Online Auction: 8–18 December 2023 • 12:00 PM EST • New York

Emergence 8–18 December 2023 • 12:00 PM EST • New York

Sotheby’s is proud to present: ‘Geoff Hollister’s ‘Nike 1’ License Plate’.

The license plate reads ‘Nike 1’ and was previously owned by Geoff Hollister, a former University of Oregon runner under Bill Bowerman and one of Nike’s earliest employees.

Throughout the 1970s, one of Hollister’s many responsibilities was to drive to local track meets, oftentimes alongside Steve Prefontaine, spreading the word of Nike and selling Nike shoes out of his van, equipped with ‘Nike 1’ license plates.

Clockwise from top left: Carol, Tracy & Geoff Hollister, Bill Bowerman & Tracy Hollister, The Hollister Family, Tracy Hollister #16 Hayward Field. Courtesy of Tracy Hollister.

The lot features provenance from Tracy Hollister, Geoff’s son.

Additional analyses of the license plate’s registration stickers were conducted by ArtDiscovery, under visible light, UV illumination, IR light, stereo microscope, and cross-section to determine the number of registration stickers present on the license plate, as well as their suggested dates.

Detail of fragmentary stacked registration stickers. IR illumination. Courtesy of ArtDiscovery
Stereomicroscopic side view of the sample taken, prior to its preparation as a cross-section. Courtesy of ArtDiscovery
Sample [1] prepared as cross-section: registration stickers and paint of the license plate. Sample does not include the uppermost teal fragment (A.) and UV (B.) light. Courtesy of ArtDiscovery

The technical investigation uncovered a minimum of four stickers, with an additional small sticker fragment located at the top, likely linked to a fifth sticker that is now missing.


A detailed microscopic examination of the visible portions of the dates on these stickers, along with a comparative analysis of registration stickers from Oregon, indicates that the three stickers at the bottom displayed the years '74,' '76,' and '78' from bottom to top.

While the dates on the uppermost sticker fragments could not be determined, their colors align with Oregon registration stickers linked to potential subsequent re-registrations happening every two years, specifically '80' and '82.'

Detail of the exposed numbers of the green sticker showing an apparent ‘7’. The angle of visible part of the digit to its right most closely corresponds to the number ‘4’. Courtesy of ArtDiscovery

Courtesy of ArtDiscovery

Going Deeper | Geoff Hollister

“Geoff Hollister: Nike Employee #3, son, athlete, husband, father, sailor, designer, mentor, film producer, author.”
as written on a sign before the path to Hollister Trail - located across from Nike World Headquarters in Oregon.

In 1964, Geoff Hollister began his tenure at the University of Oregon, as a steeplechase runner for legendary coach Bill Bowerman. The same year, Bowerman and Phil Knight developed Blue Ribbon Sports, a distributor for Onitsuka Tiger Shoes in the U.S. Hollister attended the University of Oregon until 1968, during which time, Bowerman was making shoes for Hollister and other runners to compete in.

In 1967, Hollister was hired by Phil Knight, on Bowerman's recommendation. Initially tasked with selling Onitsuka Tigers across Oregon from his silver Moretti car, Hollister also played a pivotal role in opening the Blue Ribbon Sports store in Eugene in 1968, BRS WEST, before serving three years in the United States Navy. Upon his return in 1971, Hollister continued to manage the BRS outpost, now named the Athletic Department. Shortly after, BRS and Onitsuka split, leading to the development of BRS's line of footwear under the new name: Nike, in 1972.

Now officially a “Nike” employee, Hollister’s role continued to develop. In 1973, Phil Knight asked Hollister to spend more time with Steve Prefontaine, the first runner signed by Nike. In his book, Knight calls Hollister the ‘Pre Whisperer’ and recalls this encounter.

 “…From now on, we said, you’re Pre’s full-time liaison. You’re in charge of handling Pre, taking Pre out on the road, introducing Pre to the fans. In fact, we told Hollister, take the boy on a cross-country tour. Hit all the track meets, state fairs, high schools, and colleges you can. Go everywhere, and nowhere. Do everything, and nothing."

He goes on to say: “Sometimes Pre would conduct a running clinic, answering questions about training and injuries. Sometimes he’d just sign autographs and pose for photos."

"No matter what he did, no matter where Hollister took him, worshipful crowds would appear around their bright blue Volkswagen bus.”

In addition to Knight’s book, Hollister and Pre’s journeys are well documented throughout the Nike stratosphere. Nike notes that the two began traveling together selling Nike shoes and introducing runners to Nike in 1973, the same year that Hollister recalls ordering his 'Nike 1' plates.

In "Out of Nowhere " Hollister’s book, he highlights Jon Anderson's victory in the Boston Marathon wearing Nike 'Bostons’, then a performance by Steve Prefontaine in the weeks after.

“But the biggest thrill for me was still to come. Nearly two weeks later, Pre pulled Bowerman's spikes out of his bag and laced them up in the bullpen. He led a good field in the Twilight Mile that included teammates Knut Kvalheim, Scott Daggett, Mark Feig, and Todd Lathers. Pre-finished in 3:55, recording the third-fastest mile ever by an American."

 "I ordered new vanity plates for my van, 'Nike 1.' No, I wasn't Nike 1, but Nike had just won something. Twice. Nike was now a changed company.”
- Geoff Hollister

Remember the Van

In Steve Prefontaine Hall, the first building in Nike World Headquarters, Hollister and his ‘Nike 1’ plate are memorialized with a replica of his blue van, stacked with shoe boxes, and a replica ‘Nike 1’ plate on the back. The placard next to the van recalls the trips that Geoff Hollister and Steve Prefontaine took together, spreading the word of Nike. It reads:

“Following in Phil Knight's footsteps, Geoff Hollister packed his boxy Volkswagen van with running shoes and drove to high school and college track meets around the Pacific Northwest to sell the new line of Nike shoes in the early 1970s.

Much of Nike's early success hinged on "word of foot" marketing; employees made frequent visits to track venues and opened small retail stores where runners would hang out and talk about their runs, their training... and their shoes.

Steve Prefontaine often accompanied Hollister on trips around the region, spreading the gospel of Nike running. Prefontaine frequently wrote letters and sent Nike shoes to up-and-coming runners, a practice that Hollister continued after Pre's untimely death in 1975, establishing Nike's signature model for one-to-one, athlete-to-athlete relationships.”

The plate itself is a yellow Oregon registered license plate. The ‘Nike 1’, ‘OREGON’ and ‘AUG’ are featured in blue. Original remnants of registration stickers are present at the bottom right corner of the plate. It is likely the last remaining piece of this iconic van.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

Sell with Sotheby's

Sell with Sotheby's

Curious to know if your item is suitable for one of our upcoming sales?

Provide information and share images to request an online estimate now.

Start Selling
arrow Created with Sketch. Back To Top