Olympics at the Museum

February 14, 2014

I loathe winter (especially this one), but I love the Winter Olympics. I grew up skiing, and a love of the sport stayed with me. Every time the summer and winter Olympics are held, we draw attention to objects in our collection that relate to the games. Working in the Mediterranean Section, I have the opportunity to work with artifacts depicting athletes, a dozen of which are on display in our Greek Gallery in the Religion unit “Track, Field, Wrestling, and Boxing.”

While none of these depict winter sports, they display a variety of fair weather games. Ten years ago, one of the vases on display was selected as the model for a U.S. Postal Service 2004 commemorative stamp issued in honor of the 2004 Summer Olympics games in Athens. Artist Lonnie Busch fashioned the stylized version after seeing a photo of the museum’s Attic Black Figure Lekythos, MS739, http://www.penn.museum/collections/object/303713 which shows runners flanked by figures that may represent either judges or spectators at the Panathenaic Games, in honor of the goddess Athena. The ancient athletes are likely competing in either the stadion, a 600 foot sprint, or the dialos, a race twice that length. It is always exciting to feel a 2,500 year object come to life after watching the living athletes.


The United States Postal Service presented the “First Day of Issue” ceremony at the Museum on June 9, 2004, to unveil the stamp, and some of Penn’s own alumni Olympians even attended the event. I snapped a few photographs that day. I knew plenty about the Olympics, but this gave me a chance to learn about stamp collecting as well.

First DayStampprogram



The ceremony gave collectors an opportunity to purchase collectables, such as a first day cover (with a stamp cancelled on the first sale date in the city where it was issued). The cachet, which appears on the left, is a graphic that refers to the subject of the stamp. Thanks to my colleague, Maureen Goldsmith, for supplying some photographs of her first day covers and program.



We liked the ceremony banner so much we hung it up after the event in our office area, where it still hangs today. I can see this runner with some skis and poles, can’t you?

BannerStampOffices     You can read more about the ancient Olympics at http://www.penn.museum/sites/olympics/olympicintro.shtml.