Your Serve: Collective Memory
The sport’s rich history stays alive with the Tennis Collectors of America.
By Parry Desmond
Several people are crowded around a table in the ballroom of the Viking Hotel in Newport, RI. Wooden, timeworn tennis racquets — possibly purchased at a yard sale or saved from a dumpster — are neatly spread across the table. Some of the racquets have torn strings, but the onlookers aren’t concerned with that; they know the condition of a frame is more important. Instead, they discuss the various racquets’ unique designs, their vintage, and who may have manufactured the ones without a company name on them.
There are, in fact, a number of tables around the ballroom’s periphery, many stacked with vintage racquets. Others have books, magazines, photos and other printed materials, plus tennis-related artifacts such as trophies and medals. It’s a typical scene at the Buy/Sell Show, which is one of the highlights of the annual meeting of the Tennis Collectors of America (TCA) organization.
Before the TCA was formed, many of the organization’s founders were members of The Tennis Collectors Society, a British group established in 1988, because there was no tennis collector organization based in the U.S. That situation changed after many American collectors read “Tennis Antiques and Collectibles,” a break-through book written by Jeanne Cherry of Santa Monica, Calif., in 1995. That’s when they realized there were lots of people in the U.S. who enjoyed spending weekends at garage sales and antique shows, in search of vintage racquets and other tennis memorabilia.
So, shortly after her book was published, Cherry and several American friends created a U.S. branch of the British tennis collectors group. The first meeting was held in Newport in 1996.
As the American branch continued to meet in Newport over the years, there were many discussions about forming an organization, based in the United States, which focused on the history of American tennis and collectibles, recalled Mike Eden, a physician in Lexington, Ky. Eden spearheaded the effort to establish the independent, non-profit TCA in 2003 and served as its first president. Currently in his second term as president, Eden is focusing much of his attention on improving TCA’s website, tenniscollectors.org. The organization’s Facebook page was created recently.
Most of the TCA’s meetings have been held in Newport in July, during the pro tournament and induction weekend at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, although the group also has meet in recent years in Cincinnati and St. Louis. Meetings are always held at a site where a top-flight professional tournament is scheduled at the same time. There also have been several regional meetings.
The meetings in Newport, for example, get rolling with a reception at the Hall of Fame on Thursday, which are often attended by a celebrity guest. The Buy/Sell Show, which is open to the public, is held on Friday afternoons. On Saturday mornings, members and special guest speakers talk about tennis history and collecting experiences at educational seminars. The meeting concludes with a dinner on Saturday evening, highlighted by a highly competitive, but fun, tennis trivia history quiz. For many members, the annual meetings aren’t just a time to discuss flathead racquets or find a first-edition of a beautifully illustrated tennis instruction book, but also to see old friends.
However, the TCA’s activities and benefits aren’t limited to its annual meeting. In fact, many of its 147 members have never attended an annual meeting. But members stay connected through the website and through “The Journal of Tennis Collectors of America,” published three times a year and edited since its inception in 2004 by Clark Bensen, an attorney and author of a book on wood tennis racquets. Articles in a typical issue concern various aspects of tennis history, details on many types of racquets and their manufacturers, profiles on TCA members, suggestions on how to display and care for their collections, reports on meetings and more.
Tennis has a rich history, and TCA is determined to bring the sport’s history to life.
Parry Desmond, a retired journalist and editor, is one of the founding members of the TCA. He and his wife, Becky, a TCA vice president, collect tennis-related memorabilia.
For more information about the TCA, and its events and activities, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit tenniscollectors.org.