Edinburgh-based dealers Georgian Antiques have pulled off one of their more remarkable sales – 7000 hickory-shafted golf clubs to a Chinese businessman who found them when surfing the internet.
Georgian Antiques, who carry a substantial stock of golfing antiques, including many rare clubs, acquired their mass of standard putters, drivers and irons piecemeal over a period of 12 years. All date from between 1890 and 1930 and include examples by every major Scottish clubmaker of the period.
Reluctant to see them picked over, John Dixon, pictured here, who has run the Leith dealership with his brother Padraig for 30 years, chose to offer them for sale only in batches of 1000. He had previously sold 4000 clubs in this manner.
The Chinese entrepreneur found Georgian Antiques, and their remarkable hoard, via the internet. He arrived in Edinburgh earlier this year with a small entourage (he did not speak a word of English) and spent hours inspecting every one of the 7000 clubs.
He spent £2000 on samples and the order for the entire haul arrived two weeks later. The price was £120,000 - or just over £17 per club. They are being shipped to China, bound as bundles of 20.
John Dixon, who is an avid golfer himself, believes the spectacular transaction is a lesson in patience when faced with a difficult trading environment.
After a boom period in the 1980s and '90s, hickory shafted clubs have softened alongside the rest of the golfiana market. However, as he observed: "When you are as deeply committed to a market as we were, it often pays to show confidence in the merchandise and just sit tight."
Certainly Georgian Antiques was the only place in the world where the Chinese customer could have found hickory-shafted clubs for sale in this quantity.
"He might have bought a few of them cheaper elsewhere, but he has saved himself a lot of miles," commented Mr Dixon who plans to keep buying 'hickories'.
He believes the new owner of 7000 clubs will now restore them - typically the shafts are oiled and the grip replaced before they can be used in anger - and launch a hickory golf business in China where a number of new golf courses are planned.
Playing golf in the old way with a hickory rather than a metal-shafted club has long been fashionable in North America and may well become so in China.
Mr Dixon anticipates there might be more business to be done with his new-found contact. "Seven thousand clubs might seem a lot, but in a country of more than a billion people…"
But could his wish that the Chinese develop a taste for Victorian and Georgian mahogany be just too much to hope for?
By Roland Arkell