Two pieces of equipment are needed to play golf; a club and a ball. The way that golf balls have been made over the last six hundred years has heavily influenced the design of clubs and the manner in which the game has been played.
The first written record of golf in Scotland dates to 1457. It is not known what type of golf balls were in use at that time.
By the early 1600s golf was being played with leather balls stuffed with feathers; these are referred to as "featheries". Only a very small number of original feathery golf balls still exist and they stopped being made in the 1850s. Since 2007 I have devoted a lot of time to making replica feathery golf balls and re-discovering what it was like to play golf with one. If you are seeking to own an original feathery, or a replica ball that I've made by hand, please contact me to discuss the possibilities.
In the late 1840s a new design of golf ball made from a natural rubber called gutta percha was developed. These could be made in a fraction of the time of a feathery and they were considerably more cheaper and robust. Early gutta percha balls from the 1850s to 1870s are highly collectible. If you are looking to own a rare early gutta percha ball please contact me.
At the end of the 19th century golf ball design took another leap forward when Coburn Haskell developed a ball which had a layer of elastic bands tightly wound around a central core, with an external gutta percha shell. "Haskell" models balls are highly prized by collectors. It didn't take long before other golf ball manufacturers developed wound balls of their own.
In the early years of the 20th century the most common cover design was called a bramble because the bumps on the surface resembled bramble fruit such as blackberries.
Golf ball makers introduced lots of quirky and unusual cover patterns onto their balls to try and outdo their competitors. This is a very rare map of the world cover pattern.
During the 1920s two cover patterns dominated the mainstream market....the squash mesh and the round dimple.
The round dimple pattern proved superior to the square mesh and has been in use ever since.
This short article is designed to inform potential buyers of antique golf balls what types of balls exist, the general price ranges and how not to be duped into buying something that isn't genuine, or has little intrinsic value to collectors.
The main types of golf ball:
Feathery Golf Balls (made from about 1600 to 1855).
Every golf ball collector on the planet would love to own a genuine feathery golf ball. However, only several hundred still exist and most of those reside in museum collections. A handful tend to come on to the market each year. Minto condition examples have sold for as much as £30,000. Condition and whether the maker can be identified are the two major factors governing price. A ball in reasonable condition will cost several thousand pounds. If you wish to buy a genuine ball I do occasionally have some for sale. If you have come across an old ball and are wondering if it is a feathery then please send me some inages using my email address firstname.lastname@example.org and I will advise accordingly. It is worth noting that over the last two decades I have received lots of pictures from people making enquiries as to whether the ball they have is a real feathery golf ball; only a very small number have been genuine.
Gutta Percha Golf Balls (1848 to 1898)
Some of the very oldest gutta percha golf balls are rarer than feathery golf balls. They were originally made by rolling lumps of material in the hands and had smooth surfaces. A considerable number of balls labelled as "smooth gutties" have been sold on the open market over the last fifty years or so. In my opinion only a tiny percentage of these balls were genuine smooth balls. If you have any doubt as to authenticity then seek the opinion of somebody you trust and always obtain a written description of the item your buying so that if the ball proves to be something other than genuine you can take legal action to recover the money that you've spent.
That said, there are lots of very nice original gutties dating between about 1870 and 1900 available to buyers. The prices of balls in excellent condition has been rising steadily in recent times. Named models from 1890s, in mint condition, carrying names such as Ocobo and Silvertown are selling for in excess of £600. At the lower end, balls in worn condition are selling for between £100 and £200 each.
Wound Balls Bramble Cover Pattern (1898 to 1925)
TO BE CONTINUED...
Wound Mesh Pattern Balls (1910 to 1935)
Round Dimple Balls (1905 to present day)
Some things I love...
* The thrill of finding, restoring and bringing back to life an old hickory golf club.
* Introducing people to the pleasure of hickory golf and seeing their face when they hit a good shot with an old antique golf club.
* Seeing something to do with golf history that I've never seen before.
Contact me if you need advice on anything related to Hickory Golf.
07708 661 659 (UK mobile)