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Bert Oldfield's 1934 Ashes Ashtray

central coast auction house the ashes bert oldfield

The Ashes and ashtrays - it’s got to have been a match made in pun heaven. That might be your first thought too when you see this leaf-green ashtray with 1930s typography, which commemorates the Australian victory of the 1934 Ashes series. With this vintage piece of memorabilia, however, there’s a story to be told beyond any funny word play.

This item is a significant piece of cricket memorabilia owned by the Australian wicketkeeper, Bert Oldfield. He played in this 1934 test series alongside Australia’s famous batter Donald Bradman, and it was the first Ashes after the controversial 1932-33 ‘bodyline’ series where Oldfield suffered a fractured skull.

Bradman was considered neigh-on invincible by England, leading the English team to devise a new bowling tactic. This tactic was fast leg theory bowling, or ‘bodyline’ and was designed to exploit Bradman's susceptibility to bouncers. The problem with bodyline tactics was that they could be dangerous, especially as the English bowlers seemed to be bowling at the Australian players rather than the wickets.

After being struck over the heart by a bodyline ball, Australian cricketer Woodfull said ‘There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket and the other is not’ (Keane, 2017). When Oldfield was hit in the face with a bodyline ball from Harold Larwood, it fractured the right frontal bone in his face (Christie’s, 2000).

As the result of bodyline techniques, England won a victory over Australia in the 1932-33 Ashes. The 1934 series is widely seen as Australia’s revenge for their loss at the hands of the controversial tactics.

Of course, this was just one spat in a long series of competitive cricket sportsmanship

between Australians and Brits. The origin story of the Ashes themselves is based in cricketing conflict.

In 1882, the Australian cricket team won a shock victory against England at the Oval - the first time England had lost on home soil (Lord’s, 2018). An English paper called The Sporting Times even published a mock obituary.

The ‘body’ in question did not yet exist at this early stage. Neither was the Test series between Australia and England

called ‘The Ashes.’ The Ashes urn many will be familiar with today is a small red-brown ceramic urn with typed words pasted on the side. It was thought to have been presented to the English cricket captain, Ivo Bligh, following England’s victory in the test match series with Australia following 1882. Another incarnation was also presented to Australia’s captain after the 1934 test match. The term ‘The Ashes’ reportedly only began to stick in 1903.

Bert Oldfield cricket the ashes auction

William Albert Stanley ‘Bert’ Oldfield (1894-1976), like the Ashes, is a subject of legend all on his own. In World War One he was part of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). In 1917 he found himself buried in Polygon Wood, near Ypres, after intense bombing (Christie’s, 2000). After his near-death experience, he was selected to play cricket for the AIF team and his evident skill later led him to be recruited by the Australian cricket team. He played 54 test matches in total, and 245 First-class matches. After a long and successful cricket career, he was invested into the Order of the British Empire as a Member (MBE) in 1970- the third highest medal in the order (BBC, 2019). He was an immensely respected Sydney local, who was born in Alexandria and died in Killara.

Collector interest for Oldfield’s belongings and cricket memorabilia has always been intense. In 2000, his baggy green cricket cap from the Bodyline Test Series of 1932-33 sold to the actor Russell Crowe for $28,200 at Christie’s ‘Sport in Australia’ auction. This same baggy green was later part of Crowe’s famous ‘Art of Divorce’ auction at Sotheby’s where it reached a hammer price of $55,000.

This makes Bert Oldfield’s ashtray a compelling and exclusive item to own. No doubt, it will be treasured by any lover of Australia’s cricket history or it would make a valuable part of a museum-level cricket memorabilia collection. The ashtray features in our Director's Selection auction this December.

Central Coast auction house the ashes sport

Article by Isabella Trope


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