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Quite a year

A marked increase in the confidence of not only buyers but sellers hinted at awelcome recovery in the golfmemorabiliamarket in 2010. Here, Gi’s auction-room expert KevinMcGimpsey casts his eye back on the high quality items that caught his attention

Ryder Cup years always tend to spark added interest in golfing memorabilia and this was certainly tru in 2010, where early signs of the recovery came at the Tennants Sporting auction at their Leyburn salesrooms in North Yorkshire in April. The illustration you see to the right is of a rare and highly collectible 2nd Ryder Cup ‘Complimentary Dinner’ menu dated 27 April 1929. As far as I am aware this is only the second such menu to come to auction within the last 5 years. Bonhams sold one in 2008 for £3,200, and while theirs was in better condition, it hadn’t been autographed by any of the players. The Tennants menu had been signed by both teams as well as the event’s sponsor, Samuel Ryder. It was pitched at £5,000 but few were surprised at the interest and it eventually sold for £8,500.

RARE PHOTOS & AUTOGRAPHS

Across the pond, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas sold ‘The Mark Emerson Collection of Rare Golf Autographs’ (23 April 2010). Emerson the consignor is a much respected collector of ephemera and is a leading authority on golfing autographs and signatures. The depth and breadth of what was on offer at Heritage was breath-taking with super clean signatures of great golfers from the past to include Walter Hagen, Willie Park Jr., Francis Ouimet, Arnaud Massy, Ben Hogan as well as present ones such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Payne Stewart and Tiger Woods. In all there were 250 lots, with a number of fascinating highlights:

Lot 82444: For a Bobby Jones collector, it doesn’t get much better than this original 8 x 10 photograph that has been boldly signed by Robert T. Jones Junior. Sold for $10,157.50. Lot 82454: A Tom Morris signed Royal Bank of Scotland St. Andrews Branch £800 cheque, dated 31 October 1898. Sold for $17,925.

Lot 82462: This Andrew Strath handwritten and signed wage receipt was dated 18 September 1865 at Ayr. Described by the Texas auction house as being ‘quite possibly the only Strath signature in existence...’Sold for $7,767.00 Inevitably there was a great bargain at this auction. Lot 82615 – described as being a ‘10/10 Samuel Ryder fountain pen signature’ – only sold for half its normal price at $388.00. What a steal!

Perhaps not surprisingly, given Tiger’s near-domination of the tabloid press for his antics off the golf course, 2010 was the year in which Tiger Woods memorabilia started to lose its appeal. Lot 82474, a super clean 1998 Tiger Woods signed colour photograph failed to get past its $250 starting bid!

THE BONHAMS SUMMER SALE

A little closer to home, The Bonhams Summer Golf Sale took place in June and again was well supported, with total sales hitting the £100,000 mark. There were several highlights. The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Muirfield G.C.) entered six books that had been compiled and published by one of their august members, Charles B. Clapcott, O.B.E., (1867 - 1955). He was a much respected researcher and author on the subject of golf history and he spent a considerable amount of time at the Honourable Company’s Clubhouse examining all its available records. The end product was the production of what is thought to be only a few copies of each book. Bonhams offered the six books as single lots and they attracted international interest selling for a total of £10,000.

Bonhams had a great selection of antique golf balls that had come from two private collections. Several of them were just as the market likes them – wrapped and in mint or in unplayed with condition. Six Cochrane ‘Paragon 27½’ gutta-percha golf balls circa 1899, unplayed with condition, all retaining parts of their original paper wrappers complete with its original cardboard 12 box. Sold for £3,100 Six ‘Silver Town 27½ No.4’ moulded mesh gutta-percha golf balls circa 1878 These are the earliest known examples of the Silvertown gutta golf ball and are believed to be the first to come to auction. Sold for £2,900

The Sayers family consigned to Bonhams their Ben Sayers Senior and Ben Sayers Junior collection of memorabilia. Ben Sayers (1857- 1924) known as ‘Wee Ben’ was an outstanding golfer who played in every Open Championship between 1880 and 1923. Although he won 24 tournaments in his long career he never won the Open. His son Ben (1884-1961) joined his father in the golf club making business in 1913 and went onto establish Ben Sayers Ltd. The lots varied from superb black and white photographs of Ben Sayers and contemporary professional players, to samples of clubs made in the North Berwick shop to a silver prototype of a miniature iron that was made in 1923 for the Queen Mary’s Doll House.

Lot 52, Old Ben Sayers’ set of golf clubs and golf bag that sold for £2,500.

Another exception highlight was Lot 80, Willie Park Junior’s original bent neck putter (a gift to Sayers), with an estimate of £600-1,000 that sold for just under £4,000 The last three lots of The Bonham Sale (230, 231 and 232) were three important Charles Lees R.S.A. (1800-1880) mid-19th Century preliminary oils on paper portraits of The Earl of Eglinton, John Campbell of Glensaddell and Viscount Valentia (see overleaf for the artwork). Each portrait measured only 5 x 3½ inches. Lees painted them prior to them appearing in his ‘The Golfers – A Grand Match Played on St. Andrews Links 1841’ painting. This magnificent painting was finally completed in 1851. It measured 7 feet long by 4 feet 3 inches high. In 2002, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh bought it for a sum in excess of £2.2 million.

The R. & A. were keen to buy the Eglington because he was an early Captain and they didn’t have a portrait of him. The other two portraits went to private collectors.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

In July Mullocks held their summer golf sale during the week before the Open and they were very pleased as they passed the £100,000 mark for golf for the first time. Original golfing artwork did well this summer and an interesting section at Mullocks was ‘The Ken Reed FRSA Art Collection’ that comprised 11 of his original paintings and poster artwork. Programmes also to hold their own and Mullocks had a strong representation starting with one of the earliest recorded a 1921 St Andrews Open Golf Championship Qualifying programme that fetched £2,600 and a 1925 Open Golf Championship programme when the Open was played at Prestwick for final (£2800); a 1929 Open Golf Championship programme (£1,000) and a 1946 Open Golf Championship programme £1,300.

Vintage golfing medals remained strong in 2010 and Mullocks had two ‘feather ball’ era medals. Lot 541, an extremely rare 1832 Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society Medal and won by R.G.Cairns, sold for £4,000.

Bundles of wooden shafted woods and irons remain the stable diet of the auction houses. More often they are being bought, not by club collectors, but by dealers and enthusiasts who spend time and or money having them re-furbished back to their original state. They are not used as decorative items but as clubs to play with in hickory golf events.

Lot 204 could be regarded as being the Holy Grail for such enthusiastic golfers who play their game of golf with pre-1935 clubs – a rare set of 6 matching Spalding Kro-Flite ‘Robert T. Jones Jr.’ signature irons complete with its red Spalding retail box circa 1930 sold for £800. One of the year’s quirkiest lots must have been lot 577, a stuffed bird and an old golf ball. Mullocks described lot 577 as being a rare Victorian Pratt & Son of Brighton cased Linnet and Eureka 27 gutta-percha golf ball. An attached plaque described the event of how the bird was killed by the golf ball on 15 July 1890 at Mitcham Golf Club in Surrey… ‘playing in an exciting foursome, all square at the 17th hole at which I drove a good ball; only went 40 yards hit the Linnet and cut the head off; the bird and ball fell into a bush. Lost the hole and the match and a full sovereign…’ Sold for £580.

BACK TO BONHAMS

Bonhams held their third golf auction in mid October and its star turn brings us neatly back to the 2nd Ryder Cup in 1929. Lot 200 was a ‘Bon Voyage Dinner’ programme for the 1929 American Ryder Cup team at the New York Athletic Club. Its American owner had found it in a chest of drawers underneath a newspaper. The programme measured 9½ x 6½ inches and comprised dark blue coloured card covers, the front of which was decorated in red with jazz and big band graphics. There were 6 double sided pages inside, five of which had profile photographs of the American team; J. Farrell, L. Diegel, G. Sarazen, J. Turnesa, H. Smith, A, Watrous, E. Espinosa and team Captain W. Hagen; these are all autographed.

Walter Hagen’s prowess as a match play competitor made him a fearsome opponent and he only lost the one match in 1929 at Moortown. Hagen deliberately arranged to play George Duncan and with his usual self confidence, told his team that they already had ‘one point in the bag’. However Duncan played superbly and beat Hagen 10 and 8.

Other highlights at this October auction included a rare programme for the 1930 Amateur Golf Championship played at St. Andrews that sold for £1,900. The reason why it sold so well was because that Championship was the first of the Bobby Jones ‘Impregnable Quadrilateral’ or ‘Grand Slam’ wins. Jones summed up his feelings towards his Amateur Championship victory in his autobiography, ‘I have soberly considered that this is the most important tournament of my life.’

And what of 2011? Will there be some major golf collections coming to auction? I haven’t anything specific to announce here, but please continue to watch these pages.

Certainly with the Open being played at Royal St. George’s where the great Harry Vardon won his 5th of six Opens in 1911 there could be interesting Vardon sub-sections within the golf auctions. Bonhams already have 5 beautiful golf related travel and railway posters each with strong graphics and bold colours dating to the 1920s and 1930s (below). They will be auctioned in June 2011 and they are expected to fetch at least £1,000 each. Three of the posters that each measure over 4 feet high to be offered by Bonhams in June 2011£250 and £300.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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