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Historic Magarey Medals up for grabs

Football

Two gold Magarey Medals awarded to a champion Adelaide footballer more than a century ago will go under the hammer when a large private collection of the state’s early football history is auctioned, reports Michelangelo Rucci.

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The two Magarey Medals dating to the first decade of South Australian league football’s highest individual award will go to auction next month.

They are part of the biggest private collection of South Australian football and cricket memorabilia, being sold by Adelaide coin dealer Grant Morton.

“There has not been an auction quite like it,” Morton told InDaily of the online auction listed for Thursday, October 7. “Not a dedicated auction like this one.”

The sale of two of the three Magarey Medals won by South Australian football’s first triple medallist Tom MacKenzie – those of 1902 and 1905 with his surname wrongly inscribed as “McKenzie” – will create the greatest interest.

Both Magarey Medals were bought by Morton at a Sydney auction in July 2005, when they were wrongly labelled as part of a Sydney jeweller’s estate and had a catalogue value of $600. They sold for slightly more than $32,000.

Photo supplied.

Only one other Magarey Medal – the 1932 trophy won by West Torrens centre an Max Pontifex – is known to have been offered for sale since the award began in 1898 to honour the SANFL’s fairest and most brilliant footballer. That auction generated $37,000 that was used to underwrite a family education fund.

The MacKenzie Magarey Medals are difficult to value today, while two keen parties – the SANFL History Centre and North Adelaide Football Club – are short of funds to enter the online auction managed by Michael Treloar Auctions.

One valuation suggests the market value could reach $100,000.

The AFL’s equivalent to the Magarey Medal, the Brownlow Medal, has featured more often in auctions. The first Brownlow Medal, awarded to Geelong player “Carji” Greeves in 1924, sold for $170,000 in 2011.

MacKenzie, born in 1882 and who died in 1927 aged 45, is one of South Australia’s early football champions. He is honoured in the Australian Football Hall of Fame for his feats in 175 league games with West Torrens and North Adelaide, before he served in France and received serious wounds during World War I.

The auction list includes rare photographs and other medals such as the gold medal awarded to legendary Port Adelaide coach-trainer-manager Jack McGargill for the 1910 Champions of Australia victory against VFL premier Collingwood.

There are significant team photographs, in particular of South Australian State teams from the early era of intercolonial games and national carnivals before World War I.

“It is time for me to retire and let someone else be the custodian of this collection,” Morton said. “As a Sturt supporter, I am inclined to keep just one piece – the photograph of Sturt’s 1915 premiership team.”

Morton has kept the MacKenzie Magarey Medals in a private safe for the past 15 years.

“I have occasionally shown them to people and I would have loved to have done more with them,” he said.

Grant Morton with the Magarey Medals to be auctioned. Photo supplied.

This includes solving the mystery of what happened to MacKenzie’s third Magarey Medal from in 1906 when he was playing at centre for North Adelaide. It is generally believed the medal was melted down for its gold during the Depression years of the 1930s.

“The pinnacle of my collecting was being able to purchase the Magarey Medals,” Morton said.

“The MacKenzie medals were thought to have been lost to history forever. There had been rumours for years as to their existence, from being donated to a church as part of his estate or interred with him at West Terrace cemetery.

The most likely fate of the medals was that they were melted down during the Depression after MacKenzie’s death.

“That changed in July 2005 with the Sydney auction. According to the auctioneer, the Magarey Medals were part of the estate of a Sydney jeweller whose family business had been in operation post-World War I.

“Now the only mystery is: where is the Magarey Medal MacKenzie won in 1906?”

Morton said his theory was that the medals were given to a church as part of MacKenzie’s estate, and later sent to the church’s head office in Sydney to dispose of. They were subsequently sold direct to the Sydney jeweller or resold later to the same jeweller.

“It is not uncommon for manufacturing jewellers to melt down ‘scrap’ and repurpose the gold into other items. This may have been the fate of the missing Magarey Medal,” he said.

Until 1991, the Magarey Medal had a new design each football season. Today, the medal features an image of its first benefactor, William Magarey.

“The two MacKenzie Magarey Medals were probably saved from the melting pot due to their superb workmanship and aesthetic appeal or perhaps the jeweller recognised by that time that they may have some importance,” Morton said.

There are more than 100 significant pieces in the auction lot, including the gold medals awarded to Norwood great John Joseph Woods, the 1906 gold premiership medal struck for Port Adelaide star Stanley Cocks and the 1911 medal handed to West Adelaide player Roy Stearnes after his team won the Champions of Australia title.

Morton also is selling a Port Adelaide Football Club membership season ticket from 1889. “This is quite possibly the earliest ever offered,” he said.

The auction includes cricket photographs such as the portrait of the 1886 Australian team.

The auction details are available at auctions.treloars.com.

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