Antique Appraisals

What’s It Worth? Yacht racing trophies — both beautiful and usable

This coffeepot was part of a three-piece set awarded as a yachting race trophy in 1907.
This coffeepot was part of a three-piece set awarded as a yachting race trophy in 1907.

There was a time — 100 years ago and more — that yacht racing was a very big deal in the summer along the North Atlantic coast.

Participated in by the notable and extremely wealthy, the sport was dominated by such then-household names as Astor, Lipton and Auchincloss.

And the boats had names like Dervish, Phryne and Endymion.

A reader asked about a family heirloom from that era. It’s an unusual winner’s trophy presented in 1907.

Q. This beautiful coffee set has been in our family for several generations — passed down from relatives by the name of Probst. We think the father was a big-time banker in New York and was the owner of the yacht that won a race from New Haven to New London, Conn., in 1907.

His boat was called “Athlon.” What can you tell us? — Roy and Sue in Joseph, Ore.

A. Usually, when you won a yacht race back just after the turn of the 20th century, the award was a silver trophy or loving cup — maybe a Sterling coffee or tea service. It would have been engraved with the name of your vessel and the date of the race and the club sponsoring the race.

We’d never seen a trophy like this until Roy and Sue brought theirs by for us to examine.

The three-piece set is really quite special. The body of each item — coffeepot, creamer and covered sugar bowl — is porcelain in a deep cobalt blue. It was made by the preeminent American firm of that era (and still a prominent company today), Lenox China, then of New Jersey.

The Sterling silver overlay — in a floral pattern — is not marked, but was probably made by Gorham Silver Co. of Providence, R.I. During that era, Lenox and Gorham collaborated on many items such as these.

We were able to research the regatta and can report Athlon was the winner in the 48-foot class on June 25, 1907. The race had to be shortened because of fog. Athlon was an older hull and folks were rather surprised she won against newer, supposedly faster, boats.

As we said, yachting was a big deal then and results of most races and regattas were reported in the newspapers of the day. The winners and losers in this competition were in The New York Times. Not in the sports section, but on page four of the newspaper.

Such coverage may not have been entirely because the races were exciting and that lots of people really cared all that much.

Yacht racing might have been extensively reported because those who did care were very important people. They had names like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and, well, like Mr. J. D. Probst Jr. of Connecticut and New York City. His yacht, Athlon, won the trophy.

John D. Probst Jr. was the son of a German immigrant who arrived in the United States just before the Civil War. The elder Probst prospered, held a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, was an investment banker and director of major corporations. He was both successful and wealthy.

When his father — John Sr. — died in 1901, Jr. took over the family business operation.

Other than yacht racing, research hasn’t uncovered anything much about the younger Probst's life after about 1910. We don’t know if the family stories about great losses in the Wall Street crash are true or not.

Each piece of this set is well marked. The creamer and sugar bowl carry the initials “I.H.Y.C.” The Indian Harbor Yacht Club of Connecticut, about an hour northeast of New York City, was the regatta sponsor. The 10 1/2 -inch tall coffeepot gives the date of the race, along with Athlon as the winner.

The set is nearly perfect, except the spout of the coffeepot has been broken off. It is a “clean break,“ as dealers say, and would likely be an easy repair — for a professional.

Put back into top condition, we place a value on this one-of-a-kind set at $750 to $1,500.

Terry K. Maurer, 15-year senior member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America, is a personal property appraiser in the Tri-Cities. His What’s It Worth? column on antiques and collectibles has appeared in the Herald for more than 14 years.