Books & Manuscripts

Coming to Auction this December: the Original Olympics Manifesto

By Halina Loft
In upcoming Books & Manuscripts auction on 18 December, Sotheby's will offer the original copy of Pierre de Coubertin's 1892 speech outlining his vision for a modern revival of the ancient Olympic Games. Never before exhibited publicly, this manuscript will be on view at Sotheby's Los Angeles from 22-23 October, as well as Sotheby's New York from 14-17 December.
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The Original Olympic Games Manifesto, written and presented by Pierre de Coubertin in his 1892 speech. The manifesto is estimated to achieve $700,000 – 1,000,000.

I n 1892, French aristocrat, educator and athletics advocate Pierre de Coubertin gave a speech that would alter the course of international athletics. Standing before a crowd gathered at the Sorbonne to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the French Athletics Association, Coubertin outlined his idealist vision for a revival of the ancient Olympic Games. He posited that new ideas, technologies and systems (specifically the telegraph, railways and developments in scientific research) were propelling human progress and innovation to unfathomable heights – and in this vein, athletic endeavors should no longer exist primarily as military pursuits.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, author of the original Olympic Games manifesto written in 1892. Library of Congress

Citing case studies in countries such as Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and France, Coubertin argued that instead, athleticism should evolve into something greater: a pursuit of individual excellence that benefits both the athlete and society at large. Coubertin had a vision of a world united by athletic pursuits, with an emphasis on the importance of free individualism and civilized, peaceful nationalism. Two years after giving the speech, Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee – and in 1896, the modern Olympic Games debuted in Athens.

This speech, which Coubertin wrote as a 14-page manuscript, is the manifesto for the modern Olympic Games. While a high-quality copy of the manifesto was displayed at Copenhagen City Hall during the 2009 Olympic Congress, the original manuscript has never before been exhibited publicly. Now, Sotheby's is pleased to present the original Olympic Game Manifesto as a highlight of its 18 December Books & Manuscripts auction.

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In all, the original Olympic Games manifesto exists as fourteen hand-written pages by Coubertin.

It's difficult to overstate the importance of this manuscript; to this day, Coubertin's words stand as testament to the democratic, altruistic nature of modern sportsmanship and competition. With every iteration of the modern Olympic Games, countries gather to celebrate Coubertin's vision, and test the limits of human capability.

The opening ceremony of the 1896 Summer Olympics.

Bidding on the manuscript will take place in New York on 18 December; stay tuned for more information on the upcoming auction.

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