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Spring/summer auction review

Gi’s auction-room expert Kevin McGimpsey reports on recent activity Christies, Bonhams and Mullocks

CHRISTIE’S, 30 May 2012
Lots offered 347 / Lots sold 233 Sale Total including buyer’s premium (25%) £1,835,169
Exchange Rate £=$1.56

Once in a while an auction house (in this case Christie’s) offers a sale that is primarily devoted to golf, majoring on the rare, old, and historically important. Jaime ‘Jimmy’ Ortiz-Patiño will be better known to many readers as the man who developed Valderrama, where in the clubhouse much of this fabulous memorabilia was displayed over the years.

“Arising out of many years of connoisseurship and an enduring love for the game, The Jaime Ortiz-Patiño Collection captures the story and history of golf over 500 years, from its earliest references to the origins of the modern game, spanning an extraordinary array of objects and mediums including golf clubs, balls, prints, books and manuscripts, ceramics, photographs and paintings”.

Even though Christie’s closed their Sports and Golf departments in 2005, they expertly catalogued The Jaime Ortiz-Patiño Collection (Origins of Golf) using their inhouse resources of book, ceramic, silver and art specialists to produce a catalogue of the highest standard.

The Christie’s sale was to be the barometer of the golfing market (at the very high-end) especially in these more austere times and its catalogue is now a current price guide.

Many dealers and buyers before the sale agreed that Christie’s had pitched the low and high estimates just about right, certainly well below what many of the items had been bought for in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Others were not so convinced and feared that there would be many unsold lots especially in the long nose golf club sections. They were proved to be right.

An indication that bidders would not be prompted to raise their paddles on fairly estimated price tags came with the first long-nosed club in the sale, lot 22, an 18th Century putter that was attributed to Andrew Dickson. This beautiful relic had been purchased for the Patino Collection at Sotheby’s in New York in September 2007 for $181,000 (approx £120,000). With a ‘competitive’ low estimate of $91,000 (£60,000), the auctioneer opened at £30,000/$47,400 and had to pass on it as there were no bids.

There were some 75 to 100 people in the Christie’s saleroom including major private buyers, overseas collectors/dealers and representatives from several British Golf Clubs including the R & A. The full colour Christie’s catalogue (running to 234 pages) was sub-divided into manageable sections such as ‘The Rules of Early Societies’; ‘Poetry and Reminiscence’; ‘Golfing Prizes and Medals’ and named players, club and ball makers such as Tom Morris, Hugh Philp and Allan Robertson. The first section titled ‘The Beginnings: Early Related Games’ included delft blue and white tiles from 1700 decorated with ‘golfers’. Lot 1 comprised 26 such tiles and they punched way above their weight by selling for £16,250/$25,350 as against a low estimate of £7,000/$11,000.

The auctioneer got away the two copies of ‘The Goff’, lots 12 and 13, known to be the first book devoted entirely to golf. Lot 12 was a 1st edition that sold for £30,000/ $46,800 and lot 13 a 3rd edition for £25,000/$39,000.

The second section, ‘Late 17th and Early 18th Century Golf Clubs’ began well with lot 23, an early to mid 18th Century Play Club that sold – albeit £6,000 below estimate – at £24,000 plus premiums.

The next two lots were late 18th Century black-smith made square toe irons. Lot 24 was passed at £24,000 (estimate £50,000/ $76,000) but better news on lot 25 (estimate £60,000/$91,000), a similar club but with a cast iron provenance (The Earls of Wemyss) that sold for £58,850/$91,800 including premiums.

Bidding for lot 26, The Royal Perth Putter, an 18th Century putter, opened at £32,000 and was taken all the way to £55,000/$87,000; it was bought by a UK collector for £15,000 below its low estimate. Here was another major indicator that the golf market at the high-end was much weaker than had been thought!

The eighth section, items made or associated with Allan Robertson contained several golf ball jewels. For example, lot 74, an inscribed feather ball circa 1790, made by Allan’s father was fiercely contested within the salesroom by two private collectors, one an American and the other a German.

The American won on this occasion, £16,250/$25,675 inclusive of premiums; good value considering that it was sold in 2004 at auction for £24,000!

The section entitled, ‘The McEwan Family’ began with lot 82, a feather golf ball ‘probably made by Douglas McEwan circa 1836’; yes, fine and extremely rare and the high end of the market doesn’t like indecision or lack of provenance, hence it was passed at £8,000 with an estimate of £15,000). An American collector in the saleroom bought lot 83, a James McEwan wooden Short Spoon circa 1786 and stamped with a thistle for £8,000 below estimate at £32,000/ $50,000.

Section 11, ‘Golfing Art’ was predicted to do well. Lot 116, an oil on canvas of North Berwick by Sir John Lavery (estimate £200,000/ $310,000) ticked all the boxes and opened at £90,000; after enthusiastic bidding in the room it sold to a telephone bidder for £193,250/ $301,470 including buyers premium.

Lot 117 was another Lavery and again it was of North Berwick. Stoked by two enthusiasts in the room – and one on the phone who clearly wanted it very badly – it improved upon a £150,000/$230,000 estimate to sell for £200,000/$316,000 plus commissions.

There was more art within the Annuals and Periodicals section. Prestwick Golf Club bought lot 198, a Michael Brown original painting of ‘Prestwick: The Himalaya Hole’ for £24,000/$48,600 against a low estimate of £30,000. Lot 199, another Michael Brown (The Golf Tournament at Sandwich) was scooped up by a private Kent collector for £16,000/$31,200. Lot 202, again an original by Brown, was one of the most sought after being of the Surviving Open Champions in 1905 at St. Andrews. The opening bid was £15,000 on an estimate of £30,000. It was obvious in the saleroom that the R&A wanted this painting but they were made to fight hard for it. The under-bidder, an American collector, ran the bids all the way to £50,000 leaving the last bid of £55,000/$86,900 to the R&A.

The star amongst many great lots was undoubtedly lot 203, described in the catalogue as being a Charles Lees ‘finished sketch for The Golfers: A Grand Match played on the St. Andrews Links’. The estimate certainly veered on caution at a lowly £120,000/$190,000. The opening bid was £80,000 and a small show of hands went up. At £110,000 the bidding race was down to just two parties, the R&A and an American. The bidding leapt along between the two of them going quickly from £120,000 up to £220,000; had the R&A secured for posterity a fine example of our golfing heritage? Yes, the American shaking his head had conceded defeat. But no, there was a new bidder on the telephone who took up the challenge with a bid of £230,000. The R&A continued to bid but eventually stalled at £270,000. The anonymous telephone bidder got it for £280,000 (£337,250/$526,110 including buyer’s premiums) and that was that!

BONHAMS 29 May 2012
Lots offered 223 / Lots sold 162 Sale Total including buyer’s premium (25%) £105,000

Unlike Christie’s the Bonhams sale in Chester was based on a mixed owner selection and, generally speaking, there were encouraging results from start to finish. To kick things off, Lot 228. A small William IV silver snuff box made by Nathaniel Mills in 1833 that bore an inscription ‘Presented by James Ogilvy Fairlie of Coodham to James Littlejohn For Faithful Service Rendered During Eleven Years May 1859’, sold above its low estimate of £800 on commission for £1,125/$1,800.

Major James Ogilvy Fairlie, Captain of the R&A in 1850, was co-founder of Prestwick Golf Club in 1851 and a co-founder of the Open Championship in 1860.

There was much interest (especially from across the pond) for lot 227, a pair of sterling silver Tiffany National Golf Links of America goblets each measuring 5 inches high. Both were associated with the inaugural Walker Cup Match in 1922 and were originally given as mementos to Roger Wethered, who was one of Britain’s top amateur golfers. The Walker Cup concept was confirmed in 1921 at a dinner hosted by the National Golf Links of America attended by representatives from GB and the USA. Britain sent Robert A Gardner, Lord Charles Hope, Cyril Tolley and Roger Wethered. The 1921 goblet was given as a memento of that dinner and the 1922 goblet was given to all members of both Walker Cup teams; it is inscribed ‘British American International Team Match 1922, Souvenir from National Golf Links of America, To Mr Roger H. Wethered’.

The top selling item at the Bonhams auction was lot 169, a 1936 silver-gilt salver “Grosser Golfpreis” (14 inches diameter) engraved in German lettering on five lines, ‘The Great Golf Prize of the Nations’, ‘Fuhrer and Reichkanzler’, ‘Baden-Baden’ and ‘1936’ and inlaid with eight 2½ inch decorative amber circular panels. Nicknamed ‘The Hitler Trophy’ it was played 10 days after the conclusion of the 1936 Berlin Olympics in August. It was won by the England two-man team, one player came from Ganton and the other from Hesketh Golf Club.

Thought by some to have a punchy estimate at £10,000/$20,000, the bidding opened on commission at £9,000. A representative from Hesketh then entered the bidding and pushed it up to £15,000 (£18,750/$29,625 including commissions). It may have lacked many of the blockbusters seen at Christie’s but given the £100,000 plus total and 70% selling rate, it was, according to a Bonhams representative, “a triumph for vendors and buyers alike in these on-going difficult economic times...”

MULLOCK’S June 1, 2012
Lots offered 595 / Lots sold 483 Sale Total including buyer’s premium (17 %) £61,919

Concluding this bumper round-up of Spring-Summer golf auctions was the Mullock’s auction in Ludlow on June 1. With both strong floor and internet bidding ensuring a healthy sale rate with rising prices, Mullock’s golf memorabilia auction at Ludlow was well received.

Mullock’s golf consultant Roger Morton told me that the upward trend of higher prices for early 20th century socket-neck woods continues with a pair of Walter Hagen hickory shaft woods, originally estimated at just £100, reaching a staggering £260/$400 plus commission. This set the pattern with quite a number of similar lots in this category selling for way over their catalogue valuation.

Irons from the same era also continued to sell well, driven by the marked increase of golfers from all over the world now playing hickory golf and needing quality clubs with which to play. Proprietor John Mullock told me that lot 714 ‘was a rare opportunity to acquire a piece of early golfing history in a box’; it contained 10 Ocobo gutty balls, 8 unused and 2 used, that had remained together for over 120 years. Encouraged by the buoyancy of bidders these Ocobo balls (est £1,800) raced away to end at £2,200/$3,500 plus commissions.

Vigorous bidding found a rare, point of sale figure Penfold Man (with a cigarette in its mouth instead of the usual pipe) realising £900/$1,450 plus commission and another big high-flyer in the sale was an even rarer Silver King figure in outstanding condition, £4,600/$7,360 plus premiums. Amongst the many interesting lots that caught my eye was lot 1036, a scarce Zutsei Brothers of Sialot late long-nosed beech short Spoon circa 1890. The Garrison Golf Club in Sialkot was founded in present day Pakistan during the height of the British Empire and is still active today. It took £500/$800 plus premiums from a private buyer, just as the auctioneer had predicted. Patent golf clubs are still in great demand and amongst them a rare Todrick “Slog ‘em” niblick with a removable head fetched well over its estimate at £460/$750.

TOP TEN LOTS BY VALUE

CHRISTIE’S

203 Charles Lees: The finished sketch for The Golfers £337,250
117 Sir John Lavery: The Golf Links, North Berwick £241,250
116 Sir John Lavery: The Golf Course, North Berwick £193,250
204 Sir Francis Grant: Portrait of John Whyte-Melville £79,250
202 (James) Michael Brown: St. Andrews: Surviving Open Champions, 1905 £67,250
26 The Royal Perth putter £67,250
25 The Wemyss Spur Toe Light Iron £58,850
83 The McEwan Short Spoon £39,650
12 Mathison, Thomas: The Goff £30,000

BONHAMS

169 A large 1936 silver-gilt salver 'Grosser Golfpreis' £18,750.00
227 Tiffany & Co: a pair of Sterling silver National Golf Links of America goblets£8,250.00
52 A John C. Gourlay 28 feather golf ball circa 1845 £5,000.00
182 Sir George Reid: A black and white photogravure of Old Tom Morris
£4,500.00
226 A hand-painted bone china 2-handled trophy with lid showing Samuel Ryder£2,000.00
43 Six ‘Silver Town 27½ No.4’ moulded mesh gutta-percha white golf balls
£1,750.00
220 A 1937 Ryder Cup programme (Southport and Ainsdale) £1,625.00
221 A 1933 Ryder Cup programme (Southport and Ainsdale) £1,625.00
216 The 4th Ryder Cup Match ‘Dinner’ menu 27 June 1933 £1,625.00
92 Smythe David: Golfing Diaries £1,562.00

MULLOCKS

1151 Silver King Man £5,400.00
714 Box of Ocobo golf balls £2,640.00
874 F H Partridge signed water colour £2,100.00
881 Bobby Jones signed Open Championship colour litho £1,420.00
1152 Penfold man smoking a cigarette £1,080.00
848 Leigh’s Patent putter £875.00
1039 A. Patrick (Leven) long-nose short spoon £875.00
1008 A 1997 Ryder Cup signed programme £660.00
1037 Robert Forgan long-nose driver £600.00
1239 Schoenhuts Mechanical Golf Game £600.00

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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