Michael Phelps is very, very rich. He’s worth tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals and gets paid a pretty sum for his accomplishments in the pool.
He also owns a lot of precious metal.
After 22 gold medals in four Olympic games, if Phelps wanted to sell his collection it would probably fetch millions of dollars, sports memorabilia appraisers say.
Olympic gold medals have a tiny but dedicated collector following. A single medal from a modern Olympiad is worth upward of $30,000, depending on the athlete. Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko sold his 1994 medal for $1 million in 2012. Mark Wells, a member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team, sold his in 2002 for $40,000.
Phelps’s medals are worth at least $100,000 a pop, maybe more if they're from an especially noteworthy race. The legend of Michael Phelps, the most awarded Olympic athlete of all time, is worth a whole lot of money.
"There’s something about what just happened [in Rio de Janeiro] that makes him different,” said Brian Steiner, the chief executive of memorabilia appraisal at auction house Steiner Sports. “This was the one that somehow catapulted him to some other kind of greatness.”
As scrap metal, Phelps’s golds are worth more than $10,000. “Gold” medals since the 1912 games in Stockholm aren’t actually made of gold. They’re gold-plated — about 1 percent gold — with the rest an alloy of silver and copper.
The Rio gold medals weigh 500 grams, the heaviest medal ever awarded in a summer games. So far, Phelps has won four of them. That’s $1,144.80 worth of gold this year and another $1,320.60 in silver.
It’s a good time to hold precious metals. After the British vote to leave the European Union, investors grabbed ahold of gold and silver instead of foreign currencies like the British pound and the euro. Gold prices are up nearly 8 percent since Brexit, trading at $1,355.50 an ounce, or $47 a gram. Silver prices are up nearly 20 percent, trading at $20.22 an ounce.
“With awards there is an intrinsic value, but with medals it’s really only what is without any intrinsic value,” said Mike Provenzale, sports production manager at Heritage Auctions. “It’s all about what it is and not what it’s made of.”
Heritage sells a lot of NBA and NFL championship rings loaded with diamonds and gold. Those do have intrinsic value, Provenzale said. As a gaudy ring, it’s probably worth $10,000. But buyers will spend $20,000 on them: half for the cost of the materials, half because they really love their favorite teams.
Olympic medals, even vintage medals, don’t work like that. Heritage is selling a diving medal from the 1936 games in Berlin. It’s intrinsic value, adjusted for 2016 gold and silver prices, is less than $100. Provenzale still expects it to sell at auction at the end of the month for more than $20,000.
Now is the time to sell Olympic memorabilia, appraisers say. Collectors are excited about the games capturing people’s imagination worldwide. In a month, they won’t have the same pull. Then NFL football season starts.
So Olympians, if you’re reading, this is the moment to hit the auction block.
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