4 Iconic Trophies and the Stories Behind Them

May 21, 2018

We all appreciate the validation that comes with being given something shiny and engraved with our name. “You did a good job,” says the shiny thing. “That hard work paid off after all. You deserve a raise. Maybe two raises.”

Generally, the notion holds that the bigger and shinier the award is, the more worth it has and the more insufferable you’re allowed to be after getting it. Take that at face value if you’d like, but have you ever wondered about the history of some of the biggest cultural accolades that we see passed around year after year?

Maybe not, unless you’re one of those people who reads Wikipedia articles for fun or really gets excited about crushing people in Trivial Pursuit. No matter! This post is for those of you who still retain that childlike sense of wonder and discovery. Let’s start with some good, old-fashioned sports, shall we?

1. The Stanley Cup

Originally known as “the Stovepipe Cup” due to its original, much thinner design, hockey’s biggest prize was bought in 1893 for $50 by the Governor General of Canada, Lord Stanley of Preston, to give away to that year’s best amateur hockey club. (It was the Montreal Hockey Club, if you were curious.) The NHL wouldn’t take it over until 1926 — though it technically does not own it — and had it redesigned in 1958.

Rather than a new one being awarded each year, the same trophy has been passed down through the decades since its premiere, and there are technically three of them. The original, donated by Lord Stanley and physically awarded until 1970, is now kept at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The authenticated “Presentation Cup” was created in 1963, and is the one that is given to the champions each season to keep for select days until being reclaimed. The replicated “Permanent Cup” was made in 1993 and acts as a stand-in at the Hockey Hall of Fame when the Presentation Cup is not available.

Perhaps unsurprising in a pastime known for sweaty, bloody men sliding around on shoe-knives, the Stanley Cup has a sordid history of abuse. It was drop-kicked into a canal in 1905, turned into a flowerpot in 1928, taken to strip joints throughout the early 90s, and has been used as a glorified keg, pet dish, and toilet bowl multiple times. It also worked nicely as a feeding bowl for Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin at Belmont Park in 1994. So, NHL winners, just remember that putting your mouth on old Stanley means that you’re essentially kissing a horse and licking a subway pole simultaneously. Worth it.

2. The Mirrorball

Let’s pivot from rougher sports and get into the drama of dancesport for a bit. To reality television!

Based on the UK reality competition series Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing with the Stars has been headlining ABC for a thousand years now (okay, thirteen), and comes with quite the flashy prize: a disco mirror ball on a pedestal.

It has a rather unspectacular origin, despite its glitz. Production designer James Yarnell, due to budget limitations, bought a three-foot lamp, took it apart, and stuck a wooden base to one end and a glass ball on the other to make the original prototype: something that they more or less stuck to for the first several seasons. It’s only real touch-up before its unveiling came ten minutes before the live finale when an executive claimed that it was too short and forced the designers to add some parcel tape between the base and stem to lengthen it.

The fourth season brought an upgrade for the simple reason that the company stopped making the lamps they used for each one. As a result, Yarnell and company began to cast it using a heavy acrylic base and brass stem, and they now commission the trophies from Society Awards in New York. The lettering of the show’s title that wraps around the ball has changed font every time the logo has as well; something that Yarnell is apparently thankful for, as the current block lettering has proven much easier to make and attach than the elaborate calligraphy that it used to have.

3. The Commissioner’s Trophy

Now back to the sports. This time: baseball.

The only of the four major North American sports awards not named after a particular person, the Commissioner’s Trophy was first awarded in 1967 to the St. Louis Cardinals after their defeat of the Boston Red Sox. It was preceded in the MLB by the Dauvray Cup (named after actress Helen Dauvray) and the Temple Cup. The former was awarded between 1887 and 1893, vanishing after that final season and never being seen again. The latter was used between 1894 and 1897, though quickly fell out favor when the series of post-season games lost the enthusiasm of both players and fans. It wasn’t until divisional play was reintroduced in the early 1960s (after years of war between the National and American Leagues) that the current trophy was introduced.

Unlike the Stanley Cup, a new trophy is made every year for the winning team. Made of sterling silver and topped with 30 gold-plated flags (one for each Major League team), it was originally designed by Balfour Jewelers in Attleboro, Massachusetts and cost $2,500. In 1999, it was redesigned by Tiffany & Co. for the 2000 World Series and is now priced at $15,000.

4. The Tony

Let’s wrap things up with a peek at another touchstone in the arts: the stage.

Antoinette Perry was the chairman and secretary of the American Theatre Wing during the Second World War and was known for her high standards and dedication to quality and perfectionism in performance. After her death in 1946, the head of the Story Department at Warner Brothers, Jacob Wilk, had the idea to erect a memorial to her. This idea evolved into a plan for an annual award series in her name, with a panel of six members appointed to nominate candidates for each category.

During the first two years, there was no official prize for the honor: winners were given a scroll, a cigarette lighter, and a money clip or compact. In 1949, the United States Scenic Artists sponsored a contest to create a proper award, and the winning idea came from art director Herman Rose: a medallion made of brass, bronze, and nickel plating. In 1967, it was mounted to a swivel in a black base, and this design is still used today.

The face of the medallion displays the theater’s iconic masks of comedy and tragedy. The back originally featured a bust of Perry but was later changed to include the winner’s name, the award category, and the name and year of their production. When the award is given, the author of the Broadway production and up to two producers receive statues free of charge. All other members of the team who are eligible to receive it must purchase it, and these payments are used to offset the costs of the ceremony itself. The current price for one hovers around $2,500.

And there you are, a brief rundown on some of pop culture’s biggest distinctions. Unless you’re an athlete or in show business, it doesn’t put you any closer to actually winning any of them, mind you, but at least you’ll crush Aunt Linda at game night next week.

Take that, Linda.

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