The feather ball
is the most iconic ball in the game of golf. It's the
stuff of lore and legend. Here we have the real thing, a beautiful
unused example with tight seams and original paint. Although this ball
is unused, the owner had every intention of using it. He marked the
ball with an "X" to help identify his ball from others during play.
The ball is a little larger than normal and has but a single small chip
in the original paint.
With the advent of the gutta percha golf ball in 1845, feather balls were well on their way out by 1850.
Feather balls—made with a leather exterior and a feather-filled
interior—are the oldest remaining golf balls known. According to Thomas
Peter's 1890 account in Reminiscenses of Golf and Golfers (p 8-9) the making of a feather ball was almost a science:
"The leather was of untanned bull's hide, Two round pieces for the
ends, and a strip for the middle were cut to suit the weight wanted.
These were properly shaped, after being sufficiently softened, and
firmly sewed together—a small hole being of course left, through which
the feathers might be afterwards inserted. But before stuffing, it was
through this little hole that the leather itself had to be turned
outside in, so that the seams should be inside—an operation not without
difficulty. The skin was then placed in a cup-shaped stand (the worker
having the feathers in an apron in front of him), and the actual
stuffing done with a crutch-handled steel rod, which the maker placed
under his arm. And very hard work, I may add, it was. Thereafter the
aperture was closed, and firmly sewed up: and this outside seam was the
only one visible."
By all accounts, the making of feather balls was hard work. A good
feather ball maker working by himself crafted between 3-4 a day. It was
also dangerously unhealthy work. These artisans were prone to
contracting lung trouble and asthma from working in such close proximity
to ordinary cocks and hens feathers, which is what Tom Morris
identified the feathers as when asked about it in 1900. (Golf Illustrated, 7 Dec. 1900: 204).