2023 February Finest Auction

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On December 29, 2022, the we lost the greatest footballer of all time. Pelé passed away at 82 years old, leaving behind an unparalleled legacy as both sportsman and global humanitarian. Born into extreme poverty in Brazil’s southern state of Minas Gerais, Edson Arantes do Nascimento was able to turn his life around through his sensational ability on the pitch. His dominant reign as an international and professional player spanned over twenty years (1956-77). Pelé performed his best on the world’s biggest stage and remains the only player to win three FIFA World Cup titles (1958, ’62 and ’70) for his country. He retired as Brazil’s all-time leading scorer with 77 goals in 91 caps, and his unfathomable 1,283 career goals in all competitions will never be topped.

"Pelé was the greatest – he was simply flawless,” said Tostão, his 1970 World Cup teammate. “And off the pitch he is always smiling and upbeat. You never see him bad-tempered. He loves being Pelé."

Off the pitch, Pelé was also one of football’s greatest ambassadors. His brief stint in the North American Soccer League at the end of his playing career instigated a grassroots movement that has proven monumental in the eventual explosion of soccer’s development at the youth and adult levels in the U.S. and Canada. He became a UNESCO global ambassador in 1994 and was appointed Brazil’s Minister of Sports by then-President Fernando Cardoso in 1995. He also served as FIFA Ambassador against racism, a UNESCO global ambassador and championed numerous children's causes through UNICEF. Until his dying day, Pelé used his platform to support charitable efforts striving to improve the lives of the poor.

"In some countries they wanted to touch him,” recalled one Brazilian teammate. “In some they wanted to kiss him. In others they even kissed the ground he walked on.”

It is our honor to offer this Order of Rio Branco Grand Cross award presented to Pelé in 1995 by the Brazilian government. Since 1963, the Order of Rio Branco has been awarded annually to Brazilians and/or foreign nationals who “significantly contribute to the promotion of Brazil's relation with the world.” Six ranks of merit make up the order: Grand Cross, Grand Officer, Commander, Officer, Knight, and Medal. The President of Brazil serves as the Grand Master of Order while the Minister of Foreign Affairs is the Chancellor of Order. The award is named in honor of José Paranhos (1845-1912), Baron of Rio Branco and former Minister of Foreign Affairs who is considered the "father of Brazilian diplomacy."

This extravagant Grand Cross (“Grã Cruz”) award comes in three parts. First is a 2½” white and blue enameled cross (“UBIQUE PATRIAE MEMOR” on obverse; “1845 - 1912” on reverse) hanging from a long blue and white ribbon sash. Second is a 3” gold-plated starburst pin (88 g) with the same enameled cross design on the obverse (maker “H. Stern” hallmark on reverse. Third is a miniature enameled cross (20 mm) hanging from a small ribbon that features a Grand Cross rosette. An accompanying certificate (13.5 x 9.5”) dated April 27, 1995, shows the recipient’s full name “Edson Arantes do Nascimento” and government title “Ministro Extraordinario dos Esportes (Extraordinary Minister of Sports)” in beautiful black calligraphy. Brazil’s then-Chancellor of Order, Luis Felipe Lampreia, has signed the bottom of this official government document issued by the Federal Republic of Brazil.

Included in this lot is an official booklet from the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs listing the 1995 Order of Rio Branco recipients for each rank of merit along with other info in Portuguese. The full award is housed in its original blue presentation case (12.5 x 7 x 2.75”) from H. Stern of Brazil with the Order of Rio Branco cross emblem on the top. Affixed to the certificate envelope, booklet cover, and outer blue presentation case is a white sticker label with Pelé’s full name and Minister of Sports title. All items come essentially as issued with light handling and remain in oustanding condition. A truly one-of-a-kind piece of history, this important award was part of the renowned Pelé Collection auction in 2016.

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