Olympic medals: If you don’t win them, collect them

Dave Schmidt, a Gig Harbor collector and appraiser of Olympic medals and memorabilia, twice almost earned his own trip to the five-ring games.

A wrestler and interscholastic referee of nearly 50 years, Schmidt grappled his way to the finals for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and the 1968 Games in Mexico City. He earned a position as the 1964 NCAA champion at 177 pounds and was a member of the All-Army team in 1964.

And now he collects. He says collecting coins and medals is both his passion and his avocation.

He keeps the most valuable of his Olympic items in a local vault, but recently displayed several items for The News Tribune.

His collection is not limited to medals. He also owns torches, admission tickets, pins, a banner from the 1936 Games in Berlin and related items.

“I enjoy educating the public,” he said. As the longtime president of the Tacoma-Lakewood Coin Club, he has often discussed and sometimes displayed items from his collections. He has also displayed parts of his collection at local and national coin shows.

When he attended the 1964 Olympic trials in New York, he said, “I was a bit awestruck. I was a guy from little St. Olaf College wrestling guys from Iowa and Oklahoma and the big wrestling states.”

He still owns the medal he received for participating in the tournament.

His first Olympic medal derives from the first of the Modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896.

“I liked the history behind it. It was rare. It was my first introduction to the category of what I wanted to collect,” he said.

Only once has he sold one of his collectible participation medals – from the 1904 Games – which garnered $20,000.

“The first thing that attracted me was the purity of the amateurism, which has now disappeared,” he said.

Still, he looks forward to securing a participation medal from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“I appreciate that every one of these medals was once owned by an athlete who competed,” he said.

He specializes in the participation medals given to each competitor, and he notes that the market in Olympic items has slowed, with “less action than there used to be.”

Among the items he recently displayed: a program from the 1932 Los Angeles Games, an admission ticket to the 1932 Berlin Games, an admission ticket to a 1980 Lake Placid hockey playoff, plus admission tickets to fencing and swimming at the 1948 London Games, and stamped “first day” envelopes from several Olympics.

His collection also includes items from Goodwill Games and the Eskimo Olympics, and the geography of teams depicted on items range from Gambia and France to Lebanon and Austria. One medal commemorates the loss of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, and others celebrate the ill-fated Moscow Olympics of 1980.

Although Schmidt does sell some items – rare United States, foreign coins and Olympics collectibles – he said, “Basically, I’m a collector at heart.”

What Olympics stuff is worth

Olympics-related Items and their estimated values as derived from a 2013 auction catalogue:

 • Official torch, 1948 London: $16,500.

 • Official torch, 1956 Cortina: $29,500.

 • Official torch, 1994 Lillehammer: $22,000.

 • Participation medal, 1912 Stockholm: $375.

 • Cased participation medal, 1932 Lake Placid: $12,500.

 • Participation medal, 1980 Lake Placid: $375.

 • Official poster, 1912 Stockholm: $3,750.

 • Poster promoting (unsuccessful) Denver bid for 1976 Winter Games: $300.

 • Aluminum winner’s medal from 1912 Stockholm: $1,000.

 • 1919 yearbook of Dutch Olympic Committee: $100.

 • Identity card from a member of the U.S. gold medal-winning U.S. rugby team, 1920 Antwerp: $750.

 • Official program, Feb. 13, 1936, Berlin: $225.

 • Rare 1936 presentation book for Japanese Olympic committee concerning bid for 1940 Japanese Olympics (not held): $5,000.

 • Gold-plated official’s badge, 1948 St. Mortiz: $800.

 • Pennant, 1948 London: $150.

 • Commemorative matchbox cover, with matches, 1952 Helsinki: $125.

 • Silver medal awarded in women’s judo, 2008 Beijing: $7,750.