5 Most Valuable Bits of Olympics Memorabilia Ever

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- No matter how the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, turn out, there's going to be someone who wants a piece of them.

The Olympic Games are a memorabilia factory that turns ephemera from dozens of events into collectibles and museum pieces overnight.

It's a small but vital part of a $12 billion licensed sports merchandise business and a $1.5 billion autograph market, according to SportsMemorabilia.com. Consider, for a moment, that a bidder in Far East Russia already blew $232,000 on a commemorative gold coin from these Sochi Games with a face value of $785.

Want a bit of meaningful gold for yourself, U.S. collector? Mark Wells from the 1980 "Miracle On Ice" U.S. Men's Hockey Team sold his gold medal for more than $300,000 four years ago. Just make sure you know what you are getting into. The memorabilia market can be a dicey proposition for buyers who not only have to deal with a market that's volatile under the best of circumstances, but with shady dealers facing federal investigation for rigging auctions, bidding up their own items and tampering with collectibles without disclosing changes.

A combination of nostalgia, a growing buyer base, those bidders increasing expendable income, national pride and a little market chicanery is driving prices for the most sought-after items into the millions, though, with even slightly lesser pieces regularly fetching six figures. If you think the stakes are high when the games are being played, just wait about 40 years or so until the fans in the stands run companies and think nothing of throwing a few million at a medal, hockey stick or curling broom.

To give you just an idea how much cash items from this $50 billion Olympics can generate, we've found five that set the bar for what fans will pay for a piece of Olympic glory: