Protecting the Legacy of the

All Blacks Jersey


Held at NZ Rugby House — Wellington – 2017

On Sunday August 28th, the day after the All Blacks recorded their 43rd consecutive home test victory, a diversely skilled group, linked with a common passion, came together in the Mana Tangata Room at New Zealand Rugby House for the seminar – Protecting the Legacy of the All Blacks jersey.

In what we believe was a world first, collectors, manufacturers, historians, and museum curators and conservators came together to discuss an item of sporting apparel. Stephen Berg the director of the New Zealand Rugby Museum, who hosted and organised the event, stated the aims were to explore areas of concern for all the groups and to see what further research and collaboration should be done, once we had heard from the professionals, discussed common needs & frustrations and had a question and answer session with the panel.

Appearing via video, the NZRM patron, former All Blacks captain, coach and manager Sir Brian Lochore spoke passionately about the jersey and its meaning to the players. His insights and reminiscing from the perspective of both player and administrator provided a rare personal glimpse into the passion and reverence held for the All Blacks jersey by the select few who have worn one.

Author and historian Ron Palenski painted the very detailed picture of the evolution of black as the jersey’s colour – noting the first New Zealand rugby touring side that ventured to New South Wales in 1884 actually wore dark blue.  The colour choice was most probably influenced by the manager whose home club and province (Otago) both wore dark blue.

Andrew Wilson, senior manager global sports marketing for Adidas, presented a fascinating look at the challenges of bringing new designs to market when also dealing with an iconic and rarely changed All Blacks jersey. He spoke of the ‘care’ needed in terms of design. This legacy surrounding the care required became quickly evident to Adidas, after their consultation with the All Blacks players, all of whom wished for minimal change.

In regard to the All Blacks ‘brand’, Adidas have adopted the mantra of “Looking back to come forward” and indeed he ‘leaked’ there will be a ‘heritage’ feel to the jersey worn against the Lions in 2017. Interestingly with a ‘stable’ of New Zealand jerseys under their care, Adidas felt there was more scope for “creative’ design with the Maori All Blacks jersey for instance, through the honouring of some Maori traditions visually.

Andrew also advised that player issue jerseys, while very similar to the ‘top-of the range’ match-feel replicas, do contain unique technology that sets them apart. We will certainly follow up on identifying these ‘markers’ in the player jerseys to further combat attempted fraud in the auction and memorabilia markets.

Stephen Berg spoke of the need for collectors to think of the preservation of their collection for at least 100 years not just the 20 – 30 years which may cover their collecting lifespan. A handout covered the detailed technical aspects but he reiterated some excellent basic points – catalogue the collection; list such things as, who worn by, and when, where purchased, from whom and for how much. He also stressed the need to engage a professional conservator to assess significant collections. While conservation can’t reverse damage already done, it can minimise further deterioration. A selection of online cataloguing systems, such as e-hive, and a list of conservators from around New Zealand was provided.

With specialist textile conservators from Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand) and several other museum representatives in attendance, an informative question and answer session ensued regarding the appropriate storage methods. Interestingly some collectors were right on top of this and some others realised some specialist help was vitally needed.

Tina Downes from Massey’s Institute of Design for Industry and Environment, (College of Creative Arts School of Fashion Design in Wellington) spoke to all groups on a fascinating project, the construction of authentic recreations of the 1884, 1905 and 1924-25 jerseys. Not replicas but modern recreations of original All Backs jersey.

Tina led us thought a fascinating process of identifying the original makers of the 1905 jerseys and the discovery of the possibility of remaking them.

The 1905 “Originals’ jerseys were made in Palmerston North (which is the home of the New Zealand Rugby Museum and Massey University).  The maker in 1905 is now known as the Manawatu Knitting Mills, is still operating, and remarkably has the original knitting machinery still at Palmerston North. A local embroidery company also still operates and has the patterns of various national sports logos and ferns used over 100 years ago.

Apart from being an exciting teaching experience the provision of authentic reproductions allowed the NZRM to take the real jersey off permanent display (and alleviate all the issues surrounding deterioration due to display) but it also gave them a ‘prop’ that museum visitors, especially children could use – that is putting on and experiencing how a woollen jersey ‘felt’ over 100 years ago. A long way from today’s ultra-thin and light sublimated models.

Michael Fahey spoke on identifying All Blacks jerseys. The correct identification of the year and the player who wore it is becoming increasingly important. Collectors and museums need to accurately descript the jerseys – this allows for further narrative to be provided.

In the auction sphere also, the wearer and the date of wearing is becoming more and more important in determining a jersey’s value. An example was used: A pre 1930’s All Blacks jersey fetches between NZ $5,000 – NZ $10,000 depending on condition and increasingly, year and player. In 2015 George Gillett’s 1905 jersey was auctioned. With estimates of GBP8,000 – GBP12,000. It achieved a world record for a rugby jersey of GBP22,815.

Later that year another 1905 jersey came to market. This time it was listed as that worn by captain Dave Gallaher. The fact he died almost 100 years ago at the Battle of Passchendaele, serving in the New Zealand Army, enhanced the topicality. Based on the previous auction result and with a premium for WW1 connection and his also being the captain, estimates were listed at GBP20,000 to GBP40,000. Incredibly the world record was smashed and the jersey sold for GBP180,000.

Now clearly with famous tours and famous players, a premium (and in this case a significant premium) will be paid and correct identification is vital. This certainly requires a knowledge of jersey styles, material used, design of fern embroidery and maker’s label. In more recent years number font, embroidery and sponsor’s logos all come into play in determining one year over another. A large amount of information can be collected, stored, sorted and analysed. Match programmes then become important especially when players wore tour numbers. Assuming that modern numbering systems applied to all previous tours is incorrect. Research has shown that in one series in 1930 against the British tourists various numbers were listed for the same position for the All Blacks across each of the four tests. Detailed and accurate player number information is needed.

Some of the other random highlights were the presentation of a ceramic rugby ball made especially for the New Zealand Rugby Museum, by Corrado Mattoccia from the Italian Rugby Museum.  Corrado had flown from Italy for the seminar and attended with his translator.

Dave Gallaher’s grand-daughter who has done much work on the family history was an active contributor; many delegates offered to collect information on jersey on display in their provinces, whether they are on display in schools, clubs or museums.

The consensus from formal and informal discussion was that a database of jerseys should be further developed with the New Zealand Rugby Museum the custodian of this information. This could then be used to produce a book and/or a searchable website. Further specific tasks and collaborations will be established after the seminar minutes, handouts and transcripts are collated and distributed to delegates. This will also be available to other interested parties. Please contact the New Zealand Rugby Museum for this information.

The seminar, Protecting the Legacy, was hosted by the New Zealand Rugby Museum and was supported by Michael Fahey of Sports Memorabilia Australia.  The event was possible via the funding provided by the New Zealand Rugby Museum and The Mainland Foundation.

Anyone interested to assist by providing cataloguing information of their own collections or in contacting local schools, clubs and museums (in any country) are most welcome to contact the New Zealand Rugby Museum.