Friday, February 09, 2018

The hunt for the 1924 diploma

It is not as well known as it should be that when you win an Olympic medal you also receive a diploma which recognises the fact. Initially it was only winners of medals who received these, but nowadays those finishing in the first eight places in an event receive a diploma. What was the case back in 1924? Although the Games in Chamonix were not recognised officially until later as the first Olympic Winter Games, they were held under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee, and many of the traditions of the summer games were incorporated in that first 'Winter Sports Week'. The award of a diploma was one of these traditions.

I suspected that the GB curlers had received diplomas. In his book Beginner's Guide to Curling (Pelham Books, London, 1969), Robin Welsh had written of the successful Willie Jackson rink. Robin's father, also called Robin Welsh, had been a member of the GB team in Chamonix, as Jackson's third player. Robin writes, in a chapter on 'Curling Prizes', "The British curling deputation at the Games, led by Colonel Robertson Aikman, President of the Royal Club, were as proud of the medals and diplomas won, as the four Scots who had won them." (My emphasis)

The official report of the 1924 Games at Chamonix is included with that of the 1924 (Summer) Olympic Games held in Paris, in May-July, after the Chamonix competitions. The official record of the games, published by the French Olympic Committee, Les Jeux de la VIIIe Olympiade, Paris 1924, Rapport Officiel is online and can be downloaded as a (large) pdf file from here. It's written in French and may be referred to as the 'French Official Report'. 

It is in the French Official Report that one can find an illustration of the diploma awarded to the medallists at the Chamonix Games in 1924.

This is the image in the report. The diploma for the 1924 Winter Games was not the subject of a competition, as it had been for previous Summer Games. The task of designing the diploma was simply given to the printing company which had already been used by the French Olympic Committee and had designed their stationery.

This image in the French Official Report is in black and white. Four years ago, when writing about the 1924 Games (see here), I searched for more information and images of this diploma, without success. Had the members of the GB Olympic curling team each received a diploma? No-one seemed to know. Other items of Olympic memorabilia, such as the competitor's badge, and Willie Jackson's identity card, were known (see here) but I concluded that the diplomas, if they had ever existed, must now be lost.

The 2014 Olympics were over, and time had moved on, but one evening when looking again at a book in my curling library, I almost screamed with excitement! There, in a book I had known about since it was published, was a colour photo of the diploma!

The Joy of Curling: A Celebration by Ed Lukowich, Eigil Ramsfjell and Bud Somerville, was first published in 1990 by McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. Well produced, well illustrated books, heavy on imagery, used to be known as 'coffee table' books, those that would sit on a table to impress visitors, rather than on shelves in a bookcase. And remember 1990 was well before the Internet Age. 'The Joy' is a wonderful publication to peruse. It has 160 pages, with wonderful photos throughout.

The book contains a chapter on 'Curling at the Olympics', all of six pages. Note again the year that this book was published - 1990. The sport of curling had just been included, as a demonstration sport, in 1988, at Calgary, where all three authors had skipped their country's teams!

Look at the small image at the foot of page 97.

I've scanned the image to show it here, something I would not normally do, but I do think it is of such significance and deserves wider recognition, for the reasons forthcoming.

The legend to this image in the book reads, "The VIIIth Olympiad diploma and gold medal won by Willie Jackson, who was on the team representing Great Britain."

Yes, there is a gold medal, propped against a framed diploma! Some of the printing on the diploma can be easily read and translated, "Given on the occasion of the games of the VIII Olympiad under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee."

It is clearly signed by the President of the International Olympic Committee, Baron de Coubertin and the President of the French Olympic Committee, Count Clary.

Studying the image in the book with a magnifying glass I can make out the name 'Jackson' written after 'Presented to', but not what is written on the line under that. I presume this states which sport the recipient had won.

Looking at the Credits and the Acknowledgements pages of the book, it would seem that the image of the diploma and gold medal had been supplied by "Robin Welsh of Edinburgh, Editor, 'The Scottish Curler'." Had Robin used this photograph himself at some point?

Robin, who edited the Scottish Curler magazine from 1954 through to 1998, had also been Secretary to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, a post he had retired from in 1985, allowing him more time to concentrate on the magazine. As already mentioned, his father had been on the team which won the Olympic Gold Medals in 1924. He had rare access to Olympic memorabilia and information. He authored two books about curling. I have already mentioned one of these, Beginner's Guide to Curling, from 1969.

His second book, International Guide to Curling, was again published by Pelham Books, London, in 1985. I thought I knew the contents of this book well enough, but I looked at it again. And yes, in a chapter about 'Curling Prizes' is the same photo of the diploma and medal, in black and white. It is captioned "The Olympic gold medal and certificate won by the British curling team at the 1924 Winter Olympic Games at Chamonix. Curling will be included as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary." The image in Robin's book is of lesser quality than that in The Joy of Curling, so it is not possible to read what is written on the diploma. The photograph is not acknowledged so I conclude that it was taken by Robin himself, or that he had arranged for it to be taken, sometime before 1985.

What has happened to the diploma in this photograph since then? I don't know. Robin died in 2006.

We do know that the Scottish Curling Trust purchased two of the gold medals, those of Willie Jackson and his son Laurence, the team's lead player, see here. Were the diplomas among other material purchased, I don't know.

Does the photograph reproduced in the books, which Robin Welsh must have sent to the authors or publishers, still exist? Had it been used elsewhere? Again, perhaps someone will know, and if it can be found, just what it says about the recipient can be read.

Perhaps this article will allow those accessing the Scottish Curling Trust's treasures, all currently in store, to look out for the diploma, and be able to identify it if it's there. It's a rare item indeed, and must be of immense value, given how collectible Olympic memorabilia has become, worldwide.

Other questions arise. Did the members of the curling teams from Sweden and France who participated in 1924 also receive diplomas, and, if so, have any of these survived? And perhaps there are Olympic historians out there who will know if the medallists in other sports in 1924 received similar diplomas.

Lukowich, Ramsfjell and Somerville, writing in their 1990 book say, "Curling is pencilled in again as a demonstration sport at Albertville, France in 1992, but its Olympic future after that is uncertain." No-one could have predicted back then just how our sport would have become so popular and widespread throughout the world, and interest in the Olympic Winter Games curling competitions become so intense as it is today!

Images above are as identified in the text.