Renshaw Cup, named after William Renshaw, a former British tennis champion who had won the Wimbledon title himself seven times during the 1880s.
This particular trophy was won by British player Fred Perry, during the last of his three Wimbledon titles in 1936. He swept past the injured German star Gottfreid von Cramm 6–1, 6–1, 6–0 in just 45 minutes, making it the fastest Wimbledon final played in the 20th century and the second-fastest overall. It would be 42 years before another player won three consecutive men's titles at Wimbledon, and a further 77 years before another British player claimed the title.
A few weeks later Perry won his final Grand Slam title, the US Open, before turning pro and moving permanently to America in the face of criticism from the British establishment.
This copy of the trophy from Perry's final Wimbledon victory sold at Christie’s in 2006 for £31,200 ($56,878).
2) Ellsworth Vine's 1932 winner's trophy
Ellsworth Vines was one of America's finest tennis players during the 1930s, winning three Grand Slam singles championships during his career including the Wimbledon title in 1932. Fellow U.S player Jack Kramer once described Vines as "dressed like Fred Astaire and hitting shots like Babe Ruth", and he was renowned for his powerful all-round game.
However, his skill was not matched with a true passion for tennis, and by the age of 28 he had retired from the game to become a professional golfer. He went on to become one of America's leading players on the PGA tour, and was later described as "one of the greatest all-around athletes of the pre-war era".
His victory at Wimbledon in 1932 came against the home favourite, British player Henry Wilfred 'Bunny' Austin, the first tennis player to ever wear shorts. Ellsworth remained undistracted by the sight of Austin's legs, and won in straight sets 6-4, 6-2, 6-0.
Described as "one of the most important tennis artefacts ever to reach the hobby's auction block", this historic trophy sold at Heritage Auctions in 2013 for $47,800.
1) Bill Tilden’s 1920 winner's trophy
American tennis player 'Big' Bill Tilden is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. He dominated the sport during the 1920s, holding the number 1 ranking for seven years and winning 10 Grand Slam titles, including six consecutive US Open championships and three Wimbledon singles titles. Tilden also lived the high life, keeping a suite at the famous Algonquin Hotel in New York and starring in a series of self-produced Broadway shows.
Tilden won two consecutive Wimbledon championships in 1920 and 1921, with his third and final title coming in 1930. His first triumph came against Australian Gerald Patterson, making Tilden the first American player in history to win at Wimbledon.
His first silver 1920 trophy holds the current auction record for any piece of Wimbledon tennis memorabilia, having sold at Christie's in 1992 for $71,500 (approx £42,000).
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