The Copeland Shield, as it was formerly known, was donated by Ern Copeland, a secretary who came to the club in 1895 and lead the club through the 1890s depression, saving it from financial ruin. He remained an employee of Collingwood for 19 years, finally retiring in 1924. The trophy was unveiled in 1932, with the best and fairest award winners from the previous five years engraved on the trophy.
Along with the Copeland Trophy, the R.T. Rush Trophy is awarded to the second best and fairest player, the J.J. Joyce Trophy is awarded to the third placed player, the Jock McHale Trophy to the fourth placed player, and the Jack Regan Trophy to the fifth placed player.