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.
The early cleek/approach putter offered here has quite a history. To start with, the auctioneer believes the thick shaft in this club is a modern replacement. But it does not appear to be hickory. You would expect a modern replacement to be hickory. Because the nicking atop the hosel neither looks quite right nor accomplished by a skilled blacksmith who knew clubmaking, the auctioneer believes that the hosel was nicked when the shaft was removed/installed in modern times. Because nicked hosels were the standard throughout history, it is easy to understand why a prior owner of this club would want it to have nicking. But nicking was not necessary. On rare occasion, an old iron was produced without nicking. One such club without nicking—an 1830 cleek very similar to this club—was recently sold through JEGA.
Another important feature is the hosel pin. In pinning the shaft into the head, the repairman ground/filed down both ends of the pin and the areas around them in order to make the pin flush with the hosel. A cold metal coloring agent was then applied to the pin and the area around the pin on the top of the hosel in order to darken the freshly ground metal and help the club assume a more nature appearance. This coloring agent, however is found nowhere else on the head. The very first picture shows the fine grinding on the pin and the area around it.
The fact that the hosel pin was treated this way—ground down, leaving scratch marks, and then colored—tells us that the pin is much newer than the head, that the patina was on the head long before it received the current pin. if the club was made in modern times, the pin would be neatly and smoothly fit to the hosel, with no grinding marks, and the finish on the head would be completely uniform, even on the pin itself. That is how clubs were made during the wood shaft era, and that is how both replica and modern playable wood shaft clubs are made today.
Leaving the reset of the shaft and the addition of the nicking behind, this club is old. It's the real deal—a 175-year-old approach putter of considerable historical importance and rarity. There is a major hosel weld down the back side of the hosel. Hosel welds were formed when the blacksmith pounded the bar of iron around a mandrel to create a solid, round hosel. The resulting asymmetry of the hammer-formed hosel is clearly on display.
Sometimes, because swinging a hammer can be less than fun, the hosel would be neatly finished "to a point." Irons made during the featherball era were not held to the same standards that arose thereafter. Feather ball irons would sometimes show their hosel welds. No big deal back in the day, but a big deal today! To collectors, a hosel weld shows the hand-made nature of the iron head. It also ads great personality to the club.
Going hand in hand with the hosel weld is the wrought iron that was clearly used to form this head. Both featherball and early gutty ball period irons were made from wrought iron which, unlike carbon steel, has a fibrous grain created by slag/impurities in the iron. This fine grain will often be visible where it runs horizontally across the front and back of the blade. Because the quality of wrought iron improved as time moved towards to the end of the 19th century the slag/impurities in the iron became less and less, so the grain became less and less prominent. Of course, there were variances from one smelting operation to the next as well, and that could affect the amount of slag in the iron.
The fourth image with this lot shows the fibrous grain particularly well if you zoom in. This closeup image also shows the blade of an 1875 Willie Wilson (not included with this lot) and the grain in its face. The grain is more apparent on the approach putter because the wrought iron is much older with more slag. The patina on older wrought iron is typically a real dark brown or even black.
The wrought iron used to make this head looks far different from the iron used to make heads during the 1890s and is even more different from the mild carbon steel used in reproduction irons made with drilled hosels today.
There is a crack (not a hosel weld) down the front side of the hosel. When the club received its current shaft, the auctioneer believes a small amount of epoxy was used to repair the hosel crack from the inside. No matter, the crack won't be going anywhere now that the club is fully assembled and no longer in use.
The hosel is pinned front to back as was sometimes done during the featherball era but almost never thereafter. The face is uniquely dished. Instead of being slightly concave top to bottom, like the blade on many early heavy irons, the face on this iron is concave only across the middle section of the blade from heel to toe. This is a great feature that the auctioneer has only seen in this club.
This club measures 34" in length, which works for an approach putter. The sueded leather grip is a replacement but matches the period well.
While the hosel nicking on this club is not perfect, this is still a great club. Not only is it extremely rare, it's roughly 175 years old and formed by a blacksmith. Evidence of its handmade nature and asymmetry is visible everywhere. Notice especially how the top of the hosel on the leading side is different from the following side, and how the top of the hosel bells out a touch from the body of the hosel below it. Bottom line, this early cleek presents wonderfully well and possesses much that is wonderfully right.
The gutty ball shown for perspective is not included with this lot.