It is billed as the most exciting two minutes in sports. And it is for 3-year-olds only. We’re talking about the ultimate horse race known as the Kentucky Derby.
The race may just be two minutes, but the festival in Louisville, Ky., begins two weeks in advance. Over the past 50 years, it’s grown into the biggest event in Kentucky with parties, dinners, honors, discussions, events, warm-up horse races, golf, balloon races, fireworks, paddle boats, cruising, mint juleps and, of course, souvenirs. Collecting Derby memorabilia is the second largest pastime in Louisville, and it continues well after the hooves of the winner have fallen silent.
Let’s review just a few of the official ones.
The ultimate souvenir of any Kentucky Derby is the winner itself, a 3-year-old colt, gelding or filly. Exact figures of what it takes to breed a Kentucky Derby winner varies, but the value increases to the millions after the awarding of the blanket of 554 roses to the winner. This is one collectible that continues to appreciate once it is retired to pasture.
Photo signed by trainer of 1994 winner, Go for Gin
Churchill Downs 1947 spring meeting book
(If you would like more information about a pictured item, click on the image.)
The winning ticket
Ah, but the second biggest collectible is at the pay window. Taking home the winnings from the Kentucky Derby is the ultimate collectible, and it comes with free bragging rights. What a deal. Interesting, but I’ve never seen losing tickets auctioned online anywhere.
The mint-julep glass
All right, these are great collectibles for the rest of us. The mint julep is the favorite drink of the Kentucky Derby, so naturally there is a special glass made both for enjoying the drink and for collecting. Official Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses became instant collectibles when they were introduced in 1938.
1950 mint-julep glass
As with any collectible, there are variations each year. According to Horse-Races.Net, there were aluminum and Bakelite glasses during World War II. The 1950 and 1951 glasses are the rarest, but 1974 had the most variations from two different companies due to a printing error. Read Audra Blevins blog about the mint-julep glass and how to make what goes inside one.
1941 Bakelite Derby glass
World War II-era Bakelite glass
The official silk scarf
Silk scarves are a relatively new collectible for the Kentucky Derby. Chuck Starr of Collectors Gallery says the first officially sanctioned scarf was introduced by Churchill Downs about 1995. Only about 200 are made every year, which makes them very rare, indeed. The only place to find the officially sanctioned Kentucky Derby 2008 silk scarf is through the exclusive distributor sanctioned by Churchill Downs, Horse Art Gallery, at a cost of $365 each. Look for the twin-spires graphic on each corner of the scarf to know it is authentic.
The official Kentucky Derby Festival pin
Each year the Kentucky Derby Festival issues a decorative commemorative pin. Beginning in 1973 with a plastic Pegasus pin, there are now festival, corporate, chairman and balloon pins, too. There are so many pins that it is hard to get “pinned” down on just how many styles there are. Each pin is available individually or as part of sets from online auction sites. Visit the Kentucky Derby Festival store their store, and see a selection of 2009 pins.
1974 Pegasus pin
1978 Pegasus pin
The official Kentucky Derby Festival poster
Since 1981, when renowned artist Peter Max designed the first colorful festival poster, artists from around the country have competed to provide the right prerace excitement every year. For 2009, it was two for one when it came to artists. Twins Doreen and Janeen Barnhart, designed this year’s exciting poster. Their design is featured on tote bags, glasses, T-shirts, glasses, hats and other Derby collectibles. Visit the Kentucky Derby Festival store if you’re interested in purchasing 2009 items or ones from past years. All of the past Derby posters are still available by visiting their store and ordering your favorite.
C. W, Vittitow, print signed by the artist
There are other Derby collectibles beyond the officially sanctioned ones. There is an early travel poster such as the one issued by the C&O Railroad that advertised Kentucky as a travel destination rather than the Derby itself, plus old tickets, programs, newspapers featuring the winner, hats, balloons, key rings, T-shirts, Beanie horses, books, whiskey bottles, shot glasses, photos, DVDs, plates, software games, trivets and . . . who knows what else?