Bidding war starts for Paul Henderson’s famous hockey sweater



No sooner had Canadian Tire registered a $200,000 auction bid on Thursday to buy Paul Henderson’s jersey from the 1972 Canada-Soviet hockey series than an unidentified rival had upped the ante by $11,000, signalling the apparent start of a serious bidding war for the artifact in an online sale that still has almost three weeks to go.

The current top bid of $211,000 for Henderson’s famous No. 19 Team Canada sweater has already shot past the previous auction record for a vintage hockey jersey, set earlier this year when a 44-year-old relic from Bobby Orr’s Boston Bruins rookie uniform sold for $191,000 in the U.S.

As it stood Thursday, the leading bid for the Henderson jersey would mean a final price of at least $250,000 after counting the buyer’s premium and other fees paid to Classic Auctions, said the president of the Montreal-area sports memorabilia dealer handling the online sale ending June 22.

“It’s unbelievable,” a giddy Classic Auctions president Marc Juteau told Canwest News Service Thursday. “It just proves how important hockey is to the Canadian people.”

He said it isn’t unusual for late bidding on major artifacts to double the hammer price in the final hours of a sale, suggesting that with 18 days to go “the sky’s the limit” for the Henderson jersey, currently owned by an American collector.

The shirt — worn by Henderson when he scored his dramatic, last-minute winning goal of the Summit Series on Sept. 28, 1972 — has garnered significant media attention this week after a Canwest News Service story revealed the Canadian government was willing to back a public bid to repatriate the artifact.

On Tuesday, Heritage Minister James Moore personally pledged federal support of up to 50 per cent to acquire the white-and-red Team Canada sweater for display in a history museum or sports hall of fame, describing the object as “an important part of Canadiana.”

And on Wednesday, Toronto-based retailer Canadian Tire announced it would bid at least $200,000 to secure the jersey for Canada, proposing to exhibit the item at hundreds of its stores across the country before offering it on a long-term loan to a sports hall of fame or other public institution.

“Hockey is a big part of Canada and Canada’s history, and it’s a big part of Canadian Tire. So we just think it’s a natural fit,” said Mike Arnett, president of Canadian Tire Retail. “I think this is a great piece of Canadiana, and to get this out in front of as many Canadians as possible just feels like the right thing to do.”

But by Thursday morning, an unnamed bidder had already topped Canadian Tire’s pledge. Juteau said he could not reveal the identity of the leading bidder.

At the time of its announcement about the $200,000 bid, Canadian Tire stated that it would not comment further on its bidding strategy ahead of the auction’s June 22 closing date “for obvious competitive reasons.”

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, slated to open a new home in Calgary in 2011, has expressed interest in directly acquiring the jersey, seen at the centre of the iconic photograph of Henderson celebrating with teammate Yvan Cournoyer after scoring the decisive goal in the Cold War showdown 38 years ago.

Henderson has stated he would like the jersey to go the new Calgary sports museum. The Toronto-based Hockey Hall of Fame already has another jersey worn by Henderson in the first four games of the 1972 series.

After his heroic performance in the Canada-Soviet tournament, Henderson gave the sweater he wore in the final game to Toronto Maple Leafs trainer Joe Sgro as a gift.

It was later sold to a Canadian collector and then, in 2006, to the current American owner.

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