This listing has been rewritten and posted on November 19, 2020.
With personality plus, this “Wm Dunn”-stamped club is fabulous! Willie Dunn Sr. was one of the games great characters during the 19th century.
Hailing from Musselburgh, Willie Dunn was born the same year as Tom Morris and only 5 years after Allan Robertson. Willie played in many a challenge match against the likes of Morris and Robertson. Like Morris, Dunn was a club and ball maker. During their prime, both men were on the short list of best players alive, so it was natural to see them pitted against each other as their locations gave rise to home-town rivalries. Challenge matches involved significant amounts of money, so these events usually had spectators and local newspaper coverage.
This club has the large "Wm Dunn" stamp on its crown. This is the oldest stamp attributed to Willie (which he followed with a "W.Dunn," "W&J Dunn," and finally a smaller "Wm Dunn" stamp). The 39 1/2" shaft, sheepskin grip, and neck whipping all appear to be original.
The head is nicely elongated and shallow, 5 3/4" in length, 1 13/16" in width, and 1" in face depth. The horn measures 5/16" which is exceptionally thick. A thick horn is sometimes found on clubs made early in the 19th century, but is virtually never found on clubs made in the 2nd half of the 19th century. A screw in the toe end of the horn helps keep the end of the horn from raising up (which sometimes happens).
The face has a wicked curve from heel to toe—talk about hooked! A small piece of wood has chipped out of the face, but it is a clean chip and of small consequence given everything else about this club and its history. What appears to be a thin coat of shellac on the top of the head has flaked off in a few places, noticeable only if held in the light just right. All things considered, this is a remarkable club but it was made by McEwan and not Willie Dunn.
When I first encountered this club, I credited it with being made by Willie Dunn, Sr. It was stamped with his name and the club was made in the feather ball era, which is when Dunn began to make clubs.
Then one day ago, a client called and asked if there was a letter “n” stamped under the Dunn name. He could not tell if it was or was not a letter. When I looked at the club it appeared to be just a small nick in the head. To double check, I took a closeup image of the “Wm Dunn” stamped on the head. After zooming in on some of the letters, it became clear that the crown is also stamped “McEwan.” The auctioneer could not find any sign of the “Mc” but enough of the “EWAN” remained to positively identify this club as originally made by McEwan, and well before the conservative 1850 date ascribed to the club in the lot description. However, as stated above, the thick piece of horn on this club is something that is found on clubs made earlier in the 19th century, as is the long face and flat profile given to the top of this head.
Now here’s the thing. Historically, the only names stamped on a club head are those of either its maker or its owner or both. There are no known exceptions to that fact. It is clear that this club was made by McEwan (possibly Peter) as the McEwan stamp is under the Dunn stamp. Therefore, the Wm Dunn stamp on this club is that of the owner, not the maker. There are no other options, as will be noted below.
Next, it is important to recognize that the McEwan name is not centered between the front and back of the head, but the Dunn name is. This indicates that this club did not have such a curved face when it was made by McEwan, and that the Dunn name was stamped on the head after the center of the face was pushed back to create the additional curve. As the owner, Dunn could have easily made the modification and the auctioneer believes the chances are extremely high that he did, and then he stamped his name centered perfectly between the new front of the head and the back of the head.
Lastly, when he stamped his name on this club, Dunn did not preserve the McEwan name. Instead Dunn stamped his name over the top of what was left of the McEwan stamp, which helped it disappear into the background. (You cannot see the original McEwan with normal eyesight.) So the question becomes, did Dunn try to lose/hide the McEwan stamp on purpose? Well, if he was the owner of the club (and he was) and wanted to use it (which is what owner’s do with their clubs), he would have had a gigantic reason to help the McEwan stamp disappear: It would look extremely bad for him to use a club stamped “McEwan" when he was trying to sell clubs stamped “Wm Dunn.”
As mentioned earlier, Dunn was both a clubmaker and a giant figure in the world of mid-19th century competitive golf. He was renowned for playing in front of galleries in high stakes challenge matches against the likes of Tom Morris, Allan Robertson, Willie Park, and others. Consequently, Dunn would be highly motivated to over-stamp and hide the McEwan name with his name. By hiding the McEwan name (and its remnants are well hidden) he could use this club without hurting his reputation as a clubmaker. After all, there is nothing unethical about an owner modifying a club however they like.
It could be surmised that maybe Dunn stamped the club because he worked on it and thought that people should know who did the repair, or that the club was more his club than McEwan’s at that point….but such an idea has no basis historically, as there are no known examples of repaired clubs stamped with the name of a second clubmaker. None.
It could also be said that Dunn removed the McEwan name so he could sell the club as his own. But that would have been brazenly dishonest, and there is zero evidence of any clubmaker ever doing that. As the owner of the club, however, Dunn was not wanting to sell it and cash in on another’s work as his own. He simply wanted to use it.
Of course, there is no absolute proof that everything the auctioneer has written is correct. But the evidence is overwhelming that this club is old, made by McEwan during the feather-ball era, and Willie Dunn’s fingerprints are all over it as a former owner who also stamped the club with his name.
One final comment. In an auction world that often oversells and underdelivers, I try to be accurate and straight up in my presentations. I do, however, have a great passion for the world of antique golf clubs and get excited when something really special comes along. And this is one of those times.</