Blog post

The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race Trophies

Contemporary silver masterpieces from the 'Battle of the Blues'

close-up colour photograph of a silver lion-shaped figure on top of a silver trophy
Dr Victoria Avery (The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race is one of the world’s oldest annual sporting events. The race on the River Thames between two teams representing Oxford and Cambridge Universities is now regularly watched by 250,000 riverside supporters and 10 million TV viewers worldwide.

The first men's race was held in 1829 and has taken place annually since 1856, except during World War I and II and during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The first women's event was held in 1927, with an annual race since 1964. Members of the crews are traditionally known as 'blues', with Cambridge in light blue and Oxford in dark blue.

black and white photograph of two rowing teams in boats on a river
black and white photograph, large crowd watching the boat race

For the first time in the history of the race, five silver trophies associated with this 'Battle of the Blues' have gone on public display in an exhibition at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The trophies have traditionally resided in the offices of the race sponsors, only being seen by a privileged few on Boat Race Day. In 2020, responsibility for the trophies' safe storage between Boat Races passed to the winning University. With Cambridge winning both the Men's and Women's races in 2021, the trophies were to be stored in there, giving the Fitzwilliam Museum a unique opportunity to display these masterpieces of contemporary British silver side by side.

The display includes the current Men's Blue Boat Race Trophy ('The Aberdeen Asset Management 'Quaich'') and current Women's Blue Boat Race Trophy ('The Newton Trophy'). Both current Blue Boat Trophies are important works by well-known contemporary British silversmiths, representing two alternative ways of creating an artwork in silver.

colour photograph of a silver trophy with light blue ribbons attached
colour photograph of engraved silver trophy with light blue ribbons attached

The Men's Trophy was designed in 2000 by Rachel Hopkins and made by a number of different silversmiths in the workshop of Nicholas Winton working together as a team.

Both trophies have ingenious hidden features. The Men's Trophy, for example, has The Championship Course (the Boat Race route along the Thames from Mortlake to Putney) beautifully engraved inside the bowl of the shallow cup, but this is only visible when the lid is removed.

colour photograph of inside a silver trophy cup showing an engraved map

The Women’s Trophy was designed and made in 2014 entirely by a single silversmith, Rod Kelly.

It includes a list of the earliest Boat Race winners from 1927 to 2013 engraved on a silver plaque underneath the base of the trophy. The winning crews from 2014, when this trophy was first awarded, are recorded on the rim around the top of the cup, with lots of room left for the names of future winners.

colour photograph of a silver plaque engraved with a list of race winners
colour photograph of recent race winners engraved on silver trophy rim, the golden interior of the trophy also pictured

The display also includes the current Men's and Women's Reserve Boat Race Trophies ('The Goldie-Isis Cup' and 'The Blondie-Osiris Cup') which were first presented respectively in 1977 and 1992. The original Women's Blue Boat Race Trophy ('The Francombe Cup') first presented in 1936 completes the display.

colour photograph of three silver trophies

The display focuses in particular on the commissioning and making of the trophies, showcasing great design and making skills. The research involved has been also detailed in an online exhibition from the Fitzwilliam Museum.

The Blue Boat Trophies are on display at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until 28 March 2022, after which they will move to the winner of the next Boat Race being held on Sunday 3 April 2022.

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