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A buyers market at Bonhams

The Bonham's summer golf auction was enthusiastically supported and buoyed by a healthy reresentation of established national and international dealers and collectors. In these financially testing times, our auction-room expert Kevin McGimpsey is pleased to report that the sale produced plenty of good prices and interesting finds.

Golfing medals and badges

The first lots under the hammer were in the section devoted to golfing medals and badges. and it's fair to say these received, well, a mixed reception. Of the three Open player's badges in the sale, Lot 1, the badge used at the 2000 Open Championship at St. Andrews, was knocked down for a staggering £456.

There is a small but active group of Open badge collectors and it was obvious that the Millennium badge was needed to complete a run of badges, while the other two (for 1989 and 1994) were not nearly so desirable and failed to make their reserve prices. Golfing medals (especially gold ones) remain buoyant with age and they are most keenly sought when they are associated with a famous golf club or player.

Among the highlights this year were a consignment of gold medals all won by a certain E.D. Prothero in the 1890s. They all sold extremely well.

Other notables in this category: Lot 2: A Troon (Royal Troon) Golf Club 1892 'Portland Medal' in 15 ct. gold - sold for £408; Lot 3: A Mexico Country Club 1910 Handicap Winner's gold medal - sold well at £380; Lot 8: A Troon Golf Club 1891 'Portland Medal' in 15 ct. gold - sold for £408; Lot 9: A Prestwick St. Nicholas Golf Club 15 ct. 1894 'Eglington Medal' - sold for £504.

Golf balls

Within the golf ball sections, the biggest buzz surrounded Lot 47 - the Willie Park Junior 'Park Royal' ball dating to 1896. This had attracted a lot of pre-auction interest, with several articles in the press, including the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times in the lead up to the Open.

Experts at Bonhams suspected that the ball had been restored (which would see the estimate fall off a cliff) but any such work was so well camouflaged by the shape of the ball, distinguished by its flattened hexagonal facets. Knowing that a near-mint Park Royal had sold at auction for over £20,000 at the peak of the market in the early 1990s (and bearing in mind the restoration issue), Bonhams estimated that the ball would 'only' sell for between £5,000 and £8,000.

Then, a few days before the sale, the first owner of the ball contacted the auction house and revealed the ball's history and its repairs. The ball, by no means complete, had originally come from Blackheath. In 1991- 1992, a ceramics firm in the USA professionally restored the ball to its original shape. Using various resins and paints they rebuilt the missing part of the ball; it was such a good job that it was only visible under a glass. The various sale room and internet notices were put in place, but there was still plenty of interest in the ball and it eventually went under the hammer for £4,320 to a bidder in the room. This was seen as being a good result for both the vendor and the buyer.

Other golf ball highlights included: Lot 165: An extremely rare Willie Park (the father of W. Park Junior) hand-hammered golf ball, as unearthed recently on an extinct Scottish golf course, also had admirers, if not at the same level as the Park Royal. It was shown last time and sold for £2,280; Lot 160: An unattributed small sized feather golf ball - sold for £1,800

Golf ball display figures & advertising prints

Another very strong section was Golf Ball Display and Advertising. Although Lot 113 - a North British Scottie Dog - failed to meet its reserve (estimate £700-900) on the day, it sold to a private buyer after the sale for £780. The majority of other lots sold well and two lots in particular emerged to bring significant sums.

The top selling item (Lot 125) was a 14- inch tall pressed cardboard Silver King golf ball advertising figurine that sold for £6,000. It is extremely rare, with less than 10 known examples to have survived. It was made during the early 1930s by Universal Seamless Containers who had the contract to supply the Silver Town Company. They in turn paid the golf and professional shops to display it near their Silver King golf balls. The second highest item (Lot 121) was in the same section. It was a very small (just 12½ inches tall) Dunlop 65 Caddie point of sale figurine and is only the third one to come to auction within the last 10 years. It is probably the finest example in existence.The Dunlop Caddie was displayed by the shop professional to encourage the members to play with Dunlop 65 golf balls. Lot 121 sold for £4,560.

Two lithographic prints - each measuring 15 x 10 inches - featuring turn of the century golf balls had been consigned at a Bonhams' Sports valuation day at Henley. The consignor had a folder filled with advertising prints for such well known brands as Bovril, Ovaltine, and Pears' Soap etc. They were discarded turn of the century printer's proofs or samples and came with a contract or agreement whereby the printer bought from the artist the copyright to each image. Each was fiercely fought over, as reflected in the figures: Lot 114: A Springvale Falcon golf ball print circa 1906 - sold for £900; Lot 122: A Coir Core golf ball print circa 1907 - sold for £900; Lot 114A: A 1960s Dunlop 65 golf ball counter display with a 12 inch diameter - pictured on previous page - sold for £216. [Lot 116, a Dunlop golf ball shop dispenser tin with an estimate of £1,200- 1,500, failed to meet its reserve.]

Silverware

Within the silverware section it was a case of 'you win some, you lose some'. Lot 135 comprised a pair of exquisite silver dishes, each with an enamel centrepiece, one showing an Edwardian Lady golfer and the other a gentleman golfer, both in red jackets (below). They sold on a rather low estimate at £1,200.

Unfortunately Bonhams could not get away lot 129 that was described as 'a rare Edwardian silver plate and celluloid covered vesta case' featuring on one side a Sutton Seed advertisement and on the other a mono photograph of two of the famous 'Triumvirate', Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor. Estimated at a very reasonable £600-800, it failed to reach its reserve.

On a more positive note it is pleasing when a golf club buys back some of its long lost heritage. This was the case with lot 133, described as a 'Hesketh Golf Club 1912 Mixed Foursomes Competition silver faceted trumpet shaped trophy'. Representatives from Hesketh paid £336 to take it back to its rightful resting place. Within the same section, an unusual metal ware item was an 8-inch diameter metal 1946Masters Tournament plate that fetched for its owner £280. It was not clear whether this was an official piece of Augusta memorabilia or an early souvenir from what was only the 10th ever Masters.

Rare golf clubs

The market for long-nosed wooden golf clubs has dipped dramatically over the last three years and their realised prices have taken something of a battering in recent times. They are still being collected but their buyers tend to be very selective. Hence only the rare or unusual will attract bidders and the estimates have to competitive and appealing. For example, Bonhams had two Philp clubs in this sale and were probably pleased to achieve a 50% success rate with lot 102, 'a delicately shaped H. Philp long nose driver circa 1840s' realising a modest £2,640.

Lot 96 within the Patent Club section - 'a centre-shafted smooth faced iron with an usual kidney shaped head circa 1900'. There was great interest and because of its rarity and its cast-iron provenance sold strongly to an overseas buyer in the room for £1,800.

Books & programmes

The biggest disappointment of the day was to be found within the Books section when Lot 218, N. Ferguson Blair's Scraps on Golf, hand written in 1842, failed to secure a buyer. Maybe it is indicative of the current 'credit crunch' market that a similar item sold for £12,650 in 1998 and this handsome copy didn't even take a bid starting at £2,600. Until this auction, book experts thought that there were only two such examples of Scraps on Golf. A book collector having seen Lot 218 on the Bonhams' internet site brought his copy of the book that he had bought in the early 1990s to the salesroom. So that makes three of them, adding further weight to the argument that although hand-written they were published books rather than published papers.

Lot 223 was a fine copy of Johnston & Johnston's classic, The Chronicles of Golf: 1457 to 1857 and that sold for £660. British, US Open and Ryder Cup programmes are still in demand. Lot 253 was probably the finest example of the 1937 Ryder Cup programme to come to auction in the last 10 years. It was devoid of the usual cover tears and its pages were as clean as the day it was first offered for sale at the Southport & Ainsdale Golf Clubs. It also came with an Order of Play sheet for the matches on Wednesday 30 June. After some strong bidding within the sales room it sold for £1,200.

Walker Cup memorabilia tends not to attract the high roller collectors and early Walker Cup programmes, although just as rare (if not more so due to smaller print runs), don't get way so well. For example, Lot 252, a great 1951 Walker Cup programme from Birkdale, fetched only £120.

If anyone reading this article is looking for an area of golf memorabilia with growth potential, then look no further than Walker Cup items. A few issues ago I wrote about lot 235 that looked to be an early (1927) Open programme. In fact it turned out to be a Silvertown Company 'Souvenir of the Mother City of Golf' issued at the 1927 Open at St. Andrews. Not only did it look like an official programme, its significance was enhanced by both its 1927 date and its St. Andrews cache when defending champion, a certain amateur golfer called Bobby Jones, spread-eagled the field to win with a record low score. It sold for £432. The 1954 Open programme from Birkdale sold in an after sale for £240.

Paintings

There was a mixed bag of results within the golf related paintings section. For example, David Eley's The Old Course at St. Andrews watercolour, lot 200, with 96 attached autographs of qualifiers in the 1995 Open, sold for £2,400. Lot 213, a Craig Campbell painting of Tiger Woods that had been signed by Woods - estimated at between £4,000-6 000 - failed to make its reserve. Lot 206, Keith Fearon's Team Spirit 2002, an oil on paper showing Sam Torrance's triumphant European Ryder Cup team, sold for £1,500.

Ceramics

Even where there was evidence of damage or restoration most of the golfing ceramics sold well. It goes to show that a degree of rarity will make the buyers overlook the imperfections. Lot 87 was a large deep blue Copeland glazed stoneware golfing jardinière circa 1895. Seldom seen in this size, the catalogue pointed out some damage to one of the golfers and a missing tree branch. It sold for £720.

The best selling lots among the ceramics was lot 90, a pair of red and gold Royal Doulton Morrisian Ware vases, one with a golf theme the other without that sold as a matching pair for £720. A pair of Gibson Pottery golfing vases that had been made in 1900 and which were described as having restoration to rim and foot sold for £780. And how about this one for the future! Lot 94 was a modern Royal Doulton tablean entitled 'In the Burn St. Andrews' featuring three golfers on the Swilken Bridge or in the Burn and fetched an amazing £600.

Other Lots:: Lot 172: Kobe Golf Club photographs circa 1904. Estimate £2,000-2,500 - not sold; Lot 236: A 1941 US Open programme. Estimate £800-1200 - sold for £864; Lot 251: 'Cope's Golfers' cigarette cards circa 1900. Estimate £2,500-4,000. Sold for £2,640.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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