MORE than two decades since the first sale of golfing memorabilia, this once-booming niche market stands at an important crossroads.
Supply was once the big problem. Now, as some of the major
collectors of the last generation look to sell, the market is
desperately in need of new buyers willing to give them a return on
their investment. The signs are, however, that although good things
are again available, the price levels of the 1990s are unlikely to
On paper the summer series of golfing memorabilia sales promised
much. Sotheby's and Christie's are no longer pursuing this market
outside of traditional sporting sales but Lyon &
Turnbull (19.5% buyer's premium) had decamped from
Edinburgh to Thornton Manor, Wirral on July 15 to sell 425 lots
close in time and proximity to The Open at Royal Liverpool.
Their offering included the first part of the Leo McNamara
collection, one of the most impressive US private collections of
golfiana, comprising more than 3000 clubs and 300 balls tracing the
evolution of the game over two centuries. Part Two of the McNamara
collection will be offered from L&T's sister saleroom,
Freeman's of Philadelphia on October 21 and the final tranche in
Edinburgh in January 2007.
They will be hoping for better next time. Against the backdrop
of a weak dollar, only 176 lots were sold and most of the high
profile entries were passed at estimates that, if sensible a decade
ago, now look outlandish. There was the occasional surprise - a
longnose playclub with a cracked fruitwood head carrying the names
of both Hugh Philp and Allan Robertson tripled its mid estimate at
£7500 - but there was a longer list of casualties.
A smooth gutty from the Harry B. Wood Collection estimated at
£20,000-30,000, an apparently unused Willie Dunn Stars and Stripes
pattern ball (estimate £15,000-18,000) and a Willie Park 'Park
Royal' hexagonal faceted gutty ball retaining much of its original
paint (estimate £17,000-20,000), were three exceptionally rare golf
balls that all found the water hazard.
Above: the c.1850 Allan Robertson feather ball with
provenance to Tommy McNamara, the first American-born player to
compete in the British Open, sold at Lyon & Turnbull's sale for
At the other end of the price scale buyers looked sniffily upon
bundles of standard hickory clubs priced in the £100-200 range. A
successful £5500 (estimate £6000-8000) bid was taken for an Allan
Robertson feather ball stamped Allan and numbered
27 in ink.
This almost mint ball c.1850 was given to Tommy McNamara - Leo
McNamara's father who was runner-up in the US Open three times - in
1920 by John Forgan to mark his participation in the British Open.
He was the first American-born player to compete in golf's oldest
Also of US interest was a Pietzcker sepia photograph depicting
the 1931 America Ryder Cup team sold at £6500 (estimate
£6000-8000). Walter Hagen was in his pomp. During the competition
at Scioto Country Club, in Columbus, Ohio - one that the US won at
a canter 9-3 - he teamed with rookie Denny Shute for a 10 and 9
foursomes victory over Great Britain's George Duncan and A.G.
Also included in the 16 x 20in (41 x 51cm) image is the English
seed merchant and entrepreneur Samuel Ryder who a decade earlier
had agreed to put up the funds for a gold chalice to be awarded the
winners of a regular transatlantic match.
Bonhams (17.5% buyer's premium) had a copy of
that famous trophy in their sale of July 17, a gilt replica, 9in
(22cm) high, made by Asprey & Garrard and engraved Max
Faulkner Ryder Cup Player 1947-49-51-53-57.
It was one of many made and presented to all living British and
European Ryder Cup Players in 2001 - and one of 20 lots entered by
the family of Max Faulkner (1916-2005) who won the Open at Portrush
in 1951 and was known as Flamboyant Faulkner, due to his custom of
playing dressed in handmade shoes and brightly coloured trousers.
It sold well at £4600 (estimate £2000-3000).
This Chester sale, where 295 of the 539 lots sold, included
another clubhouse trophy lot, a signed and dated watercolour and
pencil en grissaille by Michael Brown depicting a meeting of
Surviving Amateur Champions - Hoylake 1906.
Brown famously painted 26 golf pictures for Life Association of
Scotland calendars from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, each
almost photographic image depicting some real or imaged scene from
the annals of British golf. Eighteen of the 16 originals were sold
at Sotheby's in July 1995, when three of them exceeded £40,000 and
five exceeded £30,000.
The manager of the London office of the Life Association of
Scotland gave this 13 x 20 in (32 x 50cm) painting that had
featured in the 1907 calendar to the present owner in 1977. It had
been damaged (mainly to a small area in the top right quarter)
during the Blitz but was professionally restored in 1996. Bonhams
thought it could replicate 1990s prices and anticipated bidding to
However, it was snapped up at £20,000.
In the equivalent sale in January 2005, Bonhams had sold a
Silver King Man shop display figure at £6600. One of less than 20
known to have survived, this is regarded as being the second most
difficult point-of-sale figurine to find (the Silver King Queen is
the rarest) but another was found for 2006. In comparable
condition, retaining most of its paint and base lettering but
repaired to the hand holding the club, it sold at £4000.
Keeping expectations down to modest levels paid dividends. A
chocolate brown 'Corona' patent indestructible ball, with its
distinctive cover pattern of crowns within indented discs, sold for
£3200. It is a ball that features in several well-known texts
although only two are known.
They were sold by Finnigans, a high-class department store with
branches in both Liverpool and Manchester, names that are stamped
to the ball, the other pole with the patent No. 598246.
Willie Dunn Ball
Failures at L&T ensured Shropshire based Mullock
Madeley (15% buyer's premium) would sell the most
expensive golf ball of the season - an extremely rare hand hammered
gutty golf ball c.1850 by Willie Dunn Snr. Not only is this ball
stamped Dunn 27, it is hammered with longitude lines and
retains much of its original white paint finish.
Mounted on a small wooden shield inscribed in faded ink,
First Gutty - presented May 1891 - 40 years old, it sold
to a collector at £7100 (estimate £6000- 8000).
It was the best selling lot of a £200,000 sports memorabilia
sale conducted at The Old Shippon, Wall-under-Heywood, Church
Stretton on July 12-13. It was an impressive sum but paled next to
the $17,500 it had brought in 1999 when sold by Bonhams & Doyle