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Highlights of the season

Given the economic climate, it will not surprise the reader to learn there have been more vibrant years than this in the world of golf's antiques and collectibles - but there is still life in the market! Prices remained fairly stable throughout 2009, a season significant for the fact that there was little in the way of exciting stock around. Collectors have been sitting tight on their prized possessions and fewer dealers have been consigning their wares to auction for fear of not realising true value. As with the antique world generally, only the rare and perfectly formed golfing artifacts drove bidding to satisfactory levels. And, interestingly, the significant bids this year were fuelled by an increasing number of new collectors - investors, rather than enthusiasts, who were perhaps disenchanted with the return on their money in the more traditional markets. So here is a round-up of the stand-out items to have changed hands in 2009.
Kevin McGimpsey

CERAMIC PUNCHBOWL

As alternatives to medals, spoons and silver trophies, ceramics and glassware have often been used as golfing trophies, and one of the finest surviving ceramic objet d'art to come to market for some time was lot 88 in the Christie's (New York) Chinese Export Porcelain sale back in January.

The catalogue described the 14-inch diameter Chinese Export porcelain punch bowl as, 'A very rare golfing punchbowl from the late 18th Century... On the front a finely painted European gentleman in his backswing, about to strike the ball at his feet, behind him the sandy links lined by trees under a cloudy sky, below are crossed golf clubs and a ribbon with the motto VI ET ARTE...'

Chinese Export ware dominated the European market until the second half of the 18th century, when the expansion of porcelain manufacture in Europe replaced these expensive imported wares. Such porcelain was primarily decorated in hues of pink and was styled 'famille rose'. Organisations and families of the landed gentry would order their porcelain pieces through the British East India Company; they would often supply a copy of their armorials or family insignia, which would be sent to China to copy onto the porcelain pieces.

Christie's made reference in their catalogue to a similar bowl that had been part of a private collection of Chinese Export ceramics and had been sold at Sotheby's in 1988 for over £20,000.That golfing bowl is now part of the famed Valderrama collection.

Though decorated with different borders, both bowls share essentially the same golfing scene, and carry the same medallion painted on both sides of their exterior of a golfing figure with a golf club raised in full back swing. In the background there is an undulating golf course and a castle. Sotheby's attributed this decorative medallion to David Allan's drawing that formed part of the letterhead of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. However Christie's focused their attention on the 'By Strength and Art' motto, a motto used by the Scottish Chisholm family, who held Erchless Castle at Comer from the 15th century until 1937.

The Christie's bowl sold for over £14,000.This was a good price for both vendor and buyer.

'THE GOFF' BOOK

The Pacific Book Auction Galleries, in San Francisco, offered a 1763 second edition of The Goff book in their February '09 sale. The Goff is famous for being the first printed book devoted entirely to golf. The PBA copy had been removed from an old binding and was presented (and preserved) in a handmade leather clambox. Even with an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000, there was great disappointment that it didn't sell - surely an example of a golfing treasure that would have undoubtedly sold well before the current economic travails?

(Later in the year Bonhams held their Scottish Sale in Edinburgh (at the end of August) and in amongst whisky lots and Scottish paintings they had a good 3rd Edition of The Goff, as published by Peter Hill of Edinburgh in 1793. Not as rare an edition as the one that PBA failed to shift in February, Bonhams had pitched it conservatively at £20,000-30,000 and it was bought for £21,500 plus 20% premiums.)

FREDDIE TAIT DIARIES

In May Convery Auctions offered 'an important, historical and poignant collection of diaries and golf match record books relating to Freddie Gutherie Tait'. Proprietor David (ex sports specialist at Christie's) Convery explained to me before the sale that the Tait family had contacted him saying they had the Tait medals and that they were on display at Luffness New Golf Club.

FGT, as he was affectionately known, was a late 19th century superstar - a great golfer with great looks who died a hero's death well before his time in South Africa. He won the Amateur Championship in 1896 and 1898; he was runner-up in 1899 and he finished third on three further occasions. He also finished third in the 1896 and 1897 Opens. He was killed less than a month after his 30th birthday at an engagement at Koodoosberg during the Boer War.

His 36 golfing medals were offered as a single lot (60) with an estimate of £120,000 - 180,000, but they failed to get away.

There was more success, however, with lot 61, which included six handwritten documents, described by the auctioneers as being a 'Record of matches' played between July 1886 to October 1890, the entries giving course and opponent details, scores and Tait's remarks on the match; also Record of matches played, January 1892 to January 1896 up to his last recorded match at Muirfield on October 14 1899 before leaving for the war in South Africa on October 24 that year.

The National Library of Scotland bought lot 61 for £10,000.

CLUBS & BALLS - VARIOUS

At the end of May, Mullocks held a golf auction in Hoylake that coincided with a meeting of the Golf Collectors Society. Highlights included: A Hugh Philp longnose driver (pictured). Sold for £4,250; a Tom Morris long nose driver. Sold for £1,800; an Anderson patent water iron and a Brown's patent rake iron. Both sold for £1,800; a 1937 Ryder Cup Programme, sold for £900; a 1933 Ryder Cup Programme, sold for £700.

The summer sales saw good prices obtained for prototype clubs - a good example being lot 96 in the Bonhams sale that was 'a centre-shafted smooth faced iron with an usual kidney shaped head circa 1900' - that went to an overseas buyer for £1,800.

Within the golf ball sections, lot 47, the 1896 Willie Park Junior 'Park Royal' ball that had been professionally restored defied the usual 'dead in the water' tag by selling for a healthy £4,320, again to an overseas bidder.

ADVERTISING ITEMS

The top selling lot at Bonham (125) was a 14-inch tall pressed cardboard Silver King golf ball advertising figurine that sold for £6,000.The second highest lot (121) was in the same section, a 12½ inches high Dunlop 65 Caddie point of sale figurine that sold for a record price £4,560.

MORE 'FINE & RARE' BOOKS

PBA held their sale of 'Fine and Rare Golf Books and Collectibles' in August in San Francisco.They had a fine example of a first edition (1857) Farnie's 'A Golfer's Manual' a book that is credited with being the first golf instructional book. Here is a good example of a notable price being achieved when two determined bidders do battle - the book sold for £8,000!

Also there were at least two examples when a books' dust jacket appears to be worth more than the book itself! An example of Bernard Darwin's 'A Friendly Round' with dust wrapper sold for $4,700 and one without sold only for $840. Another example was Harry Vardon's 'My Golfing Life' - the one with the dust jacket fetched $2,700 and the one without a mere $360! [I can draw parallels in the toy world when often the model car's box is rarer than the toy itself. Utter madness!]

Other book highlights included, Balfour's Reminiscences of Golf on St Andrews Links (restored) $4,700; George Robb's Historical Golf and Golfers, published in 1863, which sold for $13,200. Undoubtedly the one that got away was a ¼ Vellum signed First Edition of Robert Jones' Down the Fairway with an estimate of $20,000.

WHAT'S IN STORE IN 2010?

To coincide with the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews in July, Bonhams are holding an auction in which the star lot may well be three missing Charles Lees RSA oil portraits of famous contemporary golfing gentlemen.The three portraits are of the Earl of Eglinton (founder of the 1860 Open Championship), John Campbell of Glensaddell (pictured) and Lord Viscount Valentia. All three featured in his famous golfing masterpiece, 'A Grand Match played over St. Andrews Links in 1841'.The painting appeared in 1851 as a large canvas measuring 7 foot x 4 foot 3 inches. Fifteen surviving portraits are on permanent display at the R & A in St. Andrews. Estimate £25,000 to £35,000.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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