How the Cup Came to Dominate Awards

December 19, 2018

How the cup came to dominate awards.

Have you ever sat down and wondered why many of the top trophies in the world are cups? In hockey there is the Stanley Cup, obviously, as well as the Clarence Campbell Bowl, the Prince of Wales Trophy, the Jennings award and a litany of others. Professional golf has the Wanamaker Trophy (a large cup), Claret Jug, and Ryder Cup among others. Professional soccer utilizes the European Cup, the FA Cup, the Americas Cup and more although the World Cup is a free form trophy in itself.

Point made, there are a lot of cups given out at even the highest level of athletics. The real question is when given their boundless creativity why do major organizations come back to the same core idea? The answer is actually about as old as professional sports itself.

Historic Awards

The cup as a design goes all the way back to ancient Greece. In those times the idea of a trophy was much different. When an athlete entered a competition they did so for the love of their gods as much as they did for the love of competition or their countrymen. As a result the prizes for these ancient events were symbolic of the gods they were put on to please; laurel wreaths for Apollo and olives branches for Zeus were the most prolific. Additional prizes were often useful items such as jars of olive oil. As time went on the simple act of returning home with the jar of oil or bronze shield became symbolic of the victory and the items transcended their basic usefulness to become trophies themselves.

The Romans after the Greeks were not as hot on physical rewards and preferred instead to award pure cash prizes to their top competitors. This isn’t to say the awards were lessened because of it. Adjusted for inflation the best compensated athlete of all time is still Gaius Appuleius Diocles. Diocles was a Roman chariot racer who won the equivalent of $15 billion dollars in today’s money, I have a feeling he didn’t miss not getting anything for his trophy room.

When tastes revolved again to awarding physical trophies to the victorious competitors the people awarding them wanted something that would last a long time. At this point we had reached the Renaissance and Greek traditions were on the top of the mind for the aristocracy. They returned to the Greek idea of everyday objects as awards but crafted them out of silver and gold. These traditions have carried on (some unbroken since the 1500s) and the idea of a cup, jug, or tray as a trophy has stuck ever since.

Moving Into the Future

The recent centuries have seen revolutions in awards but the cup has remained a stalwart in traditional design. Even as the world moves forward we feel this need to hold onto the past, including cups. Cups are so integral to sports that the number of championships won by a team or player is often just called their silverware or hardware. With this being the case how can a new design break the mold and stand out while still paying homage to the past?

For skilled artisans a cup is less a design limitation as it is a blank canvas. The modern cup can be broken down into various parts and within each of those parts a story can be told. Let’s take a look at the Michael & Gail Kawaharada Perpetual Trophy for the Mid-Pacific Open as an example. This cup can be broken down into the base, bowl, handles and lid. All cups naturally have a bowl and a base but some don’t use handles or lids.

The base is made of black granite and is wrapped with an engraving plate showing the names of all previous winners (not shown in photo). The metal base begins with tropical leaves that are a dead giveaway that this isn’t a mainland trophy. The main body is emblazoned with the Mid Pacific Open logo and the dedication to the people instrumental to the tournament. The handles are not over looked. These handles have textured to emulate the look of waves crashing ashore, another point to prove the legacy of the award. The lid itself has been topped with the image of King Kamehameha, the ancestral king of the Hawaiian Islands. All together this cup, while remaining traditional in design, is a physical embodiment of the Hawai’ian spirit.

The Michael & Gail Kawaharada Trophy is a great example of how to make a traditional design your own, but there are elements they didn’t incorporate. For example the handles could be even more free form. Another idea is the addition of ribbons which has taken hold in a major way in Europe. Gemstones, inlays and patinas would also add a colorful splash into the design. The potential when making a new award is endless.

If you are looking into new awards or traditions let us know by reaching out. For more reading on how to build great traditions check out our other blog on this topic here.

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