In May, Sotheby’s, one of the world’s largest brokers of fine arts and luxury goods, will host an online auction for the Yale-Harvard Regatta 1852 trophy oars — estimated to be worth three to five million dollars. 

The Yale-Harvard Regatta, commonly known as The Race, is America’s oldest collegiate athletic competition. Since its inception in 1852, the race has annually hosted men’s heavyweight crews of Yale and Harvard with exceptions such as major world wars and the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 1878, The Race has been held in New London, CT, where both Yale and Harvard own permanent compounds. Yale’s Gales Ferry Boathouse is located 54 miles from New Haven and Harvard’s Red Top Boathouse is 108 miles from Cambridge. The 1852 oars were presented to the winning Harvard crew by General Franklin Pierce, who became the 14th president of the United States a year later. After being lost to history and rediscovered about 30 years ago, the oars will appear at auction for the first time this May.   

“These trophy oars mark the beginning of American intercollegiate sports, and stand as a significant relic of American history,” Richard Austin, Sotheby’s Head of Books & Manuscripts, wrote in a press release. “These icons of sport predate the Civil War, and their incredible chance rediscovery four decades ago saved them from being lost forever. Sotheby’s holds a long standing track record of offering the most important sports artifacts, and we’re thrilled to once again present for sale a landmark piece of American sports history.” 

In 1843, Yale University founded the first collegiate crew team in the United States. Harvard University followed a year later by founding their boat club. Although both organizations primarily served social purposes, in 1852 Yale oarsman James Whiton suggested a race between Yale and Harvard to test the “might” of the two universities’ rowers. Whiton met the superintendent of the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad James Whiton, who also encouraged the proposal for a race. 

This May, Sotheby’s will auction the 1852 Trophy Oars from the inaugural Yale-Harvard Regatta. Established in 1744, Sotheby’s is a British-founded American multinational corporation, one of the world’s largest brokers of fine and decorative art and luxury. Sotheby’s operates through auctions and buy-now channels including private sales, e-commerce and retail in order to preserve fine art and rare objects, promote access and connoisseurship. 

The lot auction is worth an estimate of three to five million. The oars were discovered 30 years ago in the basement of a house in Medford, Massachusetts. Since that time, they have remained in the family’s private collection. 

The online sale will be open for the bidding period between May 17 and 24. There will be an exhibition at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries open to the public from May 19 to May 23.

After a three-year hiatus, the next Yale-Harvard Regatta will take place on June 11 in New London, CT. 

Gamze covers music news for the Arts desk and writes for the WKND. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray majoring in psychology and humanities.
Nicole Rodriguez currently serves as a Science and Technology editor for the Yale Daily News. She previously covered the Astronomy Department, intramurals and Crew as a staff reporter. Originally from New York, she is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin majoring in economics.