For a sport that has
been around for better than 400 years, collecting and their
values are still small and the collectors few. For a hand
full of dollars and time and patience and a little knowledge,
anyone can become a good collector and come up with a collection,
as I did, in a very short time.
Tennis was called
"Jeu de Paume" in the courts of the aristocrats of France
when it was played in the courts of royalty and noblemen
of France. The name, tennis, is believed to have come from
the cry of the server to his opponent immediately prior
to putting the Jue-de-Paume ball into play. The original
ball was wool wrapped in leather and was much heavier then
todays bouncy balls and was said to have resulted in the
death of Charles the VIII when he was struck in the head
with one of these balls. By the end of the sixteeenth century
there were 200-300 courts in Paris alone and another couple
thousand in the country
in France eventually but was picked up enthusiastically
by the Brits, who called it Real Tennis and the Australians
who called it Royal Tennis and the Americans who called
it Court Tennis. courts from this period were also about
half the size of todays courts and the equipment was vastly
different from todays. The balls were originally wool wrapped
in leather and wound with twine.
much time in the history of tennis, it should be noted that
tennis as we know it today has been around since the mid
1700's finally arriving at the shape and size of todays
courts around the mid 1800's. The net was another issue
for some time. Originally around two feet high. On a court
shaped like an hour glass, nine feet narrower at the net
than at the baseline, which was 3 feet longer than it's
The All England
Croquet Club added tennis in 1875. That first tournament,
was not highly regarded even among it's champions for many
years, those prefering it's indoor counterpart. The break
on the middle weekend was to coincide and not to interfere
with the Eton-Harrows cricket match at Lords. The services
boxes have shrunk 5 feet since then and the net was still
5 feet at the posts with a drop to 3 feet in the middle.
The ball though roughly the size of today was rubber and
sewn together. They didn't become joined by cement until
1924 and the covering was white cloth and not fuzzy like
today. It wasn't until 1880 that the net was lowered to
just 6 inches above today, the server was required to stand
behind the service line and the players changed sides at
the end of each odd game.
So the game has
changed alot since it's inception as has it's equipment.
Racquets of that period were "Flat Tops". This shape has
changed alot also to round and ellipse and even convex,
cupped frames. Turn of the century balls still had no fuzz.
Racquets, balls and anything tennis from this period are
very valued. Racquets around this time also had a small
piece of leather around what we call the butt, to help the
grip. This was to continue for several decades. It became
common for the champions to add tape over the wood above
the leather strip. It wasn't until the late 30's that leather
grips were added to the production of these frames.
and cat gut reigned supreme for the next 40 years or so.
Alot of different racquets came into being during this time.
Some hybrids combining metal and wood. Some even having
metal, piano wire, strings. But the basic wood racquet was
the tool of the day.
This is where
I finally come into the picture. I started playing in 1969.
The best selling racquet of all time was the King of the
day, the Jack Kramer Pro Staff. The was the most widely
sold racquet of all time and may still be. Most players
had them or used one at one time or another. Today, this
racquet is a must have for any collector and not hard to
find in very good condition.
us to the most important point of all. Condition. I went
to visit a man who had several hundred racquets, mostly
Wilson. He wanted to sell them all to a collector. I could
not have been more disappointed. Everything was beat: cracked,
warped and just not in very good condition. I did not see
anything worth buying from him. Just like most all collectibles,
it's condition is the most important. If you want to add
a racquet simply because it's rare and you haven't got it,
go for it. But keep looking. Only mint, like new, is drawing
the big bucks. I have grabbed other frames less than perfect,
simply because I wanted them. And this is fine if the collection
is for you.
So what is worth
the most? Old, very old frames from the 1800's. And rare
frames not mass produced. Then there is this big gap to
the 70's (1970's). For some reason racquets from this period
are worth alot of money. Again mint condition, or better,
never used. Among these are these early Head Models, graphite/wood
hybrids like the Edgewood and Vilas. Donnay and Bancroft
Borg models. Wilson BJK and Chris Evert Autographs. Adidas
models used by Nastase. Even rare, to us, models of Japanese
frames by Futabaya. Most of us have or know someone who
has these models at home.
Big money is
in even early graphite models. Prince Boron fit's into this
group and is one of the prettiest of all frames. Head Graphite
Edge and Snauwert can bring good money and are enjoyed by
people as players frames today. Dunlop 200G's can be good
money because of John MacEnroe. Models used by Lendl include
Kneissl and Adidas and bring big money also. The earliest
graphite model by Wilson the Ultra and it's kin is worth
alot to a collector. This model also includes the earliest
of Wilson's perimeter weighting system, PWS. First models
had lead rivets, later models the characteristic bulge at
3 and 9 o'clock. Wilson first two Pro Staff models, the
Chicago and St Vincent are quite collectible and still valued
as players frames. Models that Becker played with by Puma
and Estusa are valued for the same reasons, collectible
and aluminum frames aren't gathering alot of interest. You
may find some interest in having some of these anyway. Models
by Le Coq Sportif and Rossignol may be fun to have and some
can bring good money like the Le Coq Sportif Concept Three,
which had three beams. There is also great interest in most
open throat wood frames. Most of these are also hybrids,
having graphite laminate overfaces, like the Davis CL500,
and Slazenger Lotus.
Have fun collecting.
Most of these can be found for pennies on the dollar. I
have found Ultras for as little as $3 at thrift stores.
Same is true for nearly all the frames mentioned. Places
like thrift stores have no idea of the value of older graphite
and wood racquets and these can be bought for just a few
dollars. Used sporting good store can also be a good source
for such frames as can garage sales. I just last weekend
bought two St Vincents Pro Staffs for $5! So these are out
there. You don't find them featured on the Antiques Roadshow,
so no one is watching for them. Yet.
But they will
eventually. So grab them now while the getting is good.
And not just old racquets, but balls, magazines, ads, store
displays, trading cards, stamps and a hundred other tennis
M. Paul Sanchez
Maranatha Tennis 2000