There may have been saturation coverage of the London Olympics during the past month but the world's greatest sporting event remains a relatively minor part of the sports-memorabilia market.
Next week a significant local collection of Olympics memorabilia will go on sale through Leski Auctions in Melbourne. ''It doesn't happen very often,'' Charles Leski says. ''This is the collection of a local enthusiast who just loved the idea that he could buy these things.''
The collector has now decided to downsize. He started his collection 15 years ago when he picked up a 1984 Los Angeles torch. Since then, he's added many others, several bought from previous Leski sports auctions.
There are other Olympic treasures, including some very rare Leni Riefenstahl 16-millimetre film footage of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but the torch section is the most desirable. Some around the world collect nothing else.
Finding a complete set of torches is virtually impossible. The hardest to find is one from Helsinki in 1952, when fewer than 20 torches were produced.
These can now fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars if they ever appear for sale. Even the National Sports Museum at the MCG has a gap where Helsinki's torch should be.
There are a couple of standouts in the sale, including a torch from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the first to produce a ceremonial torch. This relay covered 3075 kilometres so hundreds were produced, and surviving examples are surprisingly common.
The one for sale through Leski is estimated at $4000 to $5000. It was designed by Carl Diem and made from steel. The relay itinerary is engraved on the handle.
One torch missing from the sale is an example from the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, although Leski has sold perhaps 10 of these over the years. One Australian collector is known to have three. These are usually valued at about $15,000 to $20,000, although values can increase dramatically, depending on who carried them.
There is a misconception that the actual torch used by Ron Clarke to light the MCG cauldron is in private hands, but Leski says this is not the case. It's in the official Olympic Museum in Lausanne in Switzerland, as are most of the hero torches.
Even ones without great provenance are worth significant amounts. Others included in the Leski sale are 1968 Mexico (estimates $2000 to $2500), 1972 Munich ($1500 to $2000), 1976 Montreal ($2500 to $3000), 1980 Moscow ($1600 to $2000), 1984 Los Angeles ($2500 to $3000), 1996 Atlanta ($2500 to $3000) and 2004 Athens ($1800 to $2200).
The torch from the 2000 Sydney Olympics is a replica, one of a limited edition of 2000 sold to the public. It's still in its perspex display case.
There are also examples from various Winter Olympics. These are usually valued lower, although one from 2002 Salt Lake City is estimated at $2500 to $3000.
Rarities include a prototype of the 1984 torch, which has already attracted interest from an international museum, and a 2000 Sydney Paralympic torch, one of only two that have appeared at auction. Leski regrets that these are not popular with collectors. ''They're not taken very seriously, unfortunately,'' he says.
He knows of only a handful of dedicated torch collectors in Australia, although those with a more general interest in sports memorabilia are also likely to want one to hang in their den.
Some collectors want only pristine examples, but most prefer torches that have been lit and used in the official relay.
There's likely to be some interest from overseas but Leski says this is a very fickle market and prices have settled, or even dropped, over the past few years.
Estimates are about 30 per cent less than in pre-GFC boom times, so this could be a good time to invest in a piece of Olympics history.
The collection of Olympics memorabilia is part of Leski Auctions' sale of sporting memorabilia on Tuesday, August 28. Viewing is at 13 Cato Street, Hawthorn East. Phone (03) 9864 9999 or see leski.com.au.