Antiques Magazine - June 2023, The Epsom Derby & FA Cup: historic Great British Events continue - ANTIQUES.CO.UK

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    The Epsom Derby & FA Cup: historic Great British Events continue

    Posted by Chris on 02/06/2023

    The Epsom Derby & FA Cup: historic Great British Events continue

    June 3rd 2023 marks two very special sporting events in the UK: the Derby at Epsom, and the FA Cup Final.

    So we're celebrating the continuation of Great British events by exploring the fascinating history of both, and showing you some fantastic equine and football-related antiques and memorabilia.

    In this article:


    Above: Kellsboro Jack, Grand National Winner 

    The Epsom Derby: a history of horse racing

    Horse racing has long been a popular sporting activity in the UK, and its origins as a professional sport can be traced back to the 12th century. Knights returning from the English Crusades would bring superior Arab horses back from their travels and breed them with English horses – the modern thoroughbred horse is a direct result of this.

    Following the restoration of the monarchy in England (1660), King Charles II held horse races for two horses, with prizes for the winners. Newmarket was chosen as the location for the very first horse race meetings, and is one of the major venues still to this day.

    It wasn’t until the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14) that the number of horses involved in each race increased, and the concept of betting gained popularity. This is when horse racing turned into a professional sport, and racecourses were developed throughout England. Ascot was founded by the Queen in 1711.

    During the height of Georgian England, in 1750, the Jockey Club was founded by the English horse racing elite, to manage and control the burgeoning business in England. They wrote an expansive set of rules, and gave permissions to various racecourses for meetings. It was in 1814 that the ‘Classics’ were designated: the 2,000 Guineas, the St Ledger, and the Epsom Derby made up the ‘Triple Crown’, and the 1,000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks completing the five.

    Pictured: Boy with horse (possibly Castor), marble relief from Hadrian’s Villa, 125 AD

    The history of horses in art history

    From the ancient Lascaux cave paintings, to the Victorian scenes of hunting and racing, horses have also been an important character in the history of art, appearing in more paintings and sculptures than any other animal in the world. That’s no surprise, given the magnitude of the part they have played in the development of human culture, travel, economy and industry.

    As far back as ancient history, horses have worked to pull the chariots of both men and gods. In Greek mythology, four white horses pulled Helios’ chariot, traversing the sky from east to west to rise and set the sun. 

    They could also be seen as wild and uncontrolled – the mares of Diomedes were sometimes a subject of horror; but largely they were a symbol of man’s dominance over nature, and the still untamed areas which had a romantic magnificence.

    Bronze statues of ancient Rome became popular, showing emperors on horseback – again symbolic of military might and the control they exerted over their empire.

    When Christianity started to prevail over Europe, horses appeared less and less in art until the Renaissance. In the 16th century (as we saw with the history of antique garden sculpture and furniture), the association with Roman antiquity became popular with royals, courtiers and upper classes. In art and sculpture of this era, many subjects are shown on horseback – the awareness of ancient Rome and the people who held power gave important symbolic meaning by association. 

    In Europe, the idea gained tract that royal integrity and strength could be drawn from previous leaders and their glory, and led to large numbers of equestrian portraits – whether the subject was any good at riding a horse or not.

    To show the horse as rearing or wild was an attempt to portray of whoever was sitting on it as having the capability of their strength and power over nature.

    Pictured: Large racehorse engraved goblet, 19th century

    Pictured: Large racehorse engraved goblet, 19th century

    The rise of the aspiring middle classes – and their horses 

    It’s no surprise that portraits of horses themselves gained popularity hand in hand with the rise of horse racing throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, as a display of wealth and adoration of the creature as personal property.

    For many, being able to afford a horse for leisure came within reach in the 18th century, and a horse of a high calibre showed off a person’s status in society. Importantly, it also opened doors to high society activities such as racing, polo and hunts. 

    An artist would often be commissioned to paint a portrait of an aristocratic rider with his foxhunting or race horse, sometimes accompanied by a jockey and/or horse handler. Painters such as John Nost Sartorius, John Herring, and George Stubbs were notable. Many artists of the period, especially Henry Alken, painted action horse scenes, often comical, such as the hunt or steeple chase races. Many of these horse paintings were then issued as prints.

    Horses offered vital companionship in wars of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, and former officers wanted to pay homage to the close relationship they had with their horse through these campaigns.

    Silver Topped Hunting flask and case, 1933

    How to find equestrian antiques

    From riding boots, hunting horns and horse whips, to equine art, flasks and ceramic table lamps, discover our equestrian antiques and other horse-related items listed by dealers and private sellers on

    Horse racing and football aren't usually mentioned in the same breath - but given that two of the UK's major sporting events are taking place at the same time, we're now going to dive into  the history of our most treasured tournament, the FA Cup.


    the very first 1872 FA Cup

    Pictured: the very first 1872 FA Cup (source)

    Football: a history of the FA Cup

    The Emirates FA Cup, as it’s currently known, is the highlight of the English football calendar.

    Since the very first FA Cup Final in 1872, the competition – and the resulting final – has captured the hearts of the football-loving nation.

    The FA Cup: how it kicked off

    In 1863, the newly founded Football Association (the FA) published the Laws of the Game of Association Football, unifying the various different rules in use prior. 

    After eight years, it was clear that an annual tournament of some kind would be an enjoyable proposition, and in July 1871, the FA recommended to the committee that "it is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with the Association for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete". 

    The first FA Cup tournament kicked off in November 1871, and after thirteen games, Wanderers were crowned the winners – winning the trophy, which cost £20 to make, and was known as ‘the little tin idol’ – retaining it in the following year. The modern cup was beginning to be established by the 1888–89 season, when qualifying rounds were introduced.

    Disaster struck after Aston Villa won the Cup in 1895, as it was stolen from the window of a Birmingham shop - where the club had agreed to display it so their fans could see it up close - and was never seen again. 

    Do you have this item? List it on for just £7.50!

    The reigning champions were fined £25 by the FA to pay for a replacement, which continued to be awarded until 1910, when the FA updated its design as part of an intellectual property realisation (in that they didn’t actually own the original design – and anyone could make a replica).

    The second FA Cup, retired in 1910, was auctioned in 2005 and sold for £420,000 – it was sold again in 2020.

    one of the many replicas of the 1910 FA Cup design

    Pictured: one of the many replicas of the 1910 FA Cup design (source)

    The new 1910-issued trophy featured a redesign and looked much more substantial. Made by Bradford jeweller Fattorini in time for the 1911 Cup final, it stood an impressive 61cm high, and was only decommissioned in 1992. 

    This version appeared on the UK’s Antiques Roadshow in 2016 and was valued at an astonishing £1m. Most interestingly, expert Alastair Dickenson suggested that the designer may have simply reused an existing design – it featured grapes, which suggests it could have actually been conceived initially as a champagne cooler. 

    the grapes still feature on the modern FA Cups, now made by Thomas Lyte

    Pictured: the grapes still feature on the modern FA Cups, now made by Thomas Lyte 

    There are extensive histories of the tournament itself which are absolutely fascinating, covering all the teams who played, records set, and notable finals and incidents such as the goalkeeper who played (and won) with a broken neck in 1956, overcrowding disasters in 1946 and 1989, and plenty of underdog victories.

    Why are football collectables and memorabilia so popular?

    Sport is a huge part of life for millions of us. We play it, we watch it and we love to collect items related in some way to our favourite teams or players.

    Prices for sports memorabilia have risen dramatically in recent years as a result of a variety of factors, including the growing affluence of baby boomers and the importance of millennials in the market. According to Market Decipher, the sports memorabilia industry along with trading cards is expected to reach a whopping $227.2 billion by 2032.

    The sports collectables market is booming, and a variety of football-related items have made sporting headlines. Popular items include rare football programmes and tickets, medals, trophies and autographs. Shirts worn by players at matches, and sports equipment from important games or tournaments spark intense interest.

    For example, a lifelong Millwall FC fan paid £4,000 for a 1911 England football shirt worn in an England v Wales Championship game at Millwall’s ground, The Den. The first contract signed by football star Sir Stanley Matthews made £4,000.

    Pre and post Second World War England programmes can sell easily for between £100 and £5,000, with certain issues being worth up to £10,000. You could pick up a 1936 England v Hungary International Friendly programme for £500.

    Another popular – and affordable – type of sporting collectable is tradable football cards.

    With brands like Panini and Topps bringing out new editions every year, there is always a great opportunity to pick up some cards which could be valuable in years to come.

    For instance, former Lion and Premier League all-time top scorer, Alan Shearer, commands around £100 for his 1997 Upper Deck card. 

    Simply put, legends of sport and historical events ignite sporting passions in salerooms and online, all over the world.

    explore our football antiques

    Explore our football antiques

    Find all football collectables and antiques on 

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