For lovers cricket, there is a wealth of collectable memorabilia of both the game's heroes and its less exalted practitioners.
The game of cricket, impenetrable to outsiders, has inspired devotion in its supporters throughout its long history. In England, it enjoyed a golden age in the Edwardian period, when test matches and county games were followed by huge numbers of people, either in the flesh or in lengthy newspaper reports, and the top players were household names.
Cricket has never been a minority sport. It was played in public schools and public parks, on village greens and - with a few necessary minor alterations to the laws - in the back streets of industrial towns. Schoolboys of all classes were brought up to play cricket not just because it was healthy exercise, but also because it was considered character-building.
The lad who conducted himself well on the field, it was thought, would grow into a mature, honourable man. The idea of cricket as a metaphor for life resulted in expressions such as 'Batting on a sticky wicket', 'Playing with a straight bat' and 'It's not cricket' enriching everyday language.
TRUSTY CRICKET BATS
The most important, most personal piece of cricket equipment is the bat. It began as a crude, club-like implement, but as the game developed, it evolved to its present well-balanced shape and size. The maximum length of
95cm / 38inches and width of 11cm / 4¼ inches are laid down by law, but the total weight and the proportion of the blade to the handle are a matter of personal preference.
Until the mid-19th century, bats were made all in one piece. Then the spring handle was introduced, acting as a shock absorber. The bats used by the legendary W G Grace were more or less the same as those used today. The rubber covering of the twine binding of the handle was introduced towards the end of Grace's career, in the Edwardian period.
There is something quintessentially English about cricket - though some Australians may dispute this - and its
paraphernalia attracts young and old aficionados alike.
CRICKET COLLECTOR'S NOTES
The value and collectability of a cricket bat come largely from its associations. Signed bats are reasonably common. Their value depends more on the status of a player or the importance of the event commemorated than on condition, although a well-cared-for bat will fetch more than one that's falling apart.
The same principle applies to other items, such as clothing, trophies (where the value also depends on their precious metal content), souvenir programmes and photographs of players, teams or matches. Novelty items are less likely to be associated with great deeds on the pitch (unless they are inscribed), so their value depends on other factors, such as rarity and skill in manufacture.
Items associated with famous names, with the possible exceptions of autographs and other paper memorabilia, may be priced out of most people's range, but there are fascinating collections to be made if you set your sights a little lower. Try collecting kit, photographs, equipment and other material related to a club or school team, for example.
Cricketing books form a major field of interest in themselves. Cricket has by far the richest literature of any sport. Most famous players have committed themselves to print at some time (often in ghosted autobiographies), while
Wisdens Cricketers Almanack, first published in 1864, is the most famous yearbook in sport. Complete sets are much sought after, but rarely come on the market. Single volumes of early years can be valuable.
BUYING CRICKET MEMORABILIA
It is only fairly recently that sporting memorabilia has become established as a significant specialist field in the antiques and collecting world, and just a few dealers specialize in it. However, the cheaper items, such as postcards and cigarette cards, can be picked up in junk shops, and at the other end of the scale, the major auction houses now hold sales fairly regularly. A local collection can be built up by seeking out people associated with the club and their relatives.
Condition is reasonably important in fixing the price of old bats.
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