By Charles Passy
If you’re an Olympic fanatic, why not carry the torch for the games – literally? Yes, genuine Olympic torches, including the same ones carried in the weeks and days leading up to the London summer showcase, have found their way on to the memorabilia market. And they’re going for some very gold-medal-worthy prices on eBay. An Australian dealer is hawking a torch for $41,000, touting the “chance to own an OFFICIAL piece of Olympic history” and describing the cone-shaped collectible as a “magnificent piece” that’s “beautifully engineered.” Another seller prices a torch at a more “modest” $4,900, but concedes it lacks “the burner system inside” (loose translation: good luck lighting the thing). Still, the seller says it could be a “fantastic” piece “for your sporting memorabilia collection.”
The only thing that may be fantastic about these flame-carrying gizmos is the price. At best, say collecting pros, there’s a small market for Olympic memorabilia – and a smaller one for Olympic torches specifically — and that doesn’t bode well for anyone hoping to see the kind of returns on investment associated with other rarities, such as art, antiques or even certain baseball cards. More to the point: If you’re going to buy, the worst time to do so is – you guessed it – during the games, when Olympic fever tends to inflate the prices. Craig R. Perlow, an expert on Olympics memorabilia who runs the Olympian Artifacts site, says mass-produced torches – at least 8,000 were reportedly made for the London games – typically command a price of about $2,000 after Olympic fever cools off. The figure could eventually go up from there, Perlow adds, but he says that collectors need to be in it for the long run – more like a marathon than, say, a 3,000-meter race.
For those looking for perhaps a quicker or more dramatic profit, Perlow suggests considering Olympic items with a crossover appeal, meaning ones that could command attention from a broader range of fans and collectors because of the athletes involved. He points to Muhammad Ali-related Olympic collectibles or basketball “Dream Team” pieces (Perlow recently spotted Charles Barkley’s Olympic credentials from the ’92 games). Of course, if you’re still carrying the torch for Olympic torches, there’s another possibility: buy a replica. British toymaker Corgi produced a miniature version of the 2012 model. The tiny torch proved so popular that Corgi has apparently sold out of its stock, but no worry: We still found one on eBay for a mere $20 – shipping included.