Sotheby’s Auctions Early Artifacts of Soccer

Last month, on the thirteenth, Sotheby’s held their English Literature, History, Children’s Books & Illustrations sale in London. Letters, medical drawings, rare books, and journals were among the items auctioned off at this event, which grossed just under 2,650,000 pounds, including buyer’s premium. One of the highlights of the day was The Earliest Rules and Historic Archive of the World’s First Football Club, which brought in 881,250 pounds.

Sheffield, the football organization, or soccer as it is known in the United States, whose documents were offered, was formed in 1857. It was largely responsible for inventing and refining the official rules of the game. The catalog entry associated with these items discusses the significance of this organization and its papers. It states “The club… was also the first expression of modern footballing culture: the first time football was revealed as an unrivalled spectator sport, that the excitement of inter-club competition was first experienced, and that the football fan first revealed his loyalty and passion.”

The lot was comprised of texts pertaining to Sheffield and the history of soccer, including the only known draft of the organization’s rules of the sport from its first printing. In addition to the original, these papers contain the only known surviving copy of the revised 1862 edition of a document titled Rules, Regulations, & Laws of the Sheffield Foot-Ball Club, as well as numerous later publications.

Also featured were several journals filled with minutes from club meetings. Touching on a wide range of topics, they address everything from the appointment of officers to ensuring the availability of funds for the purchase of footballs and beer. The minutes also document adaptations to the initial guidelines of the game. The introduction of the offside rule, for example, is noted and its process of implementation explained in an entry from the 25th of September, 1865.

The next item in the lot was a notebook filled with match reports. These articles present a complete overview of the games played, mentioning date, location, opposing team, names of players, result, and even commentary on fans. The report from one match against a team named Hallam notes, “[Hallam] appeared to have many partisans present, and when they succeeded in ‘downing’ a man, their ardent friends were noisily jubilant. At one time it appeared likely that the match would be turned into a general fight…”

The final item was a file containing correspondence and articles on the early days of the Sheffield club. These documents date from the first decade of the Nineteenth Century and are mostly reminiscences about the earliest official football matches, but also include a history of the institution written for the club’s 50th anniversary.

Sotheby’s opened in 1744 when its founder, Samuel Baker, auctioned off Sir John Stanley’s library in London. Since then, it has expanded to include 90 locations in 40 countries, holding roughly 250 auctions a year. The next sale to take place in the London office will be on September 6th, and will feature the Philatelic Collection of Lord Steinberg Great Britain Mint Multiples.