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Original handwritten Olympic manifesto to auction at Sotheby’s


The original handwritten manifesto that inspired the modern Olympic Games is heading for auction at Sotheby’s in New York.

The 14-page manuscript was written by the French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee.

He presented his ideas as a speech to the French Athletics Association in 1892, in which he passionately advocated “this grandiose and beneficent work: the re-establishment of the Olympic Games”.

Two years later he founded the IOC and the first modern Games took place in Athens in 1896, creating what is now the world’s biggest sports tournament with competitors from more than 200 countries.

Coubertin’s handwritten speech will now hit the auction block for the very first time at Sotheby’s in New York on December 18, where it’s expected to sell for $700,000 – $1 million.

“This manifesto of the Olympic Games represents one of the most important documents in the history of sport and culture,” said Richard Austin, head of Sotheby’s book and manuscript department.

“The modern Olympic Games are one of the most important global shared human experiences, if not the most, and represents a universal belief in the human spirit.”

Pierre de Coubertin’s original handwritten speech, regarded as the founding document of the modern Olympic movement, estimated at $700,000 – $1 million (Image: Sotheby’s)

Pierre de Coubertin (1863 – 1937) was a French educator who believed sport had the power to bring nations together and inspire society as a whole.

His passion was one of the driving forces behind the revival of the ancient Greek tradition, in which the pursuit of athletic excellence was seen as a noble endeavour in itself.

Coubertin’s philosophy, and his vision for the modern games, was summed up when he wrote: “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Following the reestablishment of the Games in 1896, Coubertin’s handwritten speech became regarded as the founding document of the modern Olympic movement.

However the speech was never published, and Coubertin kept his original manuscript concealed throughout his lifetime.

When he passed away in 1937, his family donated all his possessions to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but the manuscript was not amongst them, and its whereabouts remained a mystery for decades.

Then in the mid-1990s the French political analyst the Marquis Francois d’Amat began a personal quest to track down Coubertin’s original speech.

He spent years tracking down leads and scouring antiques markets throughout Europe and the U.S, but to no avail – until the hunt finally led him to a private collector in Switzerland, and a Geneva bank vault where the speech had lay hidden for years.

Having been rediscovered, the text of the speech was published for the first time in 1994 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the IOC.

Due to its fragility the original manuscript has never been publically exhibited, although a copy was displayed in China during the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, and again in Copenhagen during the 2009 Olympic Congress.

Although it has changed hands privately over the years, the document has never been offered for sale on the open market before, and looks likely to attract worldwide attention in the lead up to next year’s 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

The significance of the manuscript could see bidding surpass the high estimate of $1 million, and perhaps even challenge the auction record for any piece of Olympic history, set by Jesse Owens’ 1936 Olympic Gold medal which sold at SCP Auctions in 2013 for $1.46 million.

In recent years, several 19th century documents which formed the foundations of modern sport have appeared at auction, with many achieving strong seven-figure results.

In December 2010 the original founding rules of basketball, handwritten in 1891 by the sport’s inventor James Naismith, sold at Sotheby’s for $4.33 million, setting a world record price for any sporting document which remains to this day.

In 2011 the earliest-known set of rules for professional football, owned by the world’s oldest club Sheffield F.C, sold at Sotheby’s in London for £881,250 ($1.42 million).

And in 2016 an early document entitled ‘The Laws of Baseball’, also written in 1857 by Daniel ‘Doc Adams and described as “the Magna Carta of baseball”, sold at SCP Auctions for $3.3 million.

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