While the sale of Captain Cook's pistol for a record-shattering $222,000, including buyer's premium, was the highlight of Leski's auction in Melbourne on February 14, there were also records being set in the sporting section.
Listed was an almost-complete collection of Melbourne Cricket Club membership badges, from the first year through to the late 1970s.
These badges are classified as sporting memorabilia but they also have value as status symbols. They give the bearer admittance to the members' section at the MCG and, some would say, direct entry into the upper levels of the Melbourne establishment. Many people with social aspirations place their children on the club's waiting list before they are even born.
Charles Leski says these badges appear periodically at his auctions but this was the first time he has seen a nearly complete collection from the period before 1920, and it was the first time he had offered the first MCC badge, produced for the 1901-02 season.
No date appears on the surface of the badge, supposedly because it was made in London by Bowman Limited and they were unable to guarantee its delivery in time. This first design features the Melbourne coat of arms. Subsequent MCC badges were produced by a variety of local manufacturers, with Stokes the most prominent.
Charles Leski gave speculative estimates of $300 to $400 for the first two badges, followed by $200 to $250 for the other examples from the first two decades. Two badges from the World War I period are scarce and were also given estimates of $300 to $400. Those produced after 1920 were estimated at $150 to $200, then down to $100 to $150 for later examples.
What happened next amazed even an auction veteran like Leski.
Lot 185, the first MCC badge, was keenly contested by six to eight bidders and eventually sold for $4750 ($5795 including buyer's premium). That's more than 10 times the higher estimate.
The second medal, dated 1902-03, also inspired a bidding war, eventually selling for $3050, including buyer's premium. And so it continued with a core group of bidders slugging it out on the floor.
Total presale estimates for the badges were $4150 to $5150. They sold for more than $14,000 on the night, not including three unsold lots.
The badges came from one family who, incredibly, found them stored in a hessian bag in a garden shed in the family home. It's thought the collection was started by their great-grandfather.
At one stage there was talk of tossing them out until someone recommended they should have them valued. Wise advice as it turns out.
After the Leski sale there is one MCC badge that has skyrocketed in value. It's the one dated 1903-04 that wasn't in the hessian bag. Collectors who want a complete set will now be after this missing link. Judging by recent results, they'll be happy to pay top dollar for it.