7 August 2003

Collectables: Cricket Tragics

Is Don, is not so good: Legend drives the market for items with a direct and personal connection to Don Bradman during his playing days

Nostalgia aint what it used to be – today it’s big business, especially if your name was once Bradman.

Like an artist who must expire before his works soar in value, the Don’s passing in March 2001 has ushered in an era of record prices for collectibles at one end of the scale, and rapacious trading of memorabilia at the other.

Christie’s London set the benchmark in June when Bradman's baggy green cap from the 1946-47 Ashes cricket series attracted a record auction price of AUD$88,835. And last month the prodigy’s most famous ‘baggy green’, worn in his final innings in 1948, was sold privately for an unconfirmed $425,000.

Christie’s Australian head of decorative arts, Richard Gordon, says the July sale should not be cited as a new benchmark for the Bradman market simply because it was so unique. “Given that he may have never had another chance to buy it, it was clear the purchaser was prepared to go to great extremes,” says Gordon. “It now seems very unlikely to come onto the market again in the near future.”

Gordon acknowledged that the market for such genuine collectibles – items that had a direct and personal connection to Bradman during his playing days – was being driven by the legend that has built up around the Don.

“These items are steeped in such history and the man himself seems to generate such divided passions in people – he is not universally loved.”

Tell that to the purveyors of the burgeoning market in mass produced memorabilia and limited editions. Bradman’s attempts to devalue his signature by flooding the market – it is well known he would sign anything put in front of him in an effort to ‘decommercialise’ it’s significance – has done little to dull the appetite of cricket fans for anything vaguely associated with their hero.

A random search at online auction house EBAY found 124 Bradman items up for grabs ranging from a signed bat - starting reserve $9,999 and purchased from “a close friend whose grandfather was said to have known [the late] Clarrie Grimmet,” - to a used 1996 paperback on the Don, asking price $2.

In between one can bid on still more bats and books, plus stamps, coins, posters, pewter and porcelain figurines, trading cards, coasters, balls, audio tapes, videos - even a “very rare” fork and spoon set.

Just $150 will open the bidding on a shop-soiled entry ticket to the Australian’s tour match against Surrey in 1934. Bradman made 61 not out that day. Talk about tragic.

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Abridged version published in The Bulletin

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