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What are these worth?

Auction-room expert Kevin McGimpsey highlights five of the most interesting and collectible items to have caught his eye from your recent postings (and please keep them coming!)

SPITFIRE GOLF BALLS

What can you tell me about this box of Spitfire golf balls, all of which are still wrapped.
Robin Foster, Glasgow

These Spitfire balls with a dimple pattern were made during the early 1950s by the Golf Ball Developments Company (GBD) in Birmingham, as established by Albert Edward Penfold in 1927.

The Spitfire fighter plane was still a relatively common sight in Britain’s skies and its name continued to evoke nostalgia and emotions. And what a great name for a golf ball, with its connotations for ultimate control in the air! Although they were low budget golf balls, GBD marketed them as having ‘uniform accuracy’. Each ball was wrapped in a clear plastic bag and I particularly like the way in which the paint has yellowed, as can just be seen here, creating a form of patina that reflects the age of these balls.

VALUE: Although the Spitfire is not a common ball, it is not especially commercial. When they come to auction it is usually as single balls, with a value per ball of £3-5. What is unusual in this case is having a complete box of ‘wrapped’ 12 balls in three plastic ‘Penfold’ sleeves in a near-mint box. At auction its low estimate would be £40 and its high estimate £80.

GASSIAT PUTTER

This putter has been in our family since the 1950s. What can you tell me about it and is it worth anything?
Helen Ryan. Coin, Malaga, Spain

This wooden headed putter was originally known as ‘The Chantilly Putter’, named for the town in France that was home to its inventor, the Marquis de Chasseloup-Loubat. It was first used in 1911 but came to prominence during the 1912 French Open.

Golf Illustrated reviewed the putter in its October 1913 issue thus: ‘It certainly is a weird, not to say, uncouth looking instrument. The head is very large and nearly square in formation and the face is shallow. The top of the shaft is not round, but flat-sided and there is an extra thickness at the top for the use of the left hand.’

Jean L. Gassiat (1883-1946), a 29 year-old French golf professional based in Chantilly won the 1912 French Open using the Chantilly putter, beating Harry Vardon by a stroke. Soon after this victory the putter became known as the ‘Jean Gassiat’ putter. It was an overnight success and everyone wanted the putter with its ‘Grand Piano’ styled head.

The majority of the early Model L.C.L. Jean Gassiat putters were made by W.M. Winton under the British Design Registration Number 627,732. Other licensed manufacturers were Slazenger, the Walter Hagen Company and – as in the case of this putter – William Gibson of Kinghorn. Most Gassiat putters that I have seen have a straight hickory shaft with a pistol grip (i.e. not round but flat sided) at the top of the shaft.

Our reader’s Gassiat putter is unusual because it has a shaft made from Danga wood and it has a ribpad grip, making the handle capable of being moulded to the palm of the individual’s hand. William Gibson was an advocate of Danga wood, an expensive import from Africa and normally only used for quality clubs.

VALUE: Considering that the Gassiat putter was such a popular addition to the golf bag and was being produced up until the early 1930s, I often wonder why so few ever come to auction. A good condition putter with the more common pistol grip would fetch between £300 and £400. Our reader’s putter is rarer still and, as such, would most likely exceed £500.

LONGHURST LETTER

Please find attached a copy of a handwritten letter dated 21st August 1977 that I received from Henry Longhurst. Is this something that might be of value and, if so, would you have an idea as to what that value might be?
Alan Harding, Bourg Des Comptes, France

Our reader had written to Mr. Longhurst asking him about comments that he made in a book about the rigours of being a golf professional in earlier years and whether he still agreed with them, in the light of the expansion of golf in later years.

Longhurst’s short and succinct reply reveals not only great penmanship but his failing health at the time: Lost the use of a lung and am rather feeble, so not too much. I certainly think that first the motor car, then television, have caused the so called ‘golf explosion’. The pro’s are unbelievably lucky by comparison with when I came in. So glad you liked the book. Good pictures anyway! Henry Longhurst.

Henry Carpenter Longhurst (1909-1978) was a renowned British golf writer and radio/television commentator. During a family holiday in 1920 in Devon he had first taken to golf playing on a three-hole course on a common. A natural sportsman, he quickly became hooked and within eight years had become Captain of the Cambridge University Golf Club.

Longhurst started writing for a monthly golf magazine called Tee Topics and came to the attention of the editor of the Sunday Times who invited him to contribute to the sporting page. He then became the golf correspondent of the Sunday Times, and retained that position for 40 years. From the late 1950s to the mid 1970s he was also the BBC Television’s senior golf commentator.

Some notable Longhurst sayings over the years include: “If you call on God to improve the results of a shot while it is still in motion, you are using ‘an outside agency’ and subject to appropriate penalties under the rules of golf.”

“They say ‘practice makes perfect.’ Of course, it doesn’t. For the vast majority of golfers it merely consolidates imperfection.”

VALUE: Henry Longhurst wrote several golfing books, great to read even today but they tend to perform poorly when sold at auction. However there is something rather novel in owning one of his signed letters but I wouldn’t expect it to surpass £100 at auction.

BRONZE PLAQUE

I found this recently in a junk shop. It was in a pretty distressed wooden frame and was filthy. I bought it for £40 because of the golf factor. I can’t find out anything about it...
Simon Bates, Hemel Hempstead

The scene shows a rather pensive King Charles I in 1642 who has stopped his game of golf to read a letter that tells him that the Irish Catholic gentry had launched a coup and that hostilities had begun. The scene is taken from an 1875 painting by Sir John Gilbert (1817-1897), a much respected artist, illustrator and engraver. We know that the links in question were at Leith a municipal burgh to the north of Edinburgh; not an eighteen hole course then but five holes which each player went round twice in a game.

The bronze relief plaque, measuring 7½ x 5 inches is an exact replica of Gilbert’s painting. Charles I is seen centre stage with the letter; the messenger is on his knees and the King’s playing partners can be see looking on. Two caddies have between them at least ten long-nose woods and irons; the King has dropped a wood onto the fairway and in the distance two other golfers are ‘chasing’ after their feather golf balls. Even having received such bad news, Charles I has enough character to continue his game.

I don’t know who made the plaque but it would have been mass-produced in the 1920s as a purely decorative object, presented in a dark oak frame, ready for hanging.

VALUE: These plaques always sell well at auction and are sought after by not only golf but military historians and Royal memorabilia collectors. I would expect a sale figure of £400-plus.

GOOSE-NECK IRON

What can you tell me about this rather unusual iron – was it designed to look like this?
Terry Lambert, West Ham, London

The iron club had developed with the introduction of the harder gutta-percha ball in the 1850s and soon there were available specific clubs for certain shots. Those of us who have a tendency to shank may take some solace from the fact that golfers have been cursed with that shot since the early days of the game. And in the early 1890s, two inventors decided to do something about it! Francis Archibald Fairlie patented the first of the so-called ‘anti-shank’ iron clubs (#6,681) in 1891. In 1894, a second was marketed as the ‘G.F. Smith Patent’.

The idea behind the club was to produce an iron with no neck area between the blade and hosel (a miss-struck shot can come off the shank or neck of the hosel). Smith's hosel was bent in goose-neck fashion so the blade edge was lined up under the shaft.

Be aware that the face of this Smith Niblick is smooth; it was only in the early 1900s that the club maker or club professional (in this case William Marshall of Onwentsia, Chicago) would make markings on the face to help to get the ball into the air. The clover mark denotes the actual maker of this club, Spence & Gourlay, a club making firm that operated out of St. Andrews.

VALUE: The market for unusual and patent clubs made at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries remains healthy. However anti-shank irons such as this Smith Niblick are relatively common, so it would sell at auction for between £50 and £100.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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