Cleeks made prior to 1850 are far and few between. They are usually brutish things, with fat hosels and exceptionally thick blades. An account of a cleek published in 1842 notes that cleeks back then were made with a thick strip of smooth iron set at about 45 degrees (all of which matches this iron) and were useful for "tilting a ball out of a rough place near the hole." (See TCA2 v1 p120). Some have called these clubs "approach putters," as that is essentially what the golfer was using it for when playing a ball from a tough lie near the hole.
Which brings us to the point that the earliest "cleeks" made during the first half of the eighteenth century truly are rare specialty clubs. They were not the progenitors of the cleeks made in the second half of the nineteenth century. Those slim and sleek, elegant irons were a descendant of the light iron. They were simply given the "cleek" name when the iron approach putters tried prior to 1850 never really caught on. The early cleeks/approach putters—like this one—were quite thick all over! Like early iron putters, these clubs were made heavy so a small stroke when near the hole would produce a solid shot.
When viewing an early iron of any type, it is tough to get a sense of size from a picture, and size is what "lights up" an early iron and sets it apart. Therefore, to provide a concise presentation of the difference between an early nineteenth century cleek and a late nineteenth century cleek, in the second image the auctioneer has positioned this c. 1830s cleek next to an 1890 George Forrester concentric cleek marked with its 1890 British design registration number. There are some gigantic differences in size, and not just in the thickness of the blades and hosels (7/8" on the early cleek). The difference in shaft thickness is also dramatic.
Notice also the dark brown almost black color of the early cleek. It's made from wrought iron and the Forrester cleek is not. There is a vertical crease along the heel of the face on the blade, right next to the hosel. This crease was put there by the blacksmith who made the club. Such creases allowed the face to be flat right up to the hosel, and are primarily found on early cleeks and putters made during the featherball era. The early iron putter in this auction also bears a vertical crease adjacent to the hosel on both of its faces. You will not find a crease on any Carrick, Gray, Wilson, etc. iron putters or cleeks made after 1850. But you will on the c. 1840s putter lot 7 in this auction. That rare club has the crease on both sides of its blade.
The thick shaft in this club is original, and the blacksmith dispensed with nicking and just pounded the top of the hosel tight to the shaft. It is darn near a perfectly flush fit. The hosel is pinned by not in your typical side to side position, nor even front to back position. It is pinned in what would appear to be a random location. The sheepskin grip looks like it is the original grip, but the top and bottom whipping has been replaced.
When it comes to early irons, early cleeks are far more rare than early heavy or light irons. They were a specialty club that most pre-1850 golfers did not bother with.
A similar cleek in TCA2 v1 p120 sold for $20,000 as lot 546 at a September 2007 Sotheby's auction in NYC. Opening bid today—$2000. If ever you wanted an outstanding all-original early iron... now is your shot.
The Gourlay feather ball shown for perspective is not included with this lot, but is offered as lot 15 in this auction. The Forrester iron shown for perspective in the attached images is also not included with this lot.