LONDON — The Earl of Darnley was worth only $32, but Julius Caesar and his pals went for a whopping $1,920 last Monday at a rummage sale that reaped a bonanza for the people who rule the game of cricket.
The Marylebone Cricket Club, the game's governing body, cleaned out its "dusty old basement" at Lord's Cricket Ground and put some 1,000 bits and pieces it didn't want up for auction with the plea, "Buy a bit of cricket history."
What they got was cricketmania. Fans showed up by the hundreds at Lord's, the sport's Mecca, to bid on everything from bats and balls to artwork, and even a handbill advertising a match between "eleven Greenwhich pensioners with one arm against eleven Greenwhich pensioners with one leg."
Colin Cowdrey, former England captain and no mean cricketer in his time, figured the MCC would collect about $160,000 from its cellar clean-up.
But in the first four hours, cricket nuts forked out more than $190,200 for 200 lots, and there were another 600 to go, said a spokeswoman for Christie's, the prestigious auction house handling the sale.
"It's the fact that it all comes from Lord's," she said, smiling slightly at a suggestion it amounted to a junk sale.
That's probably why the sketches of Julius Caesar and his teammates at the Surrey County Cricket Club sold for $1,920 instead of the maximum $640 Christie's had estimated.
(Caesar was a middling spin-bowler--the equivalent of a curveball pitcher in baseball--and a capable batsman who toured the United States with the club in the 1850s, when the Americans were playing decent cricket.)
For the most part, bids ran twice to 12 times Christie's estimates--and that's without counting the 10% commission the buyers paid.
A picture of two men, one holding a cricket bat, and a dog was reckoned at $800 and sold for $10,400. A portrait by Eleanor Hughes D'Eath, of a boy leaning against a cricket bat, was knocked down for $16,000, four times the maximum estimate.
Sketches, drawings, portraits and other memorabilia of W.G. Grace, a larger-than-life character who was to cricket what Babe Ruth was to baseball, were among the most popular and regularly sold for five times or more above their estimated value.
Even Australia, England's deadliest enemy on the wicket, came in for favor. A sheet with autographs of the 1926 Aussie touring team and a rough map of its journey to England was grabbed up for $5,100, despite an original estimate of $640 maximum.