Running club discovers £8,000 hidden treasure in the attic

This rare Sevres vase lay forgotten in a clubhouse attic for decades

A rare Art Deco vase that has been languishing forgotten in the attic of one of the country’s leading athletics clubs for decades will go for auction next month when it is expected to raise as much as £8,000.

Hayes-based Blackheath Harriers made the discovery recently, and have placed the Sevres porcelain “Athletisme” vase with Catherine Southon for her auction house’s first online-only sale, which is being held on June 10.

The vase dates from a 1937 visit by a squad of runners from Club Olympic d’Auberville in France, in a rare example of cross-Channel training and camaraderie.

The French club’s visit will have coincided with the rise of Blackheath’s Sydney Wooderson as a world star of track and field – less than 18 months later, in Paris, the “Mighty Atom” would become European champion at 1,500metres, his first international title in a stellar career.

Blackheath’s Sydney Wooderson: set world records from 800m and won National cross-country titles over 9miles

It seems, from the records of what is now Blackheath and Bromley Harriers, that the Auberville visit in February 1937 was not for one of the club’s famous cross-country mob matches over Hayes Common or any particular competition, but simply for the opportunity to train with their English counterparts.

“Who has ever heard before of a team coming to this country from abroad for a training spin with members from an English club!” the Blackheath club history says.

Gifts were exchanged. Auberville got a silk pennant in the black and blue colours of Blackheath. The south Londoners were presented with the Sevres vase, possibly to be used as a trophy in future events.

But it seems the vase was put away safely in the attic of the club HQ – re-named the Sydney Wooderson Centre in 2007 – and forgotten about. Until now…

Detail from the vase, on auction on June 10

Sale estimates suggest the vase could raise between £6,000 and £8,000 for club funds, though with its strong provenance and its historic sporting links, international interest might even see five figures topped.

It is believed that only six of the vases were ever sold by the famous French porcelain manufacturers. All the vases carried designs by Gaston Goor.

In Southon’s auction catalogue, the vase is described as “the shape, ‘Fontaine No2’ of cylindrical form with flared choked neck and raised on a circular foot, decorated with the Olympic rings and athletes against a blushed ground, gilt borders, printed marks Sevres Manufacture Nationale France, P.G. d’ap. Goor 67 -35, incised 4326 PN.

“This vase was originally produced as part of a series, ‘Sports d’hiver’, ‘Athletisme’ and ‘Natation’ by Sevres, and it is believed that only six ‘Athletisme’ vases were sold.”

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