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History of the Sandow Statuette

Submitted by IFBB Pro League Staff

This is a re-post of an article originally posted on IFBBPRO.com in September 2008.  If you have any comments or interesting factual information to add to this article, please use the comment section at the end of the article or email ifbbproleague@gmail.com. If you have any relevant images to share, please send to ifbbproleague@gmail.com. We welcome any effort to grow or add to this wonderful story of the Sandow statuette.




*Reprinted with the kind courtesy of www.sandowmusuem.com.

Something extraordinary happened in the history of bodybuilding on September 14, 1901.  It was on that evening that the famous Anglo-German physical culture entrepreneur Eugen Sandow held an event called simply "The Great Competition," the first major physique competition the world had ever seen.

There had been a nationwide search for contestants, and sixty semifinalists who came from all over the British Isles had been assembled in the cavernous purlieus of London's Royal Albert Hall. The judges of the contest were culled from the best that turn-of-the-century British high society could offer: one was the sculptor Sir Charles Lawes, another was Sandow himself, and the third arbiter was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.

These men narrowed down the field to twelve contestants, and the finalists were told to stand on pedestals where they could be seen to good effect. Despite their silly looking black tights, leather belts and leopard-skin loincloths, the men were inspected very carefully by the judges. At last, the three top winners were announced, and each of the lucky victors came forward to accept an extraordinary prize: a beautifully sculpted statuette of Sandow himself. The third place winner received a statue made of bronze, a silver for second, and for William L. Murray of Nottingham, a golden statue was his reward.

The magnificent statue that was awarded to the competitors in this early contest was fated to have a long and distinguished afterlife. It reappeared briefly as a trophy in 1950 and then was resurrected most gloriously of all at the Mr. Olympia contest of 1977, and it has remained the symbol of bodybuilding's most coveted prize ever since. Today, it is recognized by many in the bodybuilding world, but few realize its long and convoluted history.

In 1891, muscleman Eugen Sandow was the toast of England. He had appeared on the British music-hall stage in 1889 when he defeated another flamboyant strongman in a contest of weightlifting and chain snapping. The 24-year-old athlete had toured the British Isles and had begun to lay the foundations of his long career as a music-hall performer, a gym operator and a shrewd businessman. Sandow's graceful form and impressive musculature caught the eye of a 35-year-old sculptor whose own reputation was also on the rise. His name was Frederick W. Pomeroy and, in February of 1891, the two men collaborated on the wonderful statue which we celebrate to this day.

Pomeroy was born on October 9, 1856 in London, the son of an artist-craftsman, and he quickly gained a reputation in Victorian London for decorative and portrait work, but he was especially good when it came to nudes (both male and female).

"There is much truth in both his ideal figures and portraiture," remarked a contemporary critic, "He sees nature in a big and broad way … He is excellent in modeling, and his technique is not less good … In his portrait statues there is a great deal of strength … "His figures stand well, and are always fine representations of the men." [M.H. Spielmann, British Sculpture and Sculptors of Today (London: Cassell, 1901), p118]

All of these qualities are clearly present in the statuette that Pomeroy created of Sandow. The sculptor has depicted a graceful but muscled strongman who grasps one end of a globe barbell in one hand and balances delicately with the other. Sandow's handsome face, broad shoulders and rippling abdomen are all unmistakable, and the subject of this [Sandow] was undoubtedly thrilled with the results. But the strongman was not the only one who loved the statue, in fact it was so popular with athletes and aesthetes that while Sandow was alive many copies of the sculpture were made; these were then given or sold to admirers over the years. Some were presented by the athlete to lucky admirers while others were placed in Sandow's gymnasiums – anyplace, in fact, where strength, health and beauty were appreciated.

When Sandow became a star in the United States after 1894, he authorized the production of more copies of his portrait statue to be made in North America. These were produced by Mullers & Sons foundry in New York. This version is slightly different from the original because the athlete's body is painted a dull gold and the base is square and decorated with block letters spelling out the name "SANDOW."  Far fewer examples of this version escaped the ravages of time.

As popular as these statues were, they remained in private hands, were relegated to attics or met various other fates.  It was reported, for instance, that the original gold statue won by William Murray was destroyed in the Blitz that destroyed much of London during World War II.  For whatever reason therefore, Pomeroy's magnificent work remained virtually hidden until another contest in 1950 brought it back into the light of the sporting world.

Promoters of the 1950 Mr. Universe competition in London were certain that the winner of the contest that year would be English superstar Reg Park, so they offered a tantalizing trophy (believing that it would stay in the country): this was the original bronze Sandow statue that had been awarded to the third-place winner fifty years earlier at the Great Competition.  Much to their surprise and chagrin, the victor that year was a young American, Steve Reeves, and he consequently took the prize back to his home in California.  Before he left, however, he posed for a series of photos with the precious statue cradled in his arms, and these created a lasting impression in the minds of both fans and bodybuilders of the day. [right: Steve Reeves and the Sandow on the cover of Joe Weider's March 1952 edition of YOUR PHYSIQUE]

Once again, the Sandow statue was fated to remain in the shadows for over a quarter century, but in 1977 the bodybuilding world came to recognize in Pomeroy's immortal work the highest award the sport could offer, but this time the contest was the Mr. Olympia competition. From its beginnings in 1965, the Mr. Olympia had been conceived to honor professional bodybuilding's biggest and best athletes, and for the first twelve years of its existence the trophies had been "traditional huge, baroque, brass wedding cakes", tall and impressive but not very memorable. That was all destined to change in 1977 in Columbus when three of the contest's promoters combined to honor both Sandow and the sport's long and colorful past.

Joe Weider, Jim Lorimer and Arnold Schwarzenegger all claim the honor of devising the idea of offering the Sandow statue as the trophy for the overall winner at the Mr. Olympia contest, but perhaps the best that can be said at this point is that it was a mutual decision.  According to Joe Weider, the original of the statue used as the mold for all subsequent castings had been found in an antique shop by his wife Betty.  She immediately recognized the importance of the work, purchased it and presented it to Joe.

In 1977, the very first Mr. Olympia Sandow was won by Frank Zane in the Ohio capital city, and was featured on the cover of Weider's "Muscle Builder and Power" magazine a few months later in July 1978. The statue has continued to tempt bodybuilding contestants ever since. Thus, for over thirty years, Pomeroy's masterful work has represented bodybuilding's ultimate award.

Physiques have changed in the century that has intervened between that first contest in 1901 and toady's competitions, but the important things will endure. By using Sandow's muscular image, the directors of bodybuilding anchor current athletes to the sport's past and show that although the bodies change, the desire for beauty, strength and excellence will always be constant.



About 1987, I was the Kinesiology illustrator for Muscle & Fitness Magazine and Joe Weider asked me if I could design a new Mr. Olympia medal for him. He proposed a basic, "coin-type" design, with the Sandow on one side and a portrait of himself on the other, in profile, with his arms crossed. A size was specified, as were certain words and numbers that had to appear on the medal. By the time I got home, I wondered if I should really limit myself to a flat coin, because it seemed that it would be more interesting and beautiful if I managed to make the medal into a hanging sculpture. When I returned to show Joe a big, glistening maquette of my "wild" idea, he jumped at it and gave me the go-ahead to make the actual medal. Soon after delivering the completed master to Joe, I got an excited call from an old gentleman named Joel Meisner (who has since passed away) asking me who I was and where I came from. He was the owner of the Joel Meisner Foundry, where Joe was having the medals cast, and he said he hadn't seen anything this good in years. Within days he saw to it that I was invited to the International Federation of Medallic Art, which was held in Colorado Springs the year the medal was completed, as a guest of the American Numismatic Association (ANA). The medal caused quite a sensation there. Everyone wanted to see and handle it so much that I later donated the medal to the ANA, for their museum.

  1. 15 Comments to “History of the Sandow Statuette”

  2. Hello,

    Joe Weider saw the two Sandows at Steves ranch back in 1983 I believe.

    If you would like to see a picture of the Sandows owned by Steve Reeves go to Steve Reeves website. The Gold and Bronze statues from the 1901 contest were on display at the Steve Reeves Fitness & Film Festival. Go to stevereeves.com and look under the NEWS section, If you would like more information on the Pomaroy work, I’ll be happy to supply it. We had the gold statued restored
    by a professional and now know how it was casted to make it very heavy.


    By George Helmer on Sep 24, 2008 at 4:39 pm

  3. Would like to inquire about the origination of Sandow’s please if any one can help me that would be great!.thanks Brett Sandow.

    By Brett Sandow on Jan 9, 2009 at 12:58 am

  4. I was interested to read the latest news on the gold Sandow trophy. My late father, Len Murray, inherited the original gold statuette, after the death of William Murray’s widow. william Murray was his uncle). My parents were invited by Oscar Heidenstam to the 1974 Mr Universe contest in London, where the original gold trophy was shown to the audience. Health and Strength Magazine, vol.103 no.9, edited by Oscar, has photographs of my parents, Margaret and Len Murray with Paul Getty, and also of NABBA president Jimmy Savile holding the statuette. My father later sold the gold original on to Steve Reeves. It is good to know that the statuette has been restored and is well cared for.

    By Heather Belcher(nee Murray) on Sep 27, 2009 at 10:51 am

  5. Hello Bret Sandow and Heather Belcher(nee) Murray,
    Have you seen the restored Gold Sandow? Please email me at srhercules@aol.com
    I would like to send you by email photos of the statue as it was being restored.
    George Helmer
    President Steve Reeves International Inc.

    By George Helmer on Feb 4, 2010 at 2:33 pm

  6. I purchased a replica of the original statuette from New York.   I believe it is bronze and had belonged to Sigmund Klein for many years before the ownership changed.  And now it is with me in Melbourne Australia.   If anyone would like to see it, please feel free to contact me.

    By Victor on Oct 25, 2010 at 1:34 am

  7. Following last message…The statuette is proudly housed in Victoria Road Fitness, in Northcote, Victoria (Australia).   You can google the location and contact number to make an appointment with me.  It will be my pleasure to share a "Sandow" moment with anyone who appreciates it.

    By Victor on Oct 25, 2010 at 1:37 am

  8. We also have an Olympia Sandow Trophy and its for sale see link!
    Let it be known we're taking offers as of 11/10

    By Physique Bodyware on Nov 16, 2010 at 11:53 am

  9. Eugen Sandow and The Great Competition of 1901
    The Statuette and Missing Medals
    The elusive search for these Lost Relics, the Holy Grails of Body Building, continues.
    Despite all the amazing research work of David Chapman, David Waller, John F. Kasson, David Webster, Roger Fillary, Gil Waldron and so many others, to whom profound gratitude is in order, there is still one area regarding the world of Eugen Sandow that needs some additional attention.

    We have much information regarding Sandow's many books and publications, as well as the various apparatus' (strength developing equipment), he sold under his name. However there appears to be a large gap regarding the many Awards that he won during his lifetime, as well as the Awards he bestowed on the clients at his dozens of gyms, as well as during "The Great Competition" (1899-1901).

    Much is known, both by virtue of old photographs as well as written material, about the famous Sandow statuettes, Gold, Silver and Bronze, awarded to the three winners of "The Great Competition".

    But many exquisitely beautiful Medals (medallions with Sandow's portrait, all sculpted in glorious profile), cast in Gold, Silver and Bronze, were also awarded to the best finalists in the Kingdom, during The Great Competition of 1901.

    We know that only the recipients of the Gold and Silver Medals in Great Britain, local County contests, were allowed to compete in the final judging in London for the top two Prizes, being the Gold and Silver Statuettes of Sandow. Bronze Medal winners were allowed only to compete in The Great Competition for the Third Place, Bronze Statuette. Still however, a stupendously great Honor to be sure.

    I have spent many countless years searching for and collecting rare Memorabilia material relating to Eugen Sandow including his various types of strength building equipment and even personal letters, written and personally signed by Sandow on his private stationary.

    However, I continue to search for more information concerning the various Medals given out by Sandow at The Great Competition of 1899-1901, as well as Awards given out at his many Gyms throughout the Kingdom during Sandow's lifetime.

    After years of relentless searching, literally on a daily basis, I finally discovered the existence of a Silver Medal won by a certain "W. Johnston" during The Great Competition. This Sandow client had represented the County of Peeblesshire (sic) and both his name and region were engraved on the highly decorated back of this exquisite Medal with Sandow's face in magnificent profile relief, appearing on the front side of the Medal.

    To this solid Silver Medal, a rare surviving relic from The Great Competition, I have added a Silver Chain and it is certainly one of my rarest treasures. Possibly the only such remaining Medal from The Great Competition in existence. The recipient was personally Judged and selected by Eugen Sandow himself and so it is possible and even likely that this Silver Medal was conferred upon the winner from Sandow's own hands.

    Further research revealed that all the Sandow statuettes and Medals for The Great Competition were supplied by Elkington & Company Ltd. (established 1829).

    This British company was well known for its electroplated designs in the Victorian era, some of which were displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition, London. Originally set up to manufacture gold, gilt, and silverware, the electroplating process was perfected in 1840 and was a field in which the company dominated. Elkington & Co. had factories in London, Liverpool, Dublin, and Birmingham and its products included tableware, hollowware, and artworks.

    While I do not believe this company still exists in its original form, it is possible that somewhere in England, the many records of this company still exist which may well contain extensive correspondence between Eugen Sandow and/or his emplyees, regarding the Statuettes and various Medals commissioned for The Great Competition and the Medals in general that were awarded at Sandow's gyms/Health Institutes throughout the Kingdom, on an Annual Basis to clients who made exceptional progress.

    As I reside in the United States it is more difficult for me to address the research challenges pertaining to the above, as would apply to those Sandow admirers who live in the U.K.

    Also, as a footnote to the above, I am most curious if anyone knows what became of Sandow's favorite medal awarded to him, The Gold Star, on a Gold chain, he was awarded for becoming the Wrestling Champion of Italy whilst he was still at the tender age of a young 21 or 22.

    Sandow is seen wearing this Gold Star around his neck in many of his most famous photographs.

    Is it possible that Sandow's Gold Star, of which he was so proud throughout is life, had the misfortune to be among the many objects, letters, and documents, that Sandow's wife destroyed, in a fit of jealous rage, after his death. The fact that his widow had this Great Man, buried in an unmarked grave, says all there is to say about their relationship in Sandow's final years.

    Thankfully, Sandow's Great, Great, Grandson, Mr. Chris Davies, has recently had a suitable marker Stone, in a fittingly majestic ceremony, placed over the final resting place in Putney Vale Cemetery, in England, of a man, who was so revered in Life and, if anything, is even more revered today.

    I hope to learn if anyone has further information pertaining to the topics discussed herein and would be willing to share such information both on this website and/or with me personally, if that is preferred for reasons of confidentiality, at the following email address. david_pakter@msn.com

    My lifelong dream remains to one day obtain a replica of one of the original Sandow statuettes, which were actually reproduced in large numbers, in various metals, including Bronze, Pewter and Spelter, during Sandow's lifetime.
    Alas, they have almost all disappeared, more is the pity.

    But, most thankfully, the eternal and glorious name of the immortal Eugen Sandow, and all he represented and still represents, remains, – a precious gift to Humanity, for all posterity.
    As for the two sided Silver Sandow Medal from The Great Competition of 1901, in my private collection, as a well established artist (see my work at http://www.OldMasterPortraits.com ) , I plan to use the Sandow Silver Medal, as the inspirational basis for a wide range of artistic creations to Honor the immortal Memory of the Father of Modern Fitness- Eugen Sandow.
    His imperishable Memory will endure throughout the Ages.
    David Pakter, M.A., M.F.A.
    New York

    By David Pakter on Nov 1, 2012 at 4:07 pm

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